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Russell Wong isn't exactly known for his roles in children's movies.
The film and TV star, 58, has made a name for himself in major TV series like HBO's Westworld and action flicks like Romeo Must Die and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. That's why taking on a role in the new big-screen adaptation of the beloved Clifford the Big Red Dog children's book series feels like a bit of a plot twist for Wong.
The film, which tells the story of Emily Elizabeth, a New York City 6th grader navigating life with her jumbo-size canine companion, features some of the biggest names in comedy (John Cleese, Kenan Thompson, Tony Hale and Rosie Perez, to name a few) alongside some stellar child actors. Wong plays Mr. Yu, a business tycoon and the loving father of Emily Elizabeth's precocious classmate Owen in the film.
But when it comes to the real-life role that Wong revels in most, it's being a dad to his 33-year-old daughter, Eja. Here, Wong opened up to Yahoo Life about what he's learned along the way as a parent.
You have daughter, Eja, in her 30s. Can you tell me a little bit about her?
She’s a Taurus dragon... stubborn! I had her when I was really young, and her mom was young. We were just kind of not sure — we weren’t planning it yet at that time. A lot of folks go through that. It gets bumpy, and then you realize maybe you’re not suited to be living together. I didn’t live in the same household. So we had to navigate through all that for her young early years.
She now works in the entertainment industry too, right?
She got into basketball and dancing and then went to Ventura City College, and was part of the championship basketball team there, and then she got into the business. And now she’s in the union and a producer.
What kind of dad were you? Is there anything you would change about your experience?
Of course, you want to be more patient. At the time, I was also trying to advance my career, and that has its challenges. Everyone goes through this, but the patience [is important]. Be more present. Those are the things.
What's the biggest reward of seeing your child grow up, and the biggest challenge?
I would say the biggest reward is seeing that she’s making her own career for herself. She's standing on her own two feet. It's tough out there for rents and things like that! It's tough for everybody. And the challenge is when they kind of make mistakes where their views of things are maybe not yet fully developed, or they still have to learn what that view is, and are kind of maybe struggling with that a little bit and you can’t tell them how to think. Everyone thinks for themselves.
Did you encourage her to go into the industry, or was that something she found her way into organically?
She kind of found her way. I think her sensibility lends more to being organized, coordinating things. She's good at resourcing and putting people together, and she can hustle. She’s quick on her feet and she thinks quickly. I think she found the right niche for herself.
You were the sixth out of seven children. Did that influence how you raised your own daughter?
Of course, there’s some influence there, but I didn’t want to have six kids. Chaos! I grew up in upstate New York. All my friends were Irish, with six, seven, eight, nine kids in their family. We had the best childhood ever. No cell phones or computers, everyone was out in the street playing football, whatever. That’s what I wish she had, though. You learn different things from being around your tribe. There's definitely something there that she missed out on.
Do you have any cultural traditions that you continue to celebrate with your family?
We always stay together, somewhat [for the holidays]. In this day and age, we're using the computer, Zoom or something. I have my brothers all over the world. My brother in Hong Kong, my brother in New Zealand, my sister's in Colorado, so we make sure we have some kind of connection and stay together. And of course, on Chinese New Year we always make it a tradition to get together and go out for a good meal. We haven’t been able to do that in the last couple years, but we have [met up] since things have opened up a bit.
You're not exactly known for doing children's movies, so this is a bit of a departure for you. Did you enjoy that experience?
I like that it's not so heavy! It's easygoing, and not so heavy. The experience of being in New York and working in New York was just wonderful. There was a lot of love going around.
The kids are really good in the film. The little boy who plays your son Owen (Izaac Wang) is adorable.
He's a dynamic talent, that kid. Artistic sensibilities, he does dancing, he's spontaneous. He's just natural.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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