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How An Unknown Actor Won The Lead Role In Pixar's Turning Red - Exclusive

Disney and Pixar's "Turning Red" is an important moment for onscreen representation, as it features the studio's first Asian lead. In a surprising turn of events, an unknown actor managed to score the all-important leading role.

"Turning Red" tells the story of 13-year-old Mei Lee, a Chinese Canadian immigrant who turns into a giant red panda whenever she gets overexcited. Luckily, she has a fantastic group of friends who help her deal with this major inconvenience, but it definitely leads to some onscreen laughs. Producer Lindsey Collins opened up the decision to cast an unknown actor as Mei, telling Looper, "We had no resistance. The best part is that because she had been living in our temporary reels for, oh gosh, about a year and a half, I think, every time we screened it, we'd get comments from people here, like, 'Oh my gosh, whoever you had doing your voice is so cute. I love her. She's so charming. She's so good.'"

In an exclusive interview with Looper, producer Lindsey Collins and director Domee Shi explained why Rosalie Chiang was the only person who could voice the main character in "Turning Red," Mei Lee.

Rosalie Chiang was the only choice

Rosalie Chiang became involved in "Turning Red" early on, when she was brought in to record placeholder dialogue for the main character, Mei Lee. Usually, the expectation is that a more established actor will be cast in the role as production goes on. However, in the case of "Turning Red," the entire crew became convinced that Chiang was the only person for the job. As producer Lindsey Collins told Looper, "If nothing else, I think we would've had a riot if we had recast her. People would've been like, 'Boo. Why would you take away this amazing girl?' Everybody fell in love with Rosalie over the course of the year and a half that she was doing all the work with us and our temp reels. It was a natural choice."

Director Domee Shi was also instantly sold on Chiang's talents. "I fell in love with the quality of her voice from the very first audition that we heard from her," Shi explained. "I loved how imperfect it sounded, and at that time, she had a little bit of a lisp, too. It felt so dorky and unique and perfect and so Mei, that it felt like it was always her."

Collins continued, "I feel like you can always tell when the animators love animating to a voice, because they'll do tests to early voices and stuff like that. You get a sense from them very quickly, how much fun they can have and how much specificity they'll get in the performance based off of the read that the actor gives." Basically, Chiang's amazing vocal performance only added to the character, and helped to influence how "Turning Red" looked, which is pretty amazing.

"Turning Red" premieres exclusively on Disney+ on March 11, 2022.