When Chloe Bennet was introduced as Skye (aka Daisy Johnson) on the first episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. six years ago, little did we know where her character would go over the course of the next six seasons, becoming known as the Inhuman codenamed “Quake” with powers to match. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will end with its already-filmed seventh season next year, but that doesn’t mean it’s the last we’ve seen or HEARD from Bennet.
Bennet’s most recent move as an actor is to movies with her first voice role in DreamWorks Animation’s Abominable, voicing the role of Yi, a young Chinese girl who finds a fierce but cuddly Yeti on her roof that she names it “Everest,” because that is its home. With the help of her friend Jin (voiced by Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and his cousin Peng (Albert Tsai from Fresh Off the Boat), the three go on a magical journey across mainland China to bring “Everest” home.
As far as animated films go, Abominable is quite wonderful, a fun and original fantasy-adventure that offers equal parts laughs and tears, regardless of your age.
The Beat spoke to Ms. Bennet over the phone last week, and this interviewer may have confessed to getting a little teary-eyed during a couple scenes in the movie.
The Beat: I really enjoyed the movie, and Yi is a fantastic character. How did you get involved with your first voicework?
Chloe Bennet: I went in to meet with DreamWorks about the project and it all felt incredibly organic. I was so similar to… The character was such a similar, she was just everything that I wanted to see when I was a kid onscreen. She’s the anti-princess kind of heroine that I’ve always wanted to see on screen. Her journey isn’t about finding her Prince Charming. It’s about kind of finding herself and that’s ultimately what really attracted me to the film. And just the fact that it’s genuine representation of an Asian girl as the protagonist and hero of the film, which we haven’t seen since Mulan. So that was cool.
The Beat: Did they have any kind of thing to show you before you started – maybe a picture of Yi or some early footage?
Bennet: Yeah, yeah, they had been working on the film for a while, so I got to see mock-up versions and little sizzle reel type things of how she moves a little bit and what she looked like, and versions of her. It’s all been changed slightly since then, but I’ve always had a slight visual of what she was going to look like aesthetically.
The Beat: I was really impressed when I saw the movie, because I know you were probably in a studio by yourself reading the lines, but the emotions they created out of that for your character was quite amazing. Can you talk about that and how you worked with the animators to create Yi?
Bennet: 99% of the process of actually voicing the film was done with just me and Jill [Culton, the film’s director] in the studio. DreamWorks is an incredible place. It’s definitely slightly intimidating because you have all of DreamWorks behind the booth. But it was a really freeing experience in that way, where all sense of vanity was kind of left at the door and you really just have your voice and the emotion. When it’s all you have to focus on, it is incredibly tricky in one way, but it’s also really freeing in another.
The Beat: Were you able to meet any of your co-stars while doing the voicework?
Bennet: I met Tenzing and Albert, honestly, only this year really, and I’ve been working on it for three [years]. I just met Sarah Paulson at the premiere, on the red carpet, which I’m about to actually post on Instagram. But yeah, the nature of animation is you get to have people from different projects in different places because of how isolated it is as an actor doing animation. Which has its perks and also its downsides. But overall, it was like an incredible experience. It was a really challenging one creatively.
The Beat: I guess you would have started the voicework back in 2016, so you had already been on S.H.I.E.L.D. a couple of years I imagine?
Bennet: Yeah, yeah…
The Beat: Was it hard fitting the voice sessions into your schedule? How much time did you have to spend in the studio?
Bennet: Yeah, it would be like finding those days off in between S.H.I.E.L.D.Sometimes it was rushing over from one set still with fake blood on my face or coming off of a fight sequence. There were definitely days where I was screaming, because aliens were chasing us on S.H.I.E.L.D. and rushing over to the DreamWorks studio and drinking tea, and kind of trying to save my voice and manage that whole thing. There was definitely some back and forth that was tricky, but luckily the studio was very patient with me.
The Beat: Hopefully you were voicing some of the action scenes in Abominable on days you were doing action on S.H.I.E.L.D., so you had that adrenaline thing going.
