Growing up in the world of entertainment can be a difficult environment but for 13-year-old actress, Miya Cech, a life in front of the camera lens has taught her valuable life lessons and skills that apply not just in the silver screen but life in general.
“In this industry, you’re going to be told no a lot but perseverance is the one thing I’ve tried to keep…every ‘no’ happens for a reason” Miya Cech tells me as we discuss her latest roles as Samantha Sawyer-Wei in Nickelodeon’s The Astronauts , produced by Ron Howard, and as Sammy Ko in Marvellous and the Black Hole with veteran actress Rhea Perlman.
At the tender age of 13, the actress has already accomplished with her extensive back catalogue of work with past roles in the Netflix hits Always Be My Maybe with Ali Wong and Rim of the World. Originally from Tokyo, Japan, Cech’s life as an adoptee has inspired her to raise awareness on adoption in the hopes of normalising it as well as bringing attention for more Asian-American representation in film and TV with her participation in the Asian American Girl Club, set up in Ally Maki.
Apart from wondering just how she does so much in the same 24 hours as everyone else, I was most struck by Cech’s wisdom and sincerity in both her work and the causes she works tirelessly for. Watch this space to see what she puts her mind to next.
You began your career as a model at age 4. How did this effect your childhood and school life? How did your parents support you?
Well, my parents sacrificed a lot over the years, including just driving me everywhere. For school though, we actually have teachers on set in both the modeling world and the acting world. The minimum you have to do is three hours every day, so we go to school in-between scenes and we do our school work and hang out with each other. I don’t think it affected my childhood in a negative way because I loved it so much, I loved modeling, I loved acting. I love being in the entertainment industry and I made a lot of friends through the industry, some of my closest friends, and I’ve learned so many good life lessons that you can take onto set and into life.
4 is a very young age to start and you have such an extensive back catalogue of work. Would you do it all again if you could?
Of course! I feel like it has been such a fun and inspiring adventure and I feel like if I had to go back to being 4 I wouldn’t change a thing. I would stay on the path I was on and just keep learning, keep working, keep making a difference in the world of my life.
The Astronauts is a drama about 5 kids that accidentally get sent into space when they sneak aboard the ship that their parents are using for a mission. You play Samantha Sawyer-Wei known as Sammy by her fellow intergalactic stowaways. If you were in Samantha’s place, would you sneak onto the spaceship?
I probably wouldn’t, I feel like I would want to go but then part of me would be like uhhh I wanna stay at home with my family and cats!
Where would you go and what would you do if you came across an alien?
I think a planet I would go to would be Venus. It apparently rains diamonds which sounds very pretty, but also kind of painful. If I came across an alien I would try and communicate first because if aliens do exist they won’t speak our language and they are smarter than us so they probably speak a more advanced language than ours. We could probably learn from them and create our own alien language dictionary.
Out of the 5 main characters, Samantha is pretty sure of herself and, at least outwardly, appears calm and controlled. How much of your personality went into playing her?
I feel like Sammy blended with my personality and I blended with Sammy’s personality in a way.
I a lot of the more serious stuff was definitely more the character and the not talking very much was definitely the character because I talk way too much. I feel like the strong and brave sides to her was me, I brought that but I also got to learn more about my character too.
I that playing Sammy in general matters too because not only is she Asian-American, which is huge because I want to be a representation for Asian-American people in the industry, but she also comes from a blended family – having two moms. Usually on TV, it’s mom, dad, and kid or mom and kid but it’s never just two moms or two dads really, and being able to play a character that represents that is really awesome. Everybody can be a family, it doesn’t matter who are or what you look like you can be a family.
To prepare for the role you got to experience space camp training. What was that like and what activities did you do?
So we got to talk to a real astronaut! Chris Cassidy went to the international space station in April and we got ask him questions that would help us in the show. We also did movement training. We had a choreographer and we played this game where we’d push off of each other but we’d have to make it look like we were in zero gravity, because when you push in zero gravity you have to do it really lightly otherwise you’re going to go flying! You will be rolling forever until someone stops you.
We also got to work on wires which was super fun! It was kind of like trapeze, you had these two wires hanging from your hips, sometimes four but most of the times it was two, and most of the time you had to use them to move around and you also got to do flips which was so cool! I loved the wires! First time on the wires was a new adventure, a new experience, it was so fun. We were like hanging a good 20 feet in the air on set and you get a whole birds-eye view, you get to see everyone working on the set and it just looked so awesome.
It’s a lot like swimming and we were told that by our choreographer who said it’s like being in a pool, so me and my cast-mates went to the pool and pretended to be in space because it’s the same pressure essentially.
How much do you now follow the current space missions after this experience?
I’ve been really into space ever since I was a little girl, well even younger than I am now, and I’ve kept up with just about every launch that has happened in my 13 years of age. The day after our show appeared, the SpaceX Dragon launched and that was with the first Japanese astronaut which was so cool, because I’m also Japanese, I’m from Tokyo.
