A new addition to the highly anticipated fourth season of the Netflix hit series Stranger Things has close ties to both Texas and Austin. Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, actress Regina Ting Chen grew up in San Antonio and studied at the University of Texas at Austin.
Now residing in Atlanta, Georgia, Chen was a 2016 finalist for CBS's Diversity Drama Initiative Program. She has been featured in the popular USA crime drama Queen of the South, Marvel's The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and HBO's Emmy-winning limited series Watchmen. In the new season of Stranger Things, debuting Friday, May 27, Chen plays a guidance counselor at Hawkins High.
CultureMap connected with Chen for a few questions about her career so far, and about what fans can expect from the next season of Stranger Things.
CultureMap: So you were born in Honolulu, Hawaii. What brought you to Texas originally?
Regina Ting Chen: My dad’s business was not doing well and we had to close shop. We all relocated to San Antonio where my aunt was working and said that it’s a much more affordable place with great education opportunities.
CM: What inspired you to study at the University of Texas at Austin?
RTC: My aunt is a pharmacy professor at UT! She gave me the idea from the get-go, and I wanted to stay close to home as I am extremely close to family.
CM: What are some of your favorite memories of Austin or UT from that time?
RTC: College was difficult for me, I’m not great at test-taking haha! But it taught me so much about discipline, how to stay organized, and work my butt off. I also worked full-time as a hostess and makeup artist in order to pay my way through college as I had no help. Austin always had the best food options! But more importantly, Austin is such a great place to find all kinds of creative outlets. That’s the only way I got to explore doing different things like makeup and acting to find out what I would like to do, how to network, and just grow as a human! Austin is beautiful and will always be dear to me. It was hard leaving the city.
CM: You earned your degree in Spanish and business. How did you first get into acting?
RTC: When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to take drama classes so I would just put on “shows” for my family during the holidays. I would come up with different acts, have my family members partake, build a set, all of it! So I always had the spirit in me. My grandma, being an immigrant, was afraid to venture out much. So I always enjoyed helping her live vicariously through my eyes by reenacting my days, sometimes embellishing basic things as long as it made her smile and laugh. She was my rock. She’s gone now, sadly, but I have all those memories I re-enacted for her and created with her to last me my whole lifetime.
As an adult, I was actually scouted by a local photographer who suggested that I try modeling. It almost sounds like a story that would end with me in trouble. I then did some local photo shoots, and, eventually, it led me to sign with Kim Dawson Agency in Dallas. They suggested acting classes for me and thus began my Meisner journey with Austin Meisner coach Laurel Vouvray.
CM: When did you decide to take the plunge and make it your full-time career?
RTC: In 2016, I had decided I was going to just go full-time corporate and take a break from acting for a few years, as I was burned out and not getting opportunities. Three months later, I realized I was miserable without the life of storytelling in any capacity. That’s when I realized acting is for the rest of my life. And everything else I did from that point forward was done to support that realization.
CM: Can you tell us more about the CBS Diversity Drama Initiative Program?
RTC: Yes! So CBS had a nationwide initiative for diverse talent to submit tapes as an audition for the program. They received over 10,000 tapes! The next step was callbacks, which I did in Austin, and finally, they selected 12 finalists to be flown out to LA for a week-long, paid-for intensive. I learned so much on that trip. I have never been on a real big-budget set before in my life, nor met other actors in different markets across the nation. It truly opened my eyes to see how big that world can really be.
CM: What have been some of your favorite roles until now?
RTC: I loved playing a money laundering banker on Queen of the South. I am such a person of honor that it was fun to play someone who was so deceiving. Plus, working with Alice Braga was amazing! I also enjoyed playing the female lead in a local indie feature (Lion Killer) shot in Houston back in 2018, because the creators gave me a chance to show my talent and believed that I could carry the film before I even knew I could. And ultimately, my role in Stranger Things is by far my favorite, because my character Ms. Kelly is truly me — caring, kind, and quirky. I cannot wait for the world to meet her! I’m also just so proud to represent the Asian community every chance I get.
CM: How did the role in Stranger Things come about?
RTC: Just like any other show, I received an audition from my agent for the role. The script (sides) were different names so that we wouldn’t know who was involved in it. It was great, actually, because that allowed me to just bring myself authentically to the character of how I would be in that world.
CM: Were you already a fan of the show before you signed on for Season 4?
RTC: Yes!!! I’m a big sci-fi nerd and I loved the show prior to even getting the audition. So you KNOW how stoked I was to have gotten a chance to read for the show. It’s so rare!
CM: Can you tell us anything particularly exciting to look forward to in this next season?
RTC: The world is darker and scarier than it ever has been before. It’s impossible. Hang on tight! I’m right there with you because I’m scared of the dark and everything spooky!