Director Richard Bowen knew that when most of the world hears the name Cinderella, they probably imagine a blond cartoon character in a blue dress. The Disney version, in short. He was going to have to find an actress who was her own, fully-realized character. She needed to be the quintessential fairytale orphan, unseen and mistreated until her value was recognized.
He also needed an actress who was young enough to be innocent and helpless, but old enough that the arranged marriage she’s threatened with in the film wasn’t too shocking. She needed to be uncommonly beautiful, but she also had to pass as a peasant from long ago. As an orphaned girl in an ancient, family-centric world that only values boys, this Cinderella needed to be outwardly passive and submissive towards the other characters, while letting a modern audience see her internal strength and active struggle. A tall order, to be sure, but then Bowen added one more requirement: the actress who would play Mei Mei needed to do all this with a light touch!
Enter actress Xiao Min, who was just about ready to graduate from performing arts school on the day Bowen found her. After two years of casting all over China and auditioning over 1,000 actresses, Bowen knew he’d finally found Mei Mei. “I couldn’t believe how great her audition tape was,” he said, “and I immediately flew her up to Beijing. We hit it off and I was certain she could do it.”
And he was right. At once vulnerable and tough, childlike but on the verge of womanhood, unpretentious yet regal, Xiao Min makes Mei Mei come alive with a subtle, quiet performance. You don’t watch her and compare her to the cartoon Cinderella; but rather, you become absorbed in her character and her plight in its own right. Audiences who have seen her performance agree; Xiao Min as Mei Mei is the real deal.
Describing the opportunity to play Mei Mei as a fairytale in itself, Xiao Min reveals that working with Richard Bowen was very different from working with a Chinese director. “Richard talked more about what he was thinking and communicated with me more,” she says. “He actually gave me direction me when I was performing and inspired my performance with stories.”
When asked what she thought were the main differences between the Disney Cinderella and Cinderella Moon, she answered, “The Disney Cinderella is more about the happy ending. It teaches girls to fantasize. But what I learned from playing Mei Mei in Cinderella Moon is that you should stick to your own beliefs and be brave enough to express yourself. Girls are just like boys with the same abilities.”