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Chinese-American actress Ming-Na is best known for her portrayal of Dr. Deb Chen on the medical drama ER.
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Born in Macao, China, Ming-Na moved the United States when she was four years old. In 1988 she became the fist Asian-American actress to land a contract role on a daytime soap. After appearing films like The Joy Luck Club and voicing the Disney princess Mulan, Ming-Na starred in the primetime medical drama ER.
I've been lucky, knock on wood. But you have to have a sense of humor and grounding about all this stuff. I have a gypsy spirit. That's why I keep an apartment in New York for when I want to get back to theater, because Broadway always will be my final fantasy.
Actress. Ming-Na was born to Cantonese parents on November 20, 1963, on the Coloane Island of Macau. This colonial outpost off the coast of China was under Portuguese administration at the time of Ming-Na's birth but was returned to Chinese control in 1999. Ming-Na's parents divorced when she was still a baby, and she and her mother moved to Hong Kong. When she was four years old, Ming-Na, her mother and stepfather moved from Hong Kong to New York City. After five years in New York, they moved again to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They opened a family restaurant called The Chinatown Inn, which remains a popular spot for Chinese food in Pittsburgh.
Ming-Na fell in love with acting in the third grade when she played a bunny rabbit in a school play. "When I did this funny bit," she later recalled, "the audience responded with laughter and I was hooked." Growing up as an Asian-American in predominantly white suburban Pittsburgh, Ming-Na says she often felt uneasy with her ethnic identity. "I grew up in white suburbia, so I always felt a little bit uncomfortable in my own skin. I always felt I couldn't fully be me or fit in," she recalled. At one point she even experimented with changing her name to something more American. "When I was in junior high school I tried being Doris, because my mother loved Doris Day," she said. "Then I tried Maggie. But I came back to Ming-Na because it means enlightenment and illumination. Now I think it's cool to have a name that's very different. I take great pride in it."
Ming-Na continued performing throughout middle school and high school, and upon graduating in from high school 1982 she was accepted into Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to study acting. She graduated with a bachelor of fine arts in theater in 1986.
After leaving college, Ming-Na moved back to New York City, where she almost immediately landed roles at theaters such as The Ensemble Studio Theater and Playwrights Horizons. Notable productions included Redwood Curtain, Speed the Plow and Luck, Pluck & Virtue. In 1988, Ming-Na became the first Asian actress to land a contract role on any American daytime drama when she was cast as Lien Hughes in the popular soap opera As the World Turns. After three years on the TV drama, in 1993 she delivered a highly praised performance as June in the film adaptation of Amy Tan's acclaimed novel The Joy Luck Club. Ming-Na then demonstrated her versatility as the fearless female lead Chun-Li in the 1994 action flick Street Fighter (based on the iconic Nintendo game of the same name) and then landed a recurring role on the sitcom The Single Guy (1995-97). In 1998, Ming-Na played the voice of the title character in the widely beloved Disney animated film Mulan.
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