Comedian Margaret Cho: I've been preparing to be an Asian auntie since childhood

Margaret Cho voices Auntie Ling in Netflix's Over the Moon.
PHOTO: Instagram/margaret_cho

We meet our relatives at least once a year, probably over Chinese New Year, and we're all familiar with the archetype Asian auntie at the dinner table. You know the one — kind of loud, says inappropriate things, and trying to feed everyone; but it's done all out of love.

Well, the Asian auntie stereotype might not bring good memories to some people but American comedian Margaret Cho relished playing the role of Auntie Ling which seemed tailor-made for her.

Speaking to regional media earlier this month for their new Netflix animated musical Over the Moon, Margaret, 51, said: "I have so many aunts like that and I am so the same kind of auntie myself. Like, it's all about the food and it's all about pushing food onto people, and like, giving love through food. To me, it's a really emotional role and a really appropriate role and it's a role that I've been preparing for since childhood so it's perfect."

Over the Moon tells the tale of a young girl who learns to cope with love and loss after she builds a rocket and travels to the moon to meet the Chinese goddess Chang'e. Those of us in Singapore would have heard of Chang'e as she's the subject of several legends in Chinese mythology, including a popular tale that is said to be the origin of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Apart from Margaret, the film features the voice talents of John Cho, Phillipa Soo (nominated for a Tony for her performance in Hamilton on Broadway), Cathy Ang, Sandra Oh, and Ken Jeong — a first of its kind among American animated films as it assembled an all-Asian cast.

Different from Mulan

It wasn't that long ago that another Hollywood film that adapted a Chinese folklore was critically panned on a few fronts — including its handling of the Chinese culture.

When asked if they were worried about a possible similar backlash to Over the Moon, Margaret said she wasn't. She explained that the film was a "comedy" with a "modern take" and had a "different setting and different time period", adding that Mulan was more of a "historical literal translation" of a folklore.

 Fei Fei (second from left) flies to the moon to find Chang'e to prove she's real. PHOTO: Netflix

"Ours really shows the flawed nature of all our characters. Like everybody in it is flawed. You think they're one thing but you actually get another. I do think there's a lot of depth there that is so relatable. I didn't worry too much about that."

Ken, 51, who was also in the interview, agreed with Margaret and pointed out that they were "really blessed with a great story, a great script, a great director". He said: "All I got to do is just read the words so you just know from experience that this is going to be special."

This is a story for my daughters

As a father to fraternal twin daughters, Ken praised the film's presentation of its female protagonist Fei Fei — a brilliant young girl who is a science nerd — and acknowledged that it was an important representation.

He explained: "[My daughters] are both active in science, academics and writing. This movie is for them... [it is important] to have a film with so many strong female characters. I think about my daughters all the time. Who are their role models? People like Margaret, people like Sandra Oh, people like Phillipa Soo, Cathy Ang; they're all in this movie."

Ken Jeong voices Gobi in Over The Moon. PHOTO: Netflix

The ability and honour to be a part of this culturally important movie wasn't lost on them either.

Margaret said: "To me, it was like our version of The Lion King. It's like a really big deal and it's an all-Asian American cast and everybody in it is so incredible and the songs are beautiful, the animation is just awesome. I just was so excited to be a part of it."

"There's something magical about this movie that is almost hard to articulate but the more I talk about it and the more I think about it, it becomes even more magical. When you're part of something that you really love — this is one of my favourite projects I've ever been a part of — the more you talk about it, the more excited you get. I think that collectively, they've created something unique," Ken added.

Over the Moon is available on Netflix.