left: dress-RC CAYLAN, earrings-CAROLINE SVEDBOM, rings-LILOU PARIS, shoes-FRANCESCA BELLAVITA, right: top & pants-PEGGY HARTANTO, necklace-UNOde50

Rosalind Chao & Zine Tseng

On weaving a character across time


Photos: Daniel Kim @_danieljkim

Fashion: Jess Mori @jessmademewearit

Makeup: Pircilla Pae @pircillapae (Rosalind) & Adam Breuchaud @adambreuchaud (Zine)

Hair: Eddie Cook @eddie_cook (Rosalind) & Barb Thompson @barbdoeshair (Zine)

Video: Brannon Gee @brannon_gee

Creative Direction: Henry Wu @hello.henry

Retoucher: Conan Thai

Anxious anticipation filled me as I waited outside the Netflix building, the LA marathons a blur of activity in the background. Inside, Rosalind Chao and Zine Tseng were being photographed for their new Netflix series, 3 Body Problem, an adaptation of the Chinese science fiction novel The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu. Both actresses portray Ye Wenjie, an astrophysicist who dooms Earth and becomes pivotal to its fight for survival, at different points in her life.

“Your hands are very cold!” Tseng noted after our initial exchange, a hint of my earlier jitters and the lingering chill from the earlier wait. Amidst the chaos of lights and camera equipment, Chao tussled with nostalgia as she struggled to get a pair of earrings into her ear. "I got these when I was nine," she explained, her voice tinged with memory. It took a few tries, but with a confident smile, she finally got the earrings in.

Spotting the momentary struggle, the team almost apologized, offering to skip the earrings altogether out of concern that they might be causing a snag in the photoshoot. "The biggest thing I tell my daughter is to never say sorry," the actress shared with a serious undertone to her words reflecting the deep-rooted Asian social stigmas she aims to redefine. As a mother, her care extended beyond her immediate family to everyone in the room, ensuring the photographer was comfortable and poised, embodying the nurturing spirit that radiated her under the early morning light.

The banter between Chao and Tseng was with playful jests about their styling. “I look like a peacock right now!” Tseng exclaimed, striking a pose, and was met with Chao’s chuckle of agreement. Their interaction was a blend of professionalism and genuine affection. As Tseng effortlessly drew laughter with her infectious goofiness between poses, Chao did so with her light-hearted remarks, like joking that her character gave her “an excuse to be terrible.”

The day was a celebration of uniqueness, cultural identity, and the unspoken ties that bind us. Through our conversation, Chao and Tseng told me to emphasize the value of accepting oneself completely—flaws and all—and creating an environment on our planet in which individuals' understanding of each other could coexist together.

Timid Magazine: The series seems to have a lot of themes, such as the nature and ethics of science as well as the consequences of human nature. What themes resonated with or stood out to you?

Rosalind Chao: When I watch the show, honestly, love was an outstanding theme to me. The whole storyline between Will and… I blanked out on her character’s name—I wanted to use [Jin Cheng]’s real name. But that storyline really did resonate that when you're met with the end of life, the end of the world—whatever the end is—that's when people step up sometimes. And it's kind of sad that it takes that to make people step up and reach out to each other.

left: top & pants-PEGGY HARTANTO, necklace-UNOde50, right: dress-RC CAYLAN, earrings-CAROLINE SVEDBOM, rings-LILOU PARIS, shoes-FRANCESCA BELLAVITA
dress-KURRIIZMATIC, necklace-UNOde50, bracelets & rings-LILOU PARIS, shoes-FRANCESCA BELLAVITA
TM: The series explores complex scientific concepts. Did you find yourself researching any specific scientific ideas to better understand Ye Wenjie's world?

RC: I did understand the concept of the “three-body problem” prior, but I didn't go through the extensive science training that Zine went through to play Ye.

Zine Tseng: Because I had the privilege of getting into the production team earlier, I had the privilege to work with Matthew McKenzie, [who was] hired by Netflix. He's a wonderful physics professor, I would say, because he has so many good ideas about physics. And we had three lessons with him in one single day, and I really dug into some science. Even though I am not a scientist at all, I had to use the imagination of science in order to keep going.

RC: Whereas I love science. I subscribe to all the science podcasts, I have Scientific American, and I'm a math nerd. But it was not put to use!

TM: How did you ensure a cohesive portrayal for the audience? Were there any specific mannerisms that you adopted, or wardrobe choices and such?

