Regina Ting Chen may not have been encouraged to go into entertainment, but that didn’t stop her from going for it anyway.
Growing up in a Chinese family, Chen says that her parents wanted her to go into a field like business or cardiology. But that didn’t stop her from putting on performances for her own family, often roping her siblings into performing with her, or telling exaggerated stories to her grandmother.
“My grandma was an immigrant and raised me most of my childhood. She was afraid to step out of the house, she was just afraid of the world outside, especially because she didn’t really speak English,” recalled Chen. “I would actually tell her what would happen during my day, sometimes embellishing my story so she could live vicariously through me. I just wanted to make her laugh, I wanted her to feel all the things I felt in my day whether they were real or not.”
Chen went on to graduate from The University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Spanish and a minor in business. She was approached for a local modelly opportunity in Texas and it was her agent who suggested that she take acting classes.
“I was really excited because the idea that I could do it never crossed my mind until that moment,” said Chen.
However, there was a time when Chen thought that she should take a break from acting and establish a career where she can save up and return to acting later on. She moved to Houston with her now-husband with the intention of working a job for ten years (she landed an assistant manager position with a starting salary of $60,000), save money and then start to act again.
“I hated it so much. I thought, how can I do this for ten years and then go back to what I love to do? So that moment was when I realized acting was going to be forever, and I had to walk away,” said Chen. “It took three months, it’s not that long but was long enough for me to realize I don’t care how much money they throw at me, or how hard I have to work somewhere else. It took that for me to realize this is what I want to do forever.”
Chen has since racked up a number of acting credits, including “Queen of the South,” Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier,” HBO’s Emmy-winning limited series “Watchmen,” and CW’s “Black Lightning” and “Dynasty.” However, these days you can see her as Miss Kelly, the guidance counselor that appears in the newest season of Netflix’s “Stranger Things.”
Chen was a huge fan of the show beforehand and as a self-proclaimed sci-fi nerd, she was very excited to be cast in the show.
“I did feel a little like the pressure was high. ‘Stranger Things’ is probably the biggest show in the world as far as everybody watches it,” said Chen.
For Chen, she loves how immersive being on set can be when working on “Stranger Things.”
“One of my favorite things was just how committed they are to creating the 80s world, right down to the detail of the pencil,” said Chen. “I love that even the notepad that I would be touching would be old school. It made my job so easy to just drop into that world and think that I’m living in that time period.”
Chen was delighted at how well received her character was. She noted that she has heard from adults and kids alike reacting to how close to home her character hit for them.
“It’s been even better than I imagined because my character is recognizable and I’m so touched when people I don’t know and ‘Stranger Things’ fans reach out and say you remind me of my counselor from back in the day,” said Chen. “Adults and kids, I hear from all of them. I’m just overwhelmed that people like Miss Kelly.”
Even more so, Chen was happy that she was able to bring some Asian representation to the show.
“It did feel like I had pressure because I’m the first person in the cast that’s Asian represented on there. I’m not saying that there weren’t Asians before, but one that has a name and is involved in the storyline,” said Chen. “I don’t think it was intentional, like ‘We need to put an Asian person in here and it’s going to be Regina,’ but however it ended up happening, I feel so honored and will work so hard to keep being the best representation that I can be.”
Regardless, Chen is glad that she is able to bring that representation to the screen.
“I feel like I’m right where I need to be,” said Chen. “I don’t always like to be cheesy like that, but in thinking about all of the work I did, it set me up to represent this type of role in the best way I can so I can meet others like me who are interested in being actors and say there is hope.”
Stay up to date on the latest from Chen by following her on Instagram @reginatingchen.