It’s hard to imagine Turning Red’s Meilin Lee without Rosalie Chiang’s voice-over. From the passionate “AWOOOGA” to the big, sniffly crying, Chiang imbues the plucky 13-year-old protagonist of Pixar’s latest animated movie with captivating zest and specific relatability. Her behind-the-scenes stories from the film have become popular on TikTok, where she shared the genesis of the “AWOOOGA” line. But Chiang was originally just hired to do the film’s scratch audio — the temporary audio track many animated movies use while they’re still in the early stages of production. Her performance won over director Domee Shi and the other filmmakers, however, and they asked her to be Mei’s official voice.
Chiang recently talked to Polygon about the exact moment when the character of Mei really solidified for her — and what Shi told her that informed her approach to the character.
“It was the intro where she goes, ‘I’m Meilin Lee, and ever since I turned 13…’” Chiang says. “And after I said it once, Domee was like, All right, can you now say it as though you drank 10 Red Bulls? And 12-year-old me was like, I’ve never had Red Bulls. But I knew exactly what she meant. And I said it as though I drank 10 Red Bulls. And that moment, everything clicked. I just felt that everyone in the room sort of reached an agreement, like Yeah, this is it.”
For the most part, Mei’s character came easily to Chiang. As a big K-pop fan, she absolutely channeled her love of boy and girl bands into Mei’s enthusiasm for the in-universe boy band 4*Town.
“My squad back home and I — we literally only talk about K-pop. And we can talk for hours and hours and hours about it,” she gushes. “Actually, Domee was one of the people that encouraged me to listen to K-pop. She introduced me to bands like Big Bang, 2PM.”
The scenes Chiang found the hardest were the ones where Mei cries, or is otherwise overcome with intense emotion. The first time Mei’s friends see her in panda form, for instance, Chiang says she had to do some real emotional digging. The sequences that came easiest to her — like the iconic “AWOOOGA!” Mei lets out while looking at her crush Devon — ricocheted in the opposite direction. Chiang says she had a great time voicing those moments, as well as anything involving funny actions or lines.
She says there was one particularly hilarious line from an earlier version of the plot that didn’t make the final cut. It took place after Mei learns about her family’s ties to red pandas — specifically, her ancestor Sun Yee, whose close connection to the creature gave the Lee family the ability to transform in the first place.
“In the original [version of the] legend, it used to be that Sun Yee had any wish,” Chiang explains. “But she chose to be a giant red panda. And Mei is like, ‘You could have had anything! Fame, money, a smokin’ hot bod!’ I love that line so much. And I remember everyone in the room laughing [when we recorded it]. I was a little sad it didn’t make it.”
Turning Red is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now, with some hidden Easter eggs and deleted scenes available to find.