It’s almost impossible to possess the kind of charisma that gets one noticed but also allows you to authentically inhabit so many characters and roles. Chinese born actress Ariel Zhang has this capability and it has served her well. From leading roles in heartrending dramas such as First Snow to commercials and everything in between, Ariel has that rare luminosity which makes her impossible to overlook and intriguing to follow. It’s likely that the special quality which shines through in so much of Ms. Zhang’s work is her intuitive curious nature, an element which she credits for leading her into acting. She informs, “From a very young age it was natural for me to act out books and shows with my friends. I didn’t know what it was called and I thought of it as a game; a game that I always preferred to play more than any other. I recall watching a program on television with my mother and recognizing that a girl who was on this program was also on another show. When I asked my mom how this was possible, she explained that this was a job and that girl was an actress doing her job. From that moment on, whenever someone asked me what I wanted to do I always answered ‘be an actor.’ It was my sole direction and passion.”
Ariel’s passion shines through in the film First Snow with her role as Mu, a Chinese college student who connects with a struggling French writer during a long distance trip in winter. The story is about the impact a random person can have in another’s life if we only open up to the possibilities that chance offers. The film’s director/writer Jialan Lin assembled a remarkable cast that includes (among others) Ariel, Adam Abdou, and Neyssan Falahi (of Primetime Emmy Award–winning TV series Modern Family). The daughter of a loving but overbearing mother, Mu travels to New York is search of space and herself. She meets Francois, a burnout French writer, and romance sparks. In the process, Mu discovers more about who she truly is. When tragedy strikes, Mu must decide if she will choose obligation or freedom. In a dyamic performance as Mu, Ariel Zhang is the transfixing heartbeat of First Snow and its emotional catalyst. First Snow was awarded the Jury Prize at the First Look film festival in 2021.
The diversity of opportunities for an actor is what appeals to Ariel, as well as the chance to work with vastly different types of professionals. She points to her appearance in an NBA Chinese New Year commercial as an example of the unexpected scenarios that she is afforded in her career. In this ad, Ms. Zhang appears alongside famed pro basketball players Klay Thompson (winner of three NBA championships during his time with the Golden State Warriors), NBA All Star and Magic Johnson Award Winner Damian Lillard, and Giannis Antetokounmpo (recipient of the NBA League MVP in 2019 and first non-American to win the All-Star MVP Award). The immense popularity of basketball with the Chinese public led to a major boost in recognition for Ms. Zhang among the general public via this production. Ariel notes that commercials were also a means of continuing to work during the pandemic. Recalling the commercial she did for G7 with DNX Films, the actress remarks, “I had worked with DNX Films before and we had a good relationship. Like most everyone in the industry, I was tentative about working as lockdown restrictions eased up but my trust in the company and discussions with producer Antonio Vigna convinced me that it was worth doing. It felt great to be acting again and the commercial was everywhere on social media.”
Ariel Zhang returns to film as Abby Lee in the upcoming production God Visits Hell.
Writer: Mike Winston