Daniel Dae Kim, Awkwafina on 'secrecy' behind Raya and the Last Dragon casting, resemblance to their characters
During EW's Around the Table, star Kelly Marie Tran also talks about what it means to see Southeast Asian characters "existing in this world without having to over justify or explain themselves."
Audiences might be stunned seeing all the big names starring in Raya and the Last Dragon, like Daniel Dae Kim, Awkwafina, Sandra Oh, Gemma Chan, and more. What might be more surprising, though, is that many of them discovered who their castmates were "at the same time" as the rest of the world, Awkwafina says in EW's Around the Table video.
"A lot of us didn't even know we were in the movie with each other for a long time, because there was such secrecy around the project," Kim, who plays Raya's father Benja, says.
"I asked for the numbers and they were like, 'Absolutely not,'" Awkwafina, who voices Sisu the dragon, jokes.
Kim also reveals that he and Oh, who portrays Fang chief Virana, accidentally found out they were both in the movie.
"Sandra and I were talking about something that had nothing to do with Raya and I was like, 'Wait a minute, are you in this project? Because I'm doing this project," he recalls, imitating his own coyness at the time. "And that's how we found out that we were both in Raya. And so I went to [producer Osnat Shurer] and I said 'Who else is in this project?' And of course then I found out [Benedict Wong] was in the project as well, and Gemma, so it was nice to see who was rounding out the cast."
Even Chan, Oh's on-screen daughter Namaari, says she had no clue who was playing her mother "for a long time."
"They kept that a secret for a long, long, long time, and then I found out and I was like, 'What!' I was so so so excited," the actress adds.
Raya and the Last Dragon stars Kelly Marie Tran as the titular heroine Raya, Disney's first Southeast Asian princess. She must find Sisu, the last remaining dragon in Kumandra, to save her divided kingdom. In the movie, we also see Sisu in human form, and Awkwafina discusses how "trippy" it was to see her resemblance in the character.
"It was very trippy, because there are capture cameras, but you don't really know how they're going to work it in and then the teeth — and I was like, 'Yeah, I should probably look into Invisalign, shouldn't I?" the actress quips.
She takes it all in stride though, adding, "It's so cool, it's the coolest feeling ever."
Kim also says he was "pretty shocked" when he saw Benja's image for the first time.
"I saw some pre-visualizations of it and I had an image in my head of what he was supposed to look like," he continues. "Then when I actually saw him animated, he looked a lot more like me than I thought he would. In fact, my wife and kids were like, 'Is he you?' I was like, 'No no no' but there are some real similarities. I just wish I could rock the man bun like he can."
Besides just the physical similarities, Tran talks about what it was like to see herself and her culture represented in the movie. Previously, the filmmakers spoke to EW about the cultural research trips the Raya team took to countries like Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos.
Tran, whose family hails from Vietnam, she was struck by the familial terms Namaari and Raya call each other, which were taken from the Vietnamese language.
"To see that in a script, I've never felt that sort of feeling before where I recognized immediately references to things that I had grown up with and that's throughout the whole movie," she says. "The moment where young Namaari and young Raya go in to see the dragon gem, and they just silently take off their shoes without any questions, and they just walk in, things like that."
The actress, who's previously appeared in the Star Wars movies, says it's meaningful to see representations of diverse characters simply existing on screen.
She continues: "It's like these little moments, it's incredible how empowering it has been just to see a movie like this and to see characters existing in this world without having to over justify or explain themselves, they're just here. And that's a really beautiful experience."
Raya and the Last Dragon is out now on Disney+ and in select theaters. Watch EW's full interview with the cast above.
Raya and the Last Dragon
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