Zoe Chao, who stars alongside Cate Blanchett in the new film Where’d You Go, Bernadette, talks her Nana’s Chinese cooking, the enduring influence of A League of Their Own, and her dream dinner party…
From start to finish what would be your ideal food day?
My nana’s Chinese cooking all day, every day. This beef and carrots dish she does makes me weak in the knees. She also cooks a shrimp and peas number, which is a knock out. There’s usually a fresh, crisp, sweet vinegar cucumber salad. And lots and lots of white rice always. I could eat that meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And now I’m salivating.
How do you practice beauty from the inside out?
I guess I experience the feeling of beauty most when I’m playing – dancing, singing, joking, writing, making – being creative and curious – that’s when I feel most like myself and most alive. So I try to practice play everyday. And being kind to others and to myself.
What are your morning and nightly beauty routines?
I like to use my jade roller when I remember! I’m a big fan of salt so I often wake up with a puffy face. My entire skin regime comes from my best friend, Sam Buchanan. She is my skin guru. I’ve been using Drunk Elephant C-Firma Day Serum and/or IT gel lotion in the mornings. I’m embarrassingly late to the whole sunscreen thing but we are trying that now!
And I’ve finally gotten better at removing my makeup. After a 12-hour day on set, my face demands more than just a wash. I use La Roche-Posay Micellar Water (makeup remover) to start the process. I like Skinceuticals Phyto Corrective Gel to calm my skin. Shiseido Benefiance eye cream feels really nice on tired eyes. And then I consistently do NOT wear my retainer.
What were you always insecure about growing up, and how did you overcome it?
I used to be insecure about my arm hair. I bleached it in high school (big mistake) and considered shaving or waxing it. But all that time and energy and money that goes into changing one’s natural body started to seem ridiculous to me. And ungrateful! My body does such incredible things everyday and I need to let it be the way it wants to be. And I also realized that I find arm hair on other women really beautiful. We’ve been conditioned to think hair on our female bodies is gross but that is some serious BS.
How do you always start your day?
Been on this Celtic music kick! Went to Ireland with my family years ago and we discovered this incredible fiddler Zoe Conway. She’s a lovely way to start the day. My mom always played classical music first thing in the morning and it was the best part of getting ready for school. The rest of the process seemed impossibly hard.
What movie had the biggest effect on you and why?
A League of Their Own was a formative film for me. It was so exciting as a young girl who loved to play sports, watching these women be such skilled athletes on the big screen. All the sweating, falling down, getting back up – the passion, determination and grit. And the way these women supported each other. It was the first time I saw women portrayed in this way.
Who would you like to collaborate with that you haven’t yet?
Ang Lee is one of my favorite directors. He has such range and depth. He’s a masterful storyteller who lets his actors do some real, mind blowing acting. I’d list all of my favorite Ang Lee films but I’m a fan of his entire body of work.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever received? The best?
Two pieces of advice I try to integrate into my everyday are, “Always bring a jacket” – Dad. And this beautiful concept that, “You are right on time.” Worst advice? “Go to SoulCyle, you’ll love it.”
Is there an issue right now you’re most passionate about? What is it and why?
Someone said somewhere that, “There are people who believe we are all connected and then people who believe we aren’t.” And I think that is what is at the heart of a lot of problems in our country regarding our deplorable immigration policies and healthcare, education, and prison systems. We are connected and we need to treat each other that way.
If you could host a dinner party with any five people living or dead, who would be there and why?
James Baldwin is one of the most compelling American figures to me. His activism and writings on race, sexuality, and class have shaped the way I see and understand this country. I could listen to him talk for the rest of time.
Anna May Wong is considered the first Chinese American Hollywood movie star. She knew she was better than the roles that were available to her. She was a real pioneer. And such a gifted performer.
Anthony Bourdain. He loved food. I loved his love for food. He let me celebrate my love for food. And he taught us so much about the human condition through his love for food. Also, maybe he could cook our dinner?
Jane Goodall’s favorite chimp, David Greybeard. Seems like we’d be homies.
My sister, Maia Chao has to be there. I want her to be at every meal! She’s wickedly smart, has a really wise, good heart, and is one of the funniest people I know. She is trying to move through this life and world in a really intentional, responsible way and inspires me daily. I think all these spirited personalities would really like her. And she’d make me more relaxed.
If you could put a quote on a tee shirt to sum up your current mood and mode, what would it be?
Please pass the salt.
Zoe Chao, photographed at Django at The Roxy Hotel by Danielle Kosann