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Sweet Tooth Star Rosalind Chao on Empathy for Helen Zhang & More

Sweet Tooth star Rosalind Chao (3 Body Problem) discussed the Netflix series and finding empathy in each of her roles, including Helen Zhang.

Rosalind Chao has been fortunate to work in Hollywood for over 50 years since her debut opposite Lucille Ball's Here's Lucy in 1970. She's since made regular appearances on TV while doing the occasional film. Chao hasn't slowed down any time soon with just under 150 credits to her name, including an essential role in the Netflix series 3 Body Problem from Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss and as the "big bad" Helen Zhang, who has an agenda against the human-animal hybrids in the Netflix DC series Sweet Tooth. She spoke to Bleeding Cool about joining the cast at the end of season two into season three, how she develops every role, and the psychology of Zhang.

Sweet Tooth
Rosalind Chao as Zhang in episode 303 of Sweet Tooth. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024

Sweet Tooth Star Rosalind Chao on Playing the Villainous Helen Zhang

Bleeding Cool: How did you get involved with 'Sweet Tooth, and what was it like working on season three?

The casting director, Carmen Cuba, texted me over a weekend and said, "I know you don't love doing series work, but I think this is something you should look at, and this would be a fun character." At that point, I don't know if she was an Asian or Asian American, but she sent me the reels of 'Sweet Tooth' season one, and I loved it. She said, "I'm going to pitch you to Netflix," and I said, "Okay, no pressure if I don't get it. I understand," and she's like, "Trust me. I think it's going to happen." That's how I got hired and met [showrunner] Jim Mickle over Zoom. We talked about the character and it's so delicious. Everything he had in store for me was so delicious, and it's what an actor wants, right? There's a lot of meat in there.

What is it about playing Helen Zhang that allowed you to do things you wouldn't normally do in your typical role?

Normally, when I'm playing somebody, I can find things to empathize with. When I played this murderess in 'The Laundromat' (2019), even then, when I looked up the real person and her background, I could understand what brought her to where she was. For this character, I had to work harder to find the parallels of what would make somebody behave in such a horrific manner towards creatures not that unfamiliar to her, and that eventually share her bloodline. It was more work to find empathy for her, and as an actor, that's always fun. I did find empathy for her, and it helped me to understand people who I normally might hesitate to share a meal with because they have prejudices that I don't agree with, and it would make me uncomfortable. Somehow, through playing this character, I'm able to understand how somebody's brain could go there. I wouldn't want to share a meal with Ms. Zhang. I wouldn't hang out with her, but I like playing with her.

Sweet Tooth Star Rosalind Chao on Empathy for Helen Zhang & More
(L to R) Rosalind Chao as Zhang, Louise Jiang as Ginger, and Kelly Marie Tran as Rosie in episode 301 of Sweet Tooth. Cr. Matt Klitscher/Netflix © 2024

Were there any roles previously that you played or any external sources that drew inspiration into the character?

[Helen]'s different than anything I've played. I think she lost her mind towards the end. Sometimes, when people get so dark, they can go to another place, and that's what happened with Zhang. There were a lot of resources for that, but her cruelty does not come out of "sanity," let's put it that way [laughs].

Did you read the Jeff Lemire comic before taking the role for research, or did you look at what the TV show already did?

I didn't [read the comic]. I watched season one and I had a friend I performed with at The National [Theatre] in England. The playwright was a British-Irish and Japanese playwright, and he was a huge fan of Jeff Lemire. I did mention it to him because we talk every week and he was so over the moon that he was so excited. His name is Francis Turnly and you're going to see a lot more of him. Like I said… a huge fan of Jeff Lemire's and comic books, so there was no way I couldn't do it. [Helen's] not in the comic. There are parallels, but she's not in the Lemire comic.

Was there a particular scene in season three that was particularly difficult?

The end of season three, because it involved…I don't want to give away spoilers, but it involved a lot of technical stuff that probably took more time than most of the other scenes. Technically, there was a ton of climbing up and down things in high-heeled boots. Other than that, it was the snow in high-heeled boots, but that was so minor. It was so much fun to act. It's just delicious to be able to play that character. It was all fun [laughs]. The wig in the summer and the big fur coat were [rough], but we had the most amazing makeup and costume department. Amanda [Neale] in the costume was amazing, but so worth it, but the heat, wig, and fur coat were a lot in the hot New Zealand summer.

All three seasons of Sweet Tooth, which also stars Christian Convery, Nonso Anozie, Adeel Akhtar, Stefania LaVie Owen, James Brolin, Will Forte, Naledi Murray, Amy Seimetz, Kelly Marie Tran, Cara Gee, and Ayazhan Dalabayeva, are streaming on Netflix.

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Tom ChangAbout Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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