Watching that launch was actually quite scary because so many things can go wrong, we were actually told that by Chris Cassidy. But for our launch it was a lot more shaking and we had this water spray that our make up artist would spray on us to make it look like we were sweating. There were a lot more water sprays involved in our launch!
What was the biggest challenge working on The Astronauts?
I think the biggest obstacle, for not just for me but for the whole crew and cast, was Covid-19 and that goes for pretty much everyone in this world right now. Production was paused for 3 and a half months and then when we came back it was completely different. Our crew of almost 200 people was cut down to 50, we had to wear PPE when we were on set and we couldn’t touch each other, even in the scenes, and we got Covid tested every 3 days. It was the biggest challenge because we had to completely change our characters because of it, so having to prepare ourselves and put ourselves in our acting shoes as well as remembering that we have to stay safe. Fortunately, those guidelines worked and we knew that if we kept to them they would work, but it was kind of hard sometimes, it was an obstacle. We did a lot of elbow and fist bumps with gloves on.
Your next role is with the legendary Rhea Perlman on the film Marvellous and the Black Hole. What can you tell us about that?
It’s really a coming of age story, my character is Asian-American and her whole family is Asian-American, again we have a mixed family, the stepmom in it is African-American. Working with Rhea is amazing! She’s so sweet and so nice! Her character is Margot and she was Margot, that was her personality. She is so fun and sweet and caring. Our director Kate Tsang was so sweet as well, I took a lot of inspiration from her because the story is basically about her and her experience in life so that was really amazing. I’ve only worked with a couple Asian-American directors, and because I want to be a director someday, getting to see that and putting myself in their shoes was amazing. It was a really fun project to work on all together.
I’ve actually worked with Jennifer Yuh Nelson, who did the Kung Fu Panda movies, on my first production on Darkest Minds when I was 10 because of her and Kate Tsang together I got see myself [as a director in the future], and put myself in their shoes.
You actively support the Asian American Girl Club, a fashion and lifestyle brand founded by actress Ally Maki to help redefine the modern Asian American woman through normalisation and unity. Tell me about why you wanted to be a part of that? Why is it important to you?
I wanted to be a part of it because I want to be able to be a role model for Asian-American girls and everybody really. I’m using my voice to inspire people, I’m using my voice to be other people’s voice and reach the hearts of people. It’s really just about girl power and Asian-American power and Asian-American girl power and I’ve be able to meet so many people through that agency, not only Asian-American people but adopted Asian-American people which is huge for me because I’m adopted and a lot of people in my family are too. Getting to talk to those people and share similarities, share differences and stories is really big.
You also use your platform to help support the adoption community because of your experience of being adopted. What does it mean for you to reach out and support other adopted children in this way?
So for me I was 5 weeks old so I don’t really remember anything from Japan, but my brother was three and I remember when he first came to America, we had to teach him English which wasn’t great, it was a bit broken but he’s come so far. He’s 14 so it’s been a good 11 years and now it’s completely like he’s from here, this is his home and this is where he is from. I want adoption to be normalised, some kids need help and some kids need homes and families and so that is super important for me. Everyone deserves to be loved and have a family and I want to be able to share that and represent that and you know inspire other families to adopt and that’s why it’s big for me.
I think that one thing human society needs to get better at is listening and understanding people’s stories and be able to accept those stories with love and with kindness. As well as being able to accept that and embrace who you are as well.
You’re incredibly active not just in your work but also, as demonstrated, outside your work, you use your voice for the betterment of animals for example. How did you get involved and how do you raise awareness?
I rescue all my animals, I have four cats and a dog. That started because; one they are just so cute and two, they need homes. There are a lot of shelters that will only keep animals for 72 hours or a week and then they just get rid of them and that’s so sad because those animals don’t know what they did wrong, most of the time they didn’t do anything wrong it’s just humans aren’t caring for them. But even then maybe they are caring for them but it’s not the correct amount of care that they need and so I think that raising awareness about that and trying to make sure there’s no shopping for pets, as if they’re clothes. Get a cat that you love or a bunny that you love just make sure that you love them.
We [her family] foster animals as well, we try to foster every year. We foster cats, we foster all animals and we try and help them find a home that will be safe and comfortable, especially for animals who have experienced trauma in the past it’s hard to get them to trust humans again so we have to really create that bond and love them.
Who would be your dream to work with on a TV show or film?
I’m trying to think! There are so many. Oh! Sandra Oh probably, I would love to work with her, she’s so amazing and she’s just such a badass. She’s who I want to be when I grow up.
How do you want to be viewed as a role model?
I want to be viewed as someone who can be not only strong, smart, courageous and tough but also someone who can help others be that way too. Not just in my career but in my life I’ve had so many people show me that. I’ve had so many people, not just Asian-Americans or women, just people including my parents including my older siblings. I want to be someone for people to look up to. I also want young Asian-American girls to look at me and see themselves in my shoes in the acting industry or whatever they want to be in.
The Astronauts is on Nickelodeon now
Interview Eleanor Forrest
Production Linse Studios