Wen, voice of the original heroine in Disney’s 1998 animated “Mulan,” knew keeping her trip to the New Zealand set confidential would be a daunting task, given her rabid legion of watchful fans.
“It was complete secrecy. Nobody, no cast or crew member on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,’ knew about it,” says Wen. “I felt like Agent May flying to New Zealand on this mission.”
Her Kiwi friend and fellow combat legend, Lucy Lawless, Xena the Warrior Princess, nearly blew the secret before Wen had even shot her scene in the new “Mulan” (just released on Blu-ray).
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The leak almost sprung when Wen arrived in New Zealand and rang up Lawless, The two actors became fast friends when Lawless made a memorable guest appearance on “S.H.I.E.L.D.” in 2014.
“It’s like we met in a former life, like, ‘You think you’re a princess warrior, So am I.’ We’re cut from the same cloth,’ ” says Wen. “So I called Lucy up and said, ‘Hey I’m in your neck of the woods. Come on, let’s grab coffee.’ “
The two met up and took the required selfie to mark the memory. Then Lawless posted the photo on Instagram, signaling Wen was in New Zealand. Fans would know.
“I immediately texted her saying, ‘Lucy, you HAVE to take that down immediately.’ And she was like, ‘Oh (expletive),’ ” says Wen. “That freaked me out. I felt I had failed in my mission.”
But the fast action staved off the reveal. “If anyone had seen that, they would have put two and two together.”
The “Mulan” cameo itself was a minor miracle. Wen was originally supposed to appear in the matchmaker scene as a potential mother-in-law to Mulan (Yifei Liu). But that complex scene would have required a month away from work.
“My producers on ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ were like, ‘We’re trying, but that’s impossible. We can’t lose you for a month,’ ” says Wen, who was “heartbroken” but understanding.
However, an even better idea emerged: Wen would play the “esteemed guest” who introduces Mulan to the Emperor (Jet Li).
“I thought that it was the perfect Easter egg. That felt so right. And they only needed me for a week,” says Wen.
She jetted to New Zealand and sat through through elaborate costume and wig fittings, only to have director Niki Caro shoot them down. “Niki said, ‘I want her to look like the animated Mulan,’ ” says Wen.
Her final character ended up being modeled directly on the animated scene where an uncomfortably formal Mulan visits the matchmaker. Besides the outfit and wig, Wen even walked with the precarious head tilt of her animated self.
“It seemed like too many hurdles, it was not going to happen, and all of sudden everything fell into place,” she says.
Wen’s daughter Michaela, 20, appears in the scene where Mulan initially declines to meet the Emperor. “They pass to this young girl who is shocked in a very subtle way. That was Michaela. It’s pretty cool,” says Wen.
Wen was concerned fans wouldn’t recognize her “with so much hair and makeup on.”
“I thought people would just bypass it,” says Wen. “But at the world premiere, they were gasping and applauding and cheering. That just made my day. And that’s who we did it for. I adore and cherish my Mulan fans.”
Now Wen feels it might be safe to post that selfie.
“I’ve been so scared that picture would go up,” says Wen. “I really should put it up.”