Jona Xiao talks Being Mary Jane, her big spring & a little summer film called Spider-Man: Homecoming

Jona Xiao has a full slate this spring and summer. Not only is she currently on the big screen in Gifted alongside Chris Evans, Jenny Slate and Octavia Spencer, but this summer she’s in one of the year’s most anticipated films, Spider-Man: Homecoming. If that wasn’t enough, she’s also on the small screen on Being Mary Jane and Halt and Catch Fire. I caught up with the actress on the rise to talk about her big year.

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Where did your passion for acting originate?

In the sixth grade, I took a drama class and ended up playing the female lead in the class play Rappinstilskin, the female version of Rumpelstiltskin. I loved making people laugh, think and feel, and drama class became the class I would look forward to every single day.

Why did Gifted resonate with you as an artist?

The story is beautifully written and I believe will provoke a lot of conversation on how to raise a child and family as a whole.  The film showcases a non-traditional family and especially in today’s world where there’s such polarizing views on what should constitute a family, I think this film sends a strong message.  Also, Marc Webb is a director that I’ve wanted to work with for years ever since 500 Days of Summer.

I think oftentimes in our society adults underestimate how smart, intuitive and observant children really are, and the film highlights a brilliant 7-year-old girl who never ceases to surprise the audience with her wit and charm.  I believe that children should be encouraged to be leaders and to be trusted with responsibility.

What was it like being a part of the Marvel cinematic universe?

INCREDIBLE. From about age 7 to 11, every birthday, I would blow out my birthday candles and wish for superpowers. So, to be able to be a part of a world where the superhero story takes over was such a treat for me.

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I know you can’t really talk about the movie but what most surprised you about that experience?

One of the actors I got to work with was Marisa Tomei (I’m seen with her briefly in some of the trailers) and I was blown away by how down to earth and supportive she was. Between some takes, she complimented my work and I was very flattered because she’s been an actress I’ve respected and admired for so many years.

How does the process of Being Mary Jane differ from the process of a film?

For BMJ, the schedule was more fluid and flexible than I’ve experienced when I’ve been a part of films.

How does TV challenge you in a way film might not?

With television, I tend to feel it’s even more of a “race against the clock” at times than even film is. So, it sometimes adds greater pressure to the actor to deliver with fewer takes.

What’s next for you?

To be determined, but would love to work on a broad comedy or a fantasy project.

Photography by Ricky Middlesworth
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