In Netflix’s monster hit “Stranger Things,” the fictional small Indiana town of Hawkins in 1986 is more diverse than you’d expect. There are a handful of Black residents and when season 4 begins Friday, the Hawkins High School guidance counselor Miss Kelly is Chinese American.
“I have no idea why she’s there,” mused Atlanta actress Regina Ting Chen, who plays her. According to the U.S. census, even by 1990, not even 1% of the population of Indiana was Asian.
Chen said she did not design her own back story in her head about how Miss Kelly ended up in Hawkins at that time but she played her with no discernible accent.
“I’m a big sci-fi nerd,” Chen said. “I read her originally as counselor-like. They wanted someone who was more approachable and friendly but quirky. So I did that way and that’s how I landed the part.”
She will be in multiple episodes, she said. (Part of the expansive fourth season of “Stranger Things” was shot in metro Atlanta, including her scenes. Other parts were shot in Europe and New Mexico.)
Netflix did not provide any photos of Miss Kelly on its media site but on NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon” Monday night, actress Sadie Sink, who plays high school student Max, appears and Chen is featured in the clip that was included to promote the show.
With big poofy hair befitting of the era, Miss Kelly grills Max about how difficult her life is now that her stepbrother Billy is dead (from season three) and her stepdad is gone. Miss Kelly asks her about her sleeping issues, nightmares and headaches.
“I’m wearing this yarn hippy pink vest over a white button down,” she said. “That hair is mostly mine.”
Chen, who was born in Hawaii and grew up in San Antonio, said she didn’t pursue acting as a child. It was not something her Asian parents expected.
“I still have to convince them that this is my career,” she said.
She did a lot of commercials in Austin, Texas, where she went to college and was part of a CBS diversity initiative in 2016, which ultimately inspired her to move to Atlanta in 2018, where Atlanta Models and Talent agency picked her up.
Chen, who is married and recently moved to Roswell with her engineer husband, has since gotten small roles in shows and films like HBO’s “Watchmen,” the CW’s “Black Lightning” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”
She is happy to see more race-blind roles as well as roles for Asian Americans. “The pool is growing. I’d like to eventually be a part of that pool. I want to bring in my stories,” she said. “I’m a unique Chinese person. I’m taller and more broad in the face, more Mongolian. I want to represent that. I’m ready for the bigger stuff. I’m going to keep fighting forward. It’s a tough industry.”
IF YOU WATCH
“Stranger Things,” season 4, part 1 comes out Friday on Netflix