Chinese Canadian actress Kelly Yu on pandemic filming and falling moons

Kelly Yu makes her North American film debut in Moonfall

What’s really up there on the moon?

Is there a rabbit making rice cakes, like East Asian folklore suggests, or is it just a big ball of cheese? Maybe, the moon holds darker secrets, like in the latest Netflix Korean space thriller The Silent Sea.

Moonfall, a new disaster drama from genre veteran Roland Emmerich, is the latest sci-fi venture into enigmas of the moon, and it’s far from typical.

In Moonfall, an enigmatic force drives the moon’s orbit off-course, setting it to collide into Earth within weeks. A ragtag team consisting of NASA higher-up Jocinda Fowler (Halle Berry), washed-up former astronaut Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and conspiracy theorist K. C. Houseman (John Bradley) set off on a last-ditch mission to uncover the moon’s mysteries and save the world, as their loved ones seek shelter from the climate disasters and social unrest unfolding back on Earth.

The film shifts between the trio’s perilous space mission and their family members’ desperate efforts to find refuge from the climatic chaos caused by the moon’s irregular orbit.

Chinese Canadian singer-songwriter and actress Kelly Yu stars in Moonfall as Michelle, an international student staying with Fowler who accompanies Fowler and Harper’s children on their journey to safety.

See also: Yakuza Princess star Masumi breaks cultural barriers in her film debut

Cold Tea Collective sat down with Kelly Yu to talk about her North American film debut in Moonfall, shooting in a pandemic and what it’s like working in both the Chinese and North American film industries.

Filming a disaster movie during a pandemic

Kelly Yu in Moonfall
Still taken from Moonfall by Roland Emmerich

The pandemic hit Moonfall hard, pushing back production by a couple of months and speeding up principal photography – which added over 5 million dollars in additional costs.

Travel restrictions posed another problem for Emmerich, and ended up causing casting complications well into production.

With Moonfall filming in Montreal, the casting team was looking for someone based in Canada. Yu, previously based in Vancouver, was in the right place at the right time (although she humbly describes it as “lucky”). She landed the interview with Emmerich, read the script, and immediately found the plot “super fascinating.”

Although Yu has filmed scenes in front of a green screen, shooting the majority of the movie in front of one was a new experience for her. “You can imagine, we didn’t see anything happening in front of us, it was all in our head,” she said.

“The moon falling on the Earth, you know [it’s] a typical disaster movie but you have to trust Roland because he’s the master of disaster movies, right?”

See also: Jennifer Cheon Garcia: Korean Mexican actress thriving outside the box

Making her North American debut

Yu, born in Dalian and raised in Vancouver, moved to Boston to study at Berklee College of Music. She made her film debut in Under the Rain in 2012 and TV debut in youth romance One and a Half Summer in 2014, before landing a main role in The Ex-Files 3: The Return of the Exes in 2017 and sung the viral main theme, Ti Mian (体面).

Kelly Yu in Moonfall
Photo credit: Kelly Yu

Aside from acting, Yu is a renowned singer, composer and guitarist, with four studio albums, one EP and a number of OSTs for Chinese dramas under her belt.

See also: 5 female Asian guitar visionaries you need to listen to

In Moonfall, Yu’s character Michelle acts as guardian to Fowler’s son during their journey to safety, developing a strong bond with Harper’s son, Sonny. Michelle heroically rescues Sonny after he gets trapped under a tree, which Yu described as one of her favourite scenes to shoot.

She also sees some similarities between her and her character, despite joking about the age difference between her and college-aged Michelle. “I think she’s brave, she’s softhearted,” said Yu. “I think I have that braveness too.”

Moonfall was Yu’s North American film debut and first time working with a North American team, but to her, it was “pretty much the same” as working in China.

“It’s all the same, just the language is different,” she said.

Taking it one step at a time

Yu describes herself as a person who “stays in the present” and doesn’t think too much about the future when it comes to her career. Even working on Moonfall was a “surprise” to her – a result of a combination of lucky factors.

Kelly Yu Moonfall
Photo credit: Kelly Yu

“I went and I got the role, and that was it,” she said. “I enjoyed playing the part, I don’t overthink it.”

Yu likes to plan for six month timelines, citing the fast-paced nature and constant evolution of the movie industry. 

“You can’t tell what’s [going to happen] in five to ten years, you can’t even imagine,” she said. “Maybe technology-wise, you don’t even have to shoot on set anymore. Who knows?”

Describing the entertainment business as a “very stressful field,” Yu’s approach to her career as an actress is to “think less” and take things one step at a time.

“You have to learn from the movie, right? You have to live in the moment, you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” she said. “The moon might fall, so enjoy it right now.”


Moonfall opens in theatres on February 4th, 2022.

Featured photo credit: A still from Moonfall by Roland Emmerich

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