"My mother reads faces. When I was born she told me that because I have
this particular nose and the way my eyes and eyebrows are shaped, she
always knew I was going to get in to the arts," she says. "So when I was
growing up and had an interest in anything besides the arts she would try to
encourage me to do the other thing, but deep in her heart she always knew
that this was my destiny.
Wen's interest in the dramatic arts flourished in high school where she was
fortunate enough to develop her talents in an intensive theatre program at
Mt. Lebanon High School in Pittsburgh. After high school, Wen enrolled in the
acting program at Pittsburgh's prestigious Carnegie-Mellon University.
Wen survived the grueling curriculum, which ran from eight in the morning
to as late as one in the morning each day, resisting the urge to quit and
surviving the faculty-determined cuts that pared her freshman class of 75
down to only 17 by the time she graduated. Although Wen graduated with
high honors, her work may have a bit less heralded were it not for some
"The first two years I was treated like everybody else. But my junior year
when we started doing main stage productions, I was always delegated very
small parts." Wen recounts her experiences coolly, as though delivering a
well rehearsed monolouge. "It started pissing me off so I went to the head of
the department and I said, 'Listen, I know that you guys are probably having
a hard time finding a niche for me, but other than doing one-woman shows
on my own, I'm paying the same tuition like everybody else in this school
and it's my parents' money and I want to get the same education and the
same stage experience!"'
The head of the theatre department, Mel Shapiro took notice of the situation,
and Wen was soon moved from obscurity to center stage. The faculty also
allowed her to perform in projects outside of the program. Wen grins fondly
when talking about her "mentor" Shapiro whom she still keeps in touch with
and who now heads the MFA acting program at UCLA.
"That whole incident in my junior year of college (made me realize) I have to
make people aware if there is a problem," she says. "If they don't know that
there is a problem, then they're not going to try to find ways to correct it. So
ever since then, my goal is not to fight racism, it's not to knock people up the
head about it, it's just to say, "Hey, wake up, be more aware that something's
Wen, however, refuses to espouse her opinions on a corner soapbox. "The
way you go about doing this is to just talk to people. You drop little seeds,
you don't have to pound them over the head with issues. Just say, "Hey, what
do you think about me as the girlfriend? Or what do you think about me as
the wife? Or the executive? Or the super-hero?"'
The actress has hurdled challenging obstacles to be cast in some
very non-traditional roles. Wen recenty appeared as Betty in the La Jolla
Playhouse production of Luck, Pluck and Virtue, directed by Into
the Woods writer and directer James Lapine, and also took the role
Madonna played on Broadway in a Pittsburgh production of Speed the Plow".
Sitting across from her over a plate of onion rings, it's hard to fathom that
this all-American woman is first-generation Chinese. From her point-blank,
vociferous style to her comfortability in the public spotlight, Wen is not your
typical Chinese immigrant. Born in Macao, Wen moved here with her mother
and brother to the New York borough of Queens. After her mother
remarried, the family moved to Pittsburgh, where they opened a restaurant.
"I'm a restaurant daughter", Wen relates. "That's why I have the strong work
ethic I have now. I love to generate money." And where does this money
go? "Me!" she exclaims with an explosive giggle. Then soberly she replies in a
mix of facetiousness and earnestness, "Survival." Savvy to the fickle nature
of the film industry, Wen is determined to maintain the down-to-earth
perspective which has carried her this far.
"When people who have no idea about the acting buisness come up to me and
ask, 'Do you, um, think I should get in to acting?', it just makes my stomach
turn because it's such a disrespect to me as a professional." Wen shrugs off
the ignorance of those caught up in the glamour of the movies with a look of
disgust. "I try not to be uppity-up about it, but it's like 'No. It's a lot of hard
work and it's always been a lot of hard work.' Everybody thinks it's a lotto or
something. But this is what I do."
What exactly Wen does is much more than what your average Hollywood
"ingenue" could fathom. After she finishes settling into her new domicile,
Wen is anxious to get back into her voice lessons, guitar lessons, martial arts,
dance, painting, tai chi and, of course, acting class.
But while she can easily camouflage herself among the hippest of Beverly
Hills, There is also a very traditional "June" side to Wen. Where the
"American" wild child ends, the more traditional "Chinese" person begins at
home. On a different day, Wen is dressed down, wearing a pair of faded
jeans, a Daffy Duck T-shirt bearing the Joy Luck Club logo.