Exotic, worldly, and quickly becoming known for her extraordinary ability in acting, Angela Zhou is making a name for herself in the entertainment industry. A must-watch actor for 2015, Angela makes her US television debut as one of the newest cast members on the fifth season of AMC’s hit series “Hell on Wheels,” slated for premiere on Saturday July 18, 2015. She is a scene stealer as progressive and brave “Mei,” who after escaping rebels in China disguises herself as a boy named Fong in order to work for the Central Pacific Railroad. Although she comes from a patriarchal feudal society, Mei firmly believes that she is capable of doing the same work as a man.
Born in China and raised in New Zealand, Angela started acting in high school. She never sought the arts out, rather she fell into the acting world after her original performing arts choice [dance] did not work with the rest of her schedule. Faced with fulfilling the performing arts requirement, Angela enrolled in a drama class, and was hooked. She joined every dramatic and musical production in school and went on to win national awards from the Cambridge International Examinations Board, New Zealand Qualifications authority, and Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand. The latter led to her selection for the Young Shakespeare Company, which trained and performed at the Globe in London.
While acting is one of her greatest passions, Angela also enjoys reading, singing, and staying active. She is fluent in three languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, and English. A firm believer in giving back, Angela loves to support educational organizations including The Institute for the Public Trust [offers free classes to college students to educate them on running for public of- fice], The Robertson Scholars Leadership Program, and financial aid at Duke University.
Angela currently splits her time between Los Angeles and Calgary, Canada where she is filming “Hell on Wheels.”
Hi Angela please tell us about you?
In a quick nutshell, I was born in China, raised in New Zealand, and graduated Duke University’s class of 2014.
What is your favorite childhood memory?
Childhood’s such a fun time, it’s hard to pick one … I remember I spent a lot of time creating silly ventures around my neighborhood. I was obsessed with the idea of getting a puppy and my mother had challenged me to make the money to buy one myself. I tried selling lemonade, tattoos that I’d hand-draw onto kids’ arms, and even made a little magazine with my best friend. I managed to make the funds in the end, but evidently my mum just didn’t want a dog!
When and how did you get your start in acting?
My start was a complete accident. I was 13 and my high school had a performing art requirement in the first year. My choice of dance clashed with my schedule so they put me into drama. I wasn’t looking forward to it at all but I completely fell in love with it! I continued with drama classes in school and joined the musical, dramatic, and Shakespearean productions outside of class.
What was your first acting role?
My first stage role was “Shark Girl” in West Side Story and my first screen role was in a McDonalds Breakfast commercial.
How did you get involved with “Hell on Wheels?”
I saw a posting for the role of “Mei” in ActorsAccess and went through the traditional audition process. Well, I guess it was a little unconventional because I was told at the call back that “Mei” was actually disguised as the boy “Fong”.
How was your audition and how did you got selected?
At first they told me “Mei” was a tomboy and then at the callbacks, after signing a Non-Disclosure-Agreement, they revealed that she was disguised as a boy. I practiced the same scene as a boy and walked into the callback dressed as a boy with masculine make-up on and I guess it worked!
What was your first reaction to the script?
That so much of it had been taken out of the history books! John Wirth, the showrunner, had sent me two books and a three-part DVD series about the Chinese immigrant experience on the railroad. I could see they had drawn a lot of the storyline from real history. Next I noticed how the script didn’t have a lot of words, the story is told through action rather than dialogue, which is the mark of great writing.
Tell me about your role as Mei?
After losing her family in China, Mei disguises herself as a boy named “Fong” and flees with her father to work on the Transcontinental Railroad in America. Though she’s in a tough environment and constantly in danger, Mei sees her situation as an opportunity to build a new life for herself. One where she can take a leadership position. She’s brave, confident, and often times bites off more than she can chew!
Where we can watch it?
AMC 9/8c, or online through AMC.com, iTunes, and Amazon.
Who has made the biggest impact on your life so far, and why?
I have been blessed with the support of so many mentors throughout my life I can’t point to just one person. I truly believe that no success is achieved alone.
Do you have a role model?
Many role models — each for a different quality. No human being is perfect at everything.
If you could act with anyone as your co-star, who would it be and why?
Julie Andrews! I grew-up on her films, she’s practically the Queen in my mind. Actually, I probably would just freak out in her presence and not be able to act at all …
Who is your favorite Actor/Actress? And why?
Theres’s so many! Meryl Streep comes to mind. She’s not only an amazing actress, but she has also managed to have a career that doesn’t box her in to one particular role. Anne Hathaway is like that too.
Describe yourself in 3 words?
Silly, driven, and soft-hearted.
How’s a normal day in your life?
Working on set there really isn’t one. Schedules change and you can never predict what you will be doing more than a week ahead of time. A normal day is just fraught with ambiguity!
Who is your biggest supporter?
Any other future plans?
Not yet, but I’m looking forward to all the possibilities!
Name 3 things you can not live without?
Friends, family, and creativity.
Best advice ever given?
Don’t let fear of failure steer you towards the direction of regret.
Where do you see yourself in a few years?
Doing what I love; telling meaningful stories.
How important is Social Media for you?
My friends and family are spread out all over the place, so social media is very important for me to stay connected to them and feel up-to-date on their lives. Now that I’m on a show, I love being able to reach out to fans. They have been so great and some have sent really heartfelt messages to me about how my job brings joy to their lives.
Where our readers can follow you?
Favorite Movie: I have serious problems answering favorite questions because there’s so much great stuff out there but I’ll try! ‘Love Actually’ and all the Disney musicals.
Tv Show: ‘Ally McBeal’ and ‘Friends’ — I can watch it over and over again! I guess something more recent I’ve gotten stuck into is the Korean drama ‘My Love From Another Star’.
Song: Depends on my mood. I’m really into EDM on a day-to-day basis (Clean Bandit’s ‘Extraordinary’ is great) but sometimes I just need some Whitney or Celine!
Book: ‘Wild Swans’ by Jung Chang. I read it when I was 15 and it ignited a desire within me to reconnect with my Chinese roots.
Best quote: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” — Winston Churchill
Travel Destination: Stockholm, some of my best friends are from there.
Food: This is by far the easiest question! Ice-cream
Photo Credit: Michael Blank Photography