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Arts + CultureMoviesOakland's Jun Yu represents in 'Mulan'

Oakland’s Jun Yu represents in ‘Mulan’

The young actor, playing Cricket in the live-action version of the beloved film, breaks out on the big (and small) screen.

Jun Yu told 48 Hills that he clearly relates to Cricket, the comrade and confidant of the title character he plays in Disney’s Mulan (out now on Disney+ and in select theaters).

Cricket is an earnest boy who just wants to fit in with the guys,” says the Oakland-born actor, best known to audiences as Pete on ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat. “When I was little, I was very much like Cricket, always looking for a place to fit in.”

Fitting in is just as critical to Mulan (Yifei Liu), the gender-bending warrior hero in Disney’s live-action remake of the 1998 animated film of the same name, who, taking the place of her ailing father, masquerades as a man in order to enlist in the Imperial Army to help defend China from the encroaching Huns. 

It remains a battle for Asians and Asian Americans to attain more visibility on television and the silver screen. A number of actors—including Henry Golding, Awkwafina, Charles Melton, Constance Wu (Yu’s Fresh Off the Boat costar)—and, of course, Yu, himself, are slowly but surely pushing for more screentime. 

I spoke to the Bay Area-reared actor, who now lives in LA, about landing his debut film role in Mulan, fighting for equal representation onscreen, and what he misses most about Northern California.

48 HILLS How did you get the role in Mulan?

48 HILLS How did you get the role in Mulan?

JUN YU While studying, during my second year at the University of Southern California, my manager found me my first audition, which also happened to be Mulan. I worked on it every second of every day until the day of the audition and gave it my all.

48 HILLS How did you first come across the original Mulan animated feature and what appealed to you about it?

JUN YU I was born around the time Mulan was first released, and it was the first animated film that I had seen when I was young that had people who looked like me in it. 

48 HILLS Other than the live-action component, what makes the new movie different from the animated one?

JUN YU A lot of things are different and a lot of things are the same, but this film has almost a different tone than the original. There is something in there for fans of the original animated film and the new fans, who have never heard of Mulan.

48 HILLS Talk to me about growing up in the Bay Area and how you first got into acting.

JUN YU I was blessed to have grown up in the Bay Area. It is a place rich with culture and beautiful people. I learned a lot about other cultures—and even my own. I first got into acting by spending my summers at various colleges learning the craft from those school’s professors. I attended both UC Berkeley and USC in Los Angeles as a high schooler. Later on, I got accepted into USC’s BFA acting program, and now I am here.

Photo by Brett Erickson

48 HILLS Describe your experience working on Fresh Off the Boat.

JUN YU It was spectacular. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience. A lot of my work was with Hudson Yang (“Eddie”), who was a charming and bright kid. On the show, I played a character named Pete, who Eddie befriends on a school trip to Taiwan.

48 HILLS Is there enough Asian representation in Hollywood right now? Are things getting better for Asian and Asian-American actors?

JUN YU There is no such thing as enough representation for us Asian Americans, but things are slowly getting better.

48 HILLS A project like Mulan seems to be a step in the right direction.

JUN YU It is important in every way for both female and Asian representation. Every woman who worked on the film was an absolute powerhouse.

48 HILLS When did you move to LA, and what do you miss most about the Bay Area?

JUN YU I moved to LA in 2016 for college at USC. The one thing I miss the most about the Bay is that air! Bay Area air is the freshest. [Editor’s Note: maybe not at this exact moment, but comparably!]

48 HILLS How often do you come back to the Bay?

JUN YU I come back around four times a year to visit my beautiful mother.

48 HILLS I heard that you’re also a rapper with a debut EP in the works. Any music to share and how far do you think you’ll go with your hip-hop career?

JUN YU For now, it is nonexistent. I’m just having fun with my friends and speaking my truth into the mic. I don’t know how far it will go, but it heals my soul and breaks down my heart.

Mulan is out now on Disney+ and in select theaters.

Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter is a contributing writer for 48 Hills. He’s also written for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, and CNET.

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