Bennet: A lot of the scenes we would do every time. There was always rewrites, but what’s interesting is the action sequences for Abominable and for S.H.I.E.L.D. are completely different in terms of what they needed for efforts and sound. S.H.I.E.L.D. was much more of an aggressive kind of actual fighting effort of someone who knows how to fight, whereas Abominable, you don’t want to be sounding like you’re killing somebody. So there’s definitely a version of the films that were out there where I was a lot darker, probably coming from the S.H.I.E.L.D. world, but Jill was really great at reigning that in and reminding me that this is not the same thing.
The Beat: How did you deal with voice work opposite quote-unquote Everest? Was it someone who was kind of growling at you?
Bennet: They would show me versions of what he would do, but no, not really. That was a big reward when I got to finally watch the film, because they workshopped what exactly he was going to sound like for a while. I didn’t really know what his reactions were going to be, so we would give different versions, like one if you reacted more confused. There was a lot of different, “Okay, let’s now do one take with this. Let’s do one take version of this.” We just kind of workshopped it I guess.
The Beat: You work on a movie like this as an actor for at least three years I’d imagine. You know the lines and story, but when you first actually see the movie, what surprises or impresses you the most?
Bennet: I’m just wildly impressed by the craftsmanship of every single take of every single shot of the film. They’re making, not just something out of nothing, but an incredible work of art that takes thousands of people and effort and time and thought for just seconds of the film. It’s something that goes by, but you see just how much craftsmanship and how much creativity and imagination goes into the angle of every cup or utensil, or the way that a shirt falls or moves or the fur of Everest or my hair. Everything was thought out over and over again. In this day and age, with so much content out there, it’s really, really special to be a part of something that is thoughtful and has so much effort behind every frame. In a world with instant media, it’s fun to be a part of something where every second of this meant a lot to so many different people.
The Beat: I got a little teary-eyed during the Buddha scene. I didn’t outright ugly-cry, but I was pretty close…
Bennet: You’re like, “I might have gotten misty-eyed… or maybe I was full-blown…
The Beat: There were lots of little kids glaring at me, like, “What’s with that old guy?” So obviously you’re done with S.H.I.E.L.D. and finished shooting the last episode, so are you looking at other things? Are you going to go to the movies?
Bennet: We wrapped S.H.I.E.L.D. about a month ago, and it was really just kind of post-production S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff. [I’m] getting my bearings off of seven seasons of the show, and we’ve kind of jumped right into Abominablepress and promotion. My main job right now is just making sure people know about how great of a film this is, which I’m stoked. It’s a very different facet of the work that I do, but it’s a really fun one to take time out to just tell the story of the authentic filmmakers behind this film, and to promote the fact that this is the first Asian-American animation leads since Mulan, and the fourth female lead of any DreamWorks movie. It’s a big moment for a woman of color, and I just think it’s a really good film.
The Beat: I know you’ve been part of this big ensemble for so long, so it must be nice to have something that’s your own thing, as well.
Bennet: Yeah, it’s fun because when you do seven years of promoting something or having a team around you – especially my dear Clark Gregg who has taught me so much about what it means to be a leader on screen and off – it’s fun to kind of apply what I’ve learned from S.H.I.E.L.D. and put my big girl pants on and do it myself, which has been a fun experience.
The Beat: You mentioned Clark Gregg, and his Coulson recently returned to the MCU in Captain Marvel (sort of). Now that S.H.I.E.L.D.is over, do you think that Daisy-slash-Quake might show up eventually over there? Would you like to keep playing the character, or do you feel like you’ve ended that chapter and can move on with your life?
Bennet: I don’t think I’m ready to put that Quake suit on anytime soon, if I’m being honest. It is REAL tight, so I’ve been enjoying the extra glass of wine that I get, and it’s a little relaxing to not have to play a superhero for a little bit. It’s a pretty physical job, so I’m enjoying a life right now. But never say never.
The Beat: It’s been great talking to you. Congratulations on the movie. It’s really, really wonderful, and I’m glad I got to talk to you about it.
Bennet: Thank you so much. I won’t tell anyone you cried.
Abominable hits theaters nationwide on Friday, September 27.