RC: Well, as far as the challenges go, the aging. I did the aging up on stage when I did a play at the National where I aged from 30 to 80, but that was a through line. This was entirely, I think, 70 something years old. The process of the graying hair and the wrinkles and all that may have been the most challenging part, but we did have a laugh with the makeup department while they were doing it. Getting in that mindset of somebody who's older as well was the challenge that excited me. As far as the mannerisms, I watched all of Zine's footage before I started the shoot, and I was able to observe her when we got to the mountain in Spain. So I watched her walk, you know, just to confirm some of the mannerisms that she had. Yeah, I studied.

ZT: Ros studied me so carefully. That scared me somehow, because she was telling me, “I watched you. Everything. And there is something I'm going to put into use.” Oh, what is that?

TM: That’s so interesting, because sometimes [when you have actors playing the same characters], you have showrunners telling cast members that they’re not supposed to meet each other.

RC: Yes. Well, this is the most time we've spent together. We really only had… what—20 minutes together—for a coffee in the morning? Yes. She just joined in. She wasn't even eating with us. So I didn't even get to watch her eat—

ZT: I had coffee for brunch.

RC: Yes, you had a coffee. But 20 minutes tops.

ZT: Yeah, we talked nothing about the character. Just studied each other.

RC: By the time I play Ye, she's gone through so much. The character has gone through so many changes in her mindset in her development. She's moved to London, her accent has changed. Everything has sort of matured or blossomed.

But at the same time, Ye, when Zine was playing her, had that immediate trauma that affects a person that might have softened by the time she gets older in some ways. So we kind of did a little dance about that. That's what made it so much fun.

left: dress-BETHEL HELENA, necklace-DE LIGUORO, shoes-NINA, right: dress-ADOLFO SANCHEZ, earrings-CAT JANIGA, shoes-LARROUDE
TM: Rosalind, how did you explore the impact of past events and generational trauma on your character's motivations throughout the series?

RC: I think I have extensive knowledge of generational trauma, through experience and through my ancestry, so it is something I'm very comfortable with portraying. It's something that's almost in my bones. This is the first time I've really been able to open that little door. Because in the past, a lot of times with Asian Americans, everything is “Don't talk about it. It’s negative, don't talk about it.”

ZT: Oh I can relate to that.

RC: So as a result, this is the first time that it's brought forward so that we can talk about it.

TM: Zine, what was the most rewarding aspect of working on this series, and do you have any memorable behind-the-scenes anecdotes you can share with us?

ZT: The whole process was very rewarding, because for me, it's like a brand new brand new story put in front of my eyes. And it's life changing. I remember during filming, I worked very closely with the showrunners, David [Benioff], Dan [Weiss], and Alex [Woo], and I wrote them long letters about my character. And they said, “Okay, Zine, let's set up a meeting and talk about your letters.” And I got so into it. And [director] Derek [Tsang] says, “Do you just chill? You're in good hands. Trust me.”

RC: That is the thing. They were on the set. They were there for us if we had any questions. We called them “DAD" for a reason. David, Dan, and Alex. [...] I love them so much. It's a little bit crazy.

TM: Do you think 3 Body Problem pushes the boundaries of traditional storytelling? What do you think makes it stand out, either from previous projects you’ve worked on or in general?

RC: The fact that it is so challenging to describe 3 Body Problem should tell us that it pushes boundaries of traditional storytelling. There is something for everyone in this story. It doesn’t just hold to a single genre. The fact that Dan, David, and Alex—the great storytellers behind Game of Thrones and True Blood—are bringing this incredibly dense book to life in series form and making it appealing and compelling to international audiences is beyond impressive and makes it a stand out.

ZT: The books alone push the boundaries of traditional science fiction storytelling. Then seeing how it was adapted on such a big scale as a series only makes it feel that much more groundbreaking. This is my screen debut and though I can’t compare it to other projects, the ambition behind 3 Body Problem is unmatched.

TM: What do you hope audiences take away from the show?

RC: I hope that audiences enjoy the thrills and chills of the story. I hope they are moved as well. I hope they can’t stop thinking about it. I hope the take away is the value of brave and intelligent storytelling. I also hope that they watch it more than once as there are too many little hints and surprises to catch in a single viewing.

ZT: To dare to dream! Seeing the power in the new generations and how we must never stop being curious. Coming from Taiwan and being immersed in this truly global project with a team from all walks of life, the show opened my eyes about our connection as humans no matter where we are from in the world.

3 Body Problem was released on Netflix on March 21, 2024.

Disclaimer: This interview was edited for length and clarity.