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INTERVIEW – ‘Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai’ Stars Gabrielle Nevaeh and Izaac Wang, and Creators Tze Chun and Brendan Hay

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Max’s new animated series, Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai, takes an iconic but mostly dormant series from the 1980s and 1990s and gives it a fresh new perspective. Taking place 60 years before the original Gremlins film, and with 1920s China as the setting, Secrets of the Mogwai tells the story of how Gizmo and Sam Wing, the original owner of Gizmo from the film, first came together. It’s a beautifully drawn and crafted story that is sure to thrill fans of the franchise and bring in a new generation of viewers as well.

The two-episode finale of the first season premieres June 21st on Max, and I had the opportunity to speak with Tze Chun (showrunner, executive producer and writer) and Brendan Hay (executive producer and writer), as well as stars Gabrielle Nevaeh (voice of Elle) and Izaac Wang (voice of Sam Wing).

Chun and Hay led the team to create this new series and are both clearly passionate about the Gremlins franchise. I asked Chun, who is the showrunner for the series, how it felt to have his name at the very top of the key art next to the legendary Steven Spielberg.

“I would be lying if I said it didn’t feel awesome, having grown up watching his movies and being so inspired [by him], but so many people worked on this show, so many incredible collaborators…everybody who worked on this show, it was such a labor of love and you can tell from the detail,” Chun said.

Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai Key Art
Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai Key Art

One of the first things about the show that stands out is that the art style is absolutely beautiful and unique. It looks like concept art come to life, and according to Hay, that was the creative goal for the art team.

“Something we really wanted to make sure we captured in the look of the show was both the handmade practical effects quality of the 80’s Amblin films, especially the original Gremlins puppets…and also how dynamic the camera work was…we wanted to find a way to blend these two desires, and that led us to our art style, which was kind of 2 1/2D,” Hay said. “We’re aspiring to be the art of book. Not the polished finished version, but to have still that handmade quality for our show, and that came straight from Spielberg and Amblin.”

Given that the series takes place in 1920s China, and centers a Chinese family and Chinese characters, Chun talked about why this story was so personal for him.

“What was really appealing to me about 1920s China as a backdrop is, a lot of the Chinese spirits, creatures and monsters from Chinese mythology that populate the show are horror stories that I heard when I was a kid that definitely scared me,” Chun said. Hay added that the team worked closely with a cultural consultant to ensure accuracy and authenticity in the world they were building, and used actual photos of Chinese villages during that time to create their own town. Chun also noted the large contingent of Asian American creatives that worked on the show, which helped ensure authenticity. “And we all watched Kung Fu Hustle together,” Chun said half-jokingly.

POCculture.com Interview with Tze Chun and Brendan Hay

Referencing the considerable number of Asian creatives who worked on Secrets of the Mogwai, Chun spoke about how important it was for him to finally be in a position to give so many talented people the opportunity to show their talents.

“10 years ago, even if there were Asians in front of the camera, there weren’t necessarily Asian creatives behind the camera. And I certainly, when I was coming up through independent film, felt that loneliness,” Chun said. “And to now be in a position where I can hire other up-and-coming Asian American creators and artists, that was really meaningful.”

For children of the ’80s like Chun and Hay (and me), there aren’t too many franchises bigger than Gremlins. But considering the last film was released in 1990, younger generations aren’t quite as aware of the franchise’s history. That includes, the two stars of the show, Gabrielle Nevaeh and Izaac Wang, who play Elle and Sam respectively. Nevaeh said that she was aware of the franchise thanks to its ubiquitous merchandising, but didn’t quite grasp how beloved it was.

“I was always aware of the franchise, my parents grew up on it. You always see the lunch boxes, the shirts and the merchandising in the malls,” Nevaeh said. “I was aware of the franchise, but I wasn’t aware of how big it was, like how much people loved it, like Star Wars, something that’s monumental in people’s lives. I didn’t realize it was that big of a franchise. It’s an honor to be a part of the next generation of Gremlins.”

POCculture.com Interview with Gabrielle Nevaeh and Izaac Wang

Wang echoed Nevaeh’s sentiment, saying that while he had watched the film at a young age, he didn’t realize how much it meant to fans until he delved deeper.

“I was like ‘Wow! There’s a lot more than what I expected!’ There’s a huge fan base behind it. It’s an absolutely gigantic movie and there’s a giant, huge, huge, huge community behind this amazing story,” Wang said.

As for their characters, both Nevaeh and Wang said that Elle and Sam are very different from their actual personalities, and that’s what made them so fun to play.

“She’s so different from me. We’re kind of night and day. Elle doesn’t really like people. She’s really guarded and she’s not really talkative…,” Nevaeh said. “She’s such a fun character because you really over the course of the season, you see she’s not just a bad person. Bad things happened to her which caused her to have the life she has not and behave the way she does now. I think it’s an important story that others are really going to relate to. You never know what someone’s going through. You never know what happened in someone’s past. So just be kind to everyone.”

SImilarly, Wang talked about how it was interesting that his character Sam was more sheltered than he was, and yet more mature at the same time, which forced Wang to think about how to balance those two elements of his character. “It was kind of like growing up and not growing up at the same time,” Wang said.

Check out my full conversations with Chun and Hay and Nevaeh and Wang and watch the two-part finale of Gremlins: Secrets of the Mogwai premiering June 21st on Max!

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Ron is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of POC Culture.  He is a big believer in the power and impact of pop culture and the importance of representation in media.

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