The character of Jade Nguyen, better known by her nom de guerre, made her comics debut in the pages of New Teen Titans Annual #2 and has been a force to be reckoned with ever since. While Cheshire has made her presence known in the DC Universe for almost four decades, I think it’s safe to say that most non-comic book readers were introduced to the assassin through the acclaimed Young Justice animated series. Deviating from the comics, the YJ version of Cheshire was given a new backstory growing up in a broken home as the daughter of two supervillains with a compelling performance courtesy of Kelly Hu. Thanks to the dedicated fandom, Hu got the chance to reprise the character she helped define when Young Justice was brought back from cancellation. The latest season featured a major turning point for Cheshire, but there’s no telling if we’ll be seeing her again by the end of the season. Luckily though, fans can catch Hu revisiting Cheshire in the new Catwoman: Hunted anime style film.
Considered “YJ-adjacent,” according to screenwriter and Young Justice co-creator Greg Weisman, there are no shortage of cat fights when everyone’s favorite feline felon finds herself in the fight of life against Cheshire. The Beat had the chance to chat with Hu not only about why the character resonates so much with her but also about her new endeavor in socially responsible clothing.
Taimur Dar: The voice cast of Young Justice has made it clear how meaningful working on that animated series was for them and the characters they played. Is it safe to assume that’s the same case for you?
Kelly Hu: I think the reason that this cast was so tight in particular was a) the writing was amazing. Greg Weisman did such a great job with these characters and bringing them to life. But also that series was done in a group setting where everyone got to spend time with each other in the room. And so people got to really know one another. Oftentimes when you’re doing animation you’re in the room by yourself, especially now with the pandemic. Even now when people are going back to the studio, you’re still in a room by yourself as if you’re recording at home because of COVID protocols. You don’t even see people in the hallways anymore. There’s got to be a half-hour in between sessions so they can air out the room and sanitize everything. That cast in particular was very close because of all that time they had spent together. These fans were so loyal wanting to bring back the series and they made it happen.
Dar: Young Justice really helped bring Cheshire to a wide audience outside of comics and redefined the character for animation. Are you particularly attached emotionally to Cheshire?
Hu: Of course. I love this character! She’s one of the most fun voices that I got to do. When I was developing her style I remember thinking that I wanted her to sound like a cat. And because she was also sarcastic I wanted her to purr with everything she said and bring her down into a lower register. She’s one of the more stylized voices that I get to do. I love being able to bring her back into this world in this movie as well.
Dar: I’ve really come to appreciate how much depth and thought filmmakers and actors put into these comic book projects. I was watching an interview with James Gunn about his Suicide Squad film and he mentioned in discussing the character of Peacemaker with John Cena, he felt that Peacemaker was the saddest character in the film because he desperately wants to be noticed and make connections but he just can’t relate to other people.
Young Justice introduced a backstory for Cheshire that was different from the comics but brought new definition to the character. Despite Cheshire’s limited role in Catwoman: Hunted, were you able to bring that subtext into your performance?
Hu: I had already had this history with Young Justice so I knew this character pretty well. I didn’t know this relationship that she had with Catwoman before that. I didn’t get to get to find anything on that. It was awesome being able to bring her back and get to reprise this role in a different setting and style of animation.
I don’t think that I really concentrated on the differences in voice. I just wanted to be true to the Cheshire that was in Young Justice.
Dar: Quite a few filmmakers have actors they enjoy working with and so cast them frequently in their projects like Wes Anderson and Billy Murray or Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson. You’ve obviously worked with Catwoman: Hunted screenwriter Greg Weisman and voice director Jamie Thomason before not only in Young Justice but also Spectacular Spider-Man. What’s been your professional experience with them?
Hu: I love working these guys. I worked with them over so many years. I think I even worked with Jamie on another project for Scooby-Doo where I got to play two of the main characters in the film. They’re just so awesome [and] so talented. It’s such an honor to be able to work with them. I love how Jamie directs. He’s got such a great sense of humor. He really makes the day go by shorter. He also is so great at giving you direction using words to tell you exactly what he wants out of the character in a split second. You just get it very quickly with him. He’s so crystal clear on what he wants. Sometimes there are projects where I just felt like pulling teeth trying to figure out what they wanted out of a character. But with him it’s always crystal clear. With Greg, he just writes such amazing dialogue and such great relationships with his characters. I think that’s why Young Justice was so successful.
Dar: Whereas most people like myself probably spent time binge watching TV during the pandemic, you actually launched 33 Edge, a socially conscious clothing line. What led you to embark on this venture?
Hu: I started this right at the height of all the protests that were going on during the Black Lives Movement. It hit close to home because some of these protests were happening literally a block away from my apartment. I just felt like there was so much division in the world, even before all of this stuff. I come from a very conservative family. All of my family are republicans and staunch Trump supports. I am much more liberal in my views. I try very hard to keep an open mind and open dialogue and hear what other people are saying without cutting people out of my life. It was hard. It’s very hard. At the beginning when Trump got elected there was so much happening on social media and people were just cutting family members and friends they had known for all of their lives out completely. I just thought there has to be more that we have in common. We have to go back to understanding one another and unity and equality and humanity kindness, and just spreading more of these messages. So I used these words to put on t-shirts in a variation of skin colors. Each one represents diversity. I hoped this would promote this kind of thinking instead of these divisions that we’ve been experiencing.
Catwoman: Hunted arrives on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray Combo Pack, Blu-ray and Digital on February 8, 2022.