Chloe Bennet is walking the red carpet at the Shanghai International Film Festival for the premiere of her new film, Abominable. Photographers scream her name, cameras flash and fans beg for an autograph. She’s in her element, wearing a Vivienne Westwood gown she describes as “a soulmate in a dress”. It’s a homecoming of sorts for Bennet, who in 2007 at age 15 moved from Chicago to China to chase her dreams of pop stardom. “Going back to China over a decade later with such a big movie was cyclical in a really powerful way,” says Bennet, who lived with her grandmother in Shanghai and became a Chinese pop star with millions of YouTube views.
“Two months before I moved to China, I was sitting in math class, then all of a sudden I was performing in front of 3000 people. It was pretty crazy,” explains Bennet, now 27. In 2010, she traded pop-stardom for Hollywood and got her big break in 2013 playing the superhero Quake on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. “My time in China really shaped me. I knew who I was when I came to LA,” she says.
It’s fitting that the film that brought Bennet back to China is about a feisty young Asian girl called Yi who goes on a life-changing adventure. Abominable is the first Hollywood animation film to have an Asian lead since Mulan in 1998. The milestone isn’t lost on Bennet, who changed her last name from Wang after difficulty landing acting roles. “Yesterday I was at the movies and a little Asian girl walked up to the Abominable poster and put her hand on [her] hair and then on the hair of the character. I [cried]. Those are the moments that matter,” she says.
Abominable is in cinemas from September 19.
This article originally appeared in the October issue of marie claire.