Kelly Marie Tran talks 'unfair pressure' of playing Disney's first Southeast Asian princess in 'Raya and the Last Dragon'

Kelly Marie Tran stars in the upcoming Disney film "Raya and the Last Dragon." (Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Kelly Marie Tran stars in the upcoming Disney film Raya and the Last Dragon. (Photo: Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

At first, actress Kelly Marie Tran felt a lot of pressure in her role as the voice of Disney’s first Southeast Asian princess in the upcoming animated film Raya and the Last Dragon. But she’s come to look at the situation differently.

“It should not feel so precious that there is something like this that exists in the world,” the Star Wars actress explained Tuesday during The Wrap’s Power Women Summit. “There should just be so many. Do you know what I mean? I feel like sometimes when you are in an underrepresented group of people and you get this opportunity, you sort of have to do all of these mental Olympics of being like, ‘Oh, I have to be extra grateful because it will never happen again.’ And that’s such an unfair pressure to put on yourself.”

Tran, who was born in the U.S. and whose parents are from Vietnam, also achieved a first when she was cast in the storied Star Wars franchise. She first portrayed Rose Tico in 2017’s Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi, which made her the first woman of color to play a leading role in the blockbusters. In that case, she faced vitriol on the internet for months. She even left Instagram because of it in June 2018. What she learned then was instructive here.

“I think it’s something that I experienced with Star Wars but also something that I’m experiencing again, which is the idea that our stories are valid and we deserve to tell them in any way that we want to and we deserve to tell them repeatedly from different angles,” Tran said. “And it shouldn’t be just this one thing that we’re so desperate to grasp on to.”

Her approach is more lax now. Tran realizes that she doesn’t need to shoulder such a great responsibility, she told her fellow actresses on a panel named “The Future Is Now: Next Gen Hollywood Roundtable,” which included Euphoria’s Storm Reid, Beanie Feldstein of Booksmart, and several others.

“I’ve sort of tried to let go of this idea that I have to represent or I have to be so grateful for something that obviously is a really, really big opportunity — but at the same time, I think that does us a disservice,” Tran said. “Like, it’s not fair to think that this is going to be the only time that this happens. So I guess if there’s anything in my power that I can do to sort of take that pressure off anyone sitting here of being like, ‘I have to be so extra grateful and this is an extra honor.’ Like no, you also are really good and you deserve to be here. And I have to tell myself that every day. So I’m telling you right now, snaps for all of you for just existing in this world that just takes more energy to exist in when you feel like you have been other-ed.”

Tran described how she takes care of herself mentally during a December 2019 visit to the Build Series.

“Reminding yourself that you are not alone and it is OK. These are the biggest things,” Tran said. “Anytime you are sort of confronted with a situation that increases your fear and your anxiety, if you allow that voice to be silent and if you allow yourself to sort of isolate yourself, I think it gets worse. So the best thing for me was just being honest and talking about it.”

Raya and the Last Dragon is available Mach 5, 2021 both in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access.

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