Ming-Na Packs Some Heat in 'Vanished'

Actors Gale Harold, left, Ming-Na, center, and Lisa Lackey appear on the set of the Fox television series "Vanished," Monday, Aug. 7, 2006, in Los Angeles.
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
"I love my gun," exclaims Ming-Na, as a prop man secures a heavy weapon in the holster under her neat, brown jacket.

A name tag identifies her as FBI agent Lin Mei, a member of the investigative team probing the mysterious disappearance of the wife of a U.S. senator from Georgia.

That's the plot line for the premiere season of "Vanished," Fox's new serial thriller debuting Monday, Aug. 21, at 9 p.m. EDT.

The role is more than a few action sequences away from Ming-Na's previous TV characters — Dr. Deb Chen of NBC's "ER" and attorney Rachel Lu in the network's short-lived "Inconceivable."

"It's so much fun to have this incredible fantasy of playing this strong, brave woman," Ming-Na says, chatting between camera setups outside the Paramount Studios sound stage where "Vanished" is produced.

Fantasy, indeed, she stresses. "She (Lin Mei) is completely opposite of who I am. If there's just a spider, I'll run the other way!"

That's hard to believe when one considers Ming-Na's lively persona.

Married to music producer and actor Eric Zee, the 42-year-old mother of two young children laughs heartily when told how young and fit she looks.

"I lead a happy life and I have good genes and my kids keep me young," she responds. "You only get one life. You have to have a good time!"

Ming-Na is her first name and means "enlightenment" in Chinese, she explains, amused but also frustrated by American confusion over such names, despite their distinct syllables.

"It still amazes me how people butcher and mix it up ... you can say Schwarzenegger but you can't say Ming-Na," she laughs. "What is the problem! Ming-Na, it's like Ma-Donna," she teases, also stressing that the hyphen makes it like Ann-Margret "and nobody questions her."

She had kept her father's name, Wen, even after her mother remarried, but dropped it when she married Zee.

Born in the Chinese territory of Macau, she had little recollection of her father, having moved from nearby Hong Kong to America with her mother when she was a small child.

But about a year ago, she met up with her dad and has stayed in touch.

"It put a lot of pieces of the puzzle together ... He's a nice guy," she says.

Her mother wasn't keen on Ming-Na becoming an actress. "I think she had this awful preconceived idea that I would have to sleep my way to the top," she chuckles.

Ming-Na hopes ethnic actors appearing in TV series will become so natural that they won't be notable and their roles won't be necessarily hooked to ethnicity.

"I embrace my culture. I love my culture. I love my language. I love my food. It's all part of me. That's why my name is still Chinese. I haven't Anglicized it," she says. "But at the same time, what I've been really happy about in my career is that I've continuously gotten roles that were not specifically written Asian."

That's what happened on "Vanished."

Ming-Na met with the producers for the role of investigative reporter Judy Nash. Rebecca Gayheart got that part, but the FBI agent role was offered in its place. It's been beefed up considerably from the pilot episode, to capitalize on what the show's creator Josh Berman calls Ming-Na's "strength and sensitivity."

The large ensemble cast includes Esai Morales, John Allen Nelson, Penelope Ann Miller and Josh Hopkins. Gale Harold plays Graham Kelton, the senior FBI agent and Lin's partner.

Some TV critics have questioned the wisdom of adding another serialized drama to a network schedule that already airs "24" and "Prison Break."

With so many serialized shows on the air — ABC's "Lost" is another — would viewers find time to keep up with the plot of this complex mystery set in a modern-day political arena, but influenced by historical events?

Berman, who worked on the first six seasons of "CSI," thinks the issue is exaggerated: "We are in good company, and I also think that every episode, although more questions are asked, we also answer questions, so, hopefully, audiences will leave each episode wanting to know more, but also feeling like they've got another piece of the puzzle."

Ming-Na finds the serialized form intriguing.

"It's like reading a wonderful mystery novel. I can't wait for the next script because I'm dying to find out how the mystery is unfolding," she says. "The writers tell us nothing, absolutely nothing!"

By Bridget Byrn