Why Chinese Zelda's Navi Isn't Annoying and The Lessons Films Could Learn From Video Games: An Interview with Actress/Director/Gamer Kalista Tazlin

By Melvyn Tan on Apr 27, 2017

Kalista Tazlin - actress, director and gamer.
Kalista Tazlin - actress, director and gamer.

After The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was unleashed upon the gaming world in March, we got the chance to interview Kalista Tazlin, an actress, director and gamer who had acted in a short film adaptation/parody of The Legend of Zelda - dialogue spoken in Cantonese no less. Tazlin unfortunately hasn't been involved with video game-related projects since (we hope that changes!), but we learnt from her how video games have provided a presence and influence in her career nevertheless, what films and video games could learn from one another and most importantly, who she mains in Overwatch (it's not Hanzo or Genji).

Gamehubs: I didn’t want to bring this up so early but… Chinese Legend of Zelda. What was your response when you first heard about the concept?

Kalista Tazlin: What a jolly courageously interesting concept! That was literally my first thought. Then, as I started to let it all marinate, I wondered if everyone was going to be Chinese or would it have some parts of Chinese culture sprinkled throughout? Will Link know Kung Fu? Is the Ocarina going to play Chinese opera tunes? I was mainly chuffed to get to play Navi! Normally I would’ve wanted to be Zelda but in this adaptation, Navi was the part I was super intrigued to play. Navi was basically this cute, badass spy. I liked that. She’s Link’s right hand and was portrayed as a brave heroic little thing instead of the annoying blue ball of light with wings that wouldn’t shut up. This short parody remake gave new meaning to the line “Link, listen.” 

Playing Navi was a challenge all its own. Firstly, I do not speak Cantonese and all my lines were in Cantonese. There was a translator at the rehearsals and on set but Cantonese is a tonal language that is even more complicated than Mandarin. There was one line that I kept messing up and instead I kept on rudely referring to the female genitalia and we had to rehearse that until I was nearly foaming at the mouth. Also, playing a character everybody seems to love to hate is just terrifying. So the combination of these two factors really made preparing for Navi quite a harrowing experience. We had great fun on set though. 

If you could have your own stab at a Zelda adaptation, what sort of setting would you transplant its characters into?

Given the musical elements of this lore and how important music is in its storytelling, I somehow think that there should be a Legend of Zelda: The Musical. Or a film with music. 

However, if I were to have a stab at this, I would definitely make a steampunk version of Legend of Zelda. Zelda’s outfit would be grungy Victoriana style – a world of top hats and goggles. There would be a crazy machine contraption that could alter the passage of time. And instead of learning music on the ocarina, Link would be learning some kind of puzzle piece to put an ocarina together or something like that. Golden Goddesses would be Artificial Intelligence that could outsmart the divine in their design – or magicians, illusionists. Everything would be either in hues of blues or bronze. That would be super cool. I’d try and make a ‘love it or hate it’ sort of remake. 

Prior to acting in the Zelda short film, were you familiar with the Zelda franchise?

Absolutely! I played Ocarina of TimeThe Wind Waker and I’m currently playing Breath of the Wild but I haven’t gotten too far yet. I think that this game has reinvented the RPG world. I’m especially fond of the last one, Breath of the Wild for the liberty of action and the level-design which is unique to the Zelda franchise. I have to admit, however, I regret not to have had the opportunity to play Majora’s Mask – because I think that this game divides the Zelda fandom due to its original elements (72 hours time limit and the masks) and having not played it, I can’t make my own opinion about this.

How did you find yourself on your current professional path?

To be frank, I was always in this path since I can remember, from childhood role-playing sessions between friends to Bloomsbury Theatre stage in London to New York City’s Flamboyàn Theatre and various film sets! But when I started to use the Method as part of my process, that really opened up an entire world I did not know much about and gave my work a new direction and focus. I loved acting already, but now I'm obsessed with it - as in, I cannot live without it.

Tazlin as Navi in the Chinese Legend of Zelda short film parody.
Tazlin as Navi in the Chinese Legend of Zelda short film parody.

As an actress and director, what do you think films can learn from video games in the story-telling department, and vice versa?

Video games and films have such a symbiotic relationship when it comes to storytelling. Both can really learn from each other and have been trading elements to this effect increasingly over the past few decades. Video games immerse the player in the story and some films have increasingly become much more immersive than before, from using certain techniques in the way they are shot to having a full-blown interactive film like the ‘Thrill Ride Edition’ of Final Destination 3 where the viewers can choose the fate of the characters. 

Films can definitely take a page or two from the way a video game screen looks; the way a frame is shot really influences how the viewers feel. Some ‘point of view’ shots sporadically and strategically inserted in a film can really immerse the viewer into not only the world but also the character.

On the flip side, some video games’ characters can really do with a little more character development. 

Interactivity and immersion are elements I would love to see incorporated on stage – not all the time but with some plays. There are a lot of immersive theatre experiences in New York City like Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic among others – I can’t even begin to tell you how exciting it is for me to be in their world. When I went to Midnight Frolic, it was almost like a dream come true to dress up like a flapper, get a passport, get a role and even a conflict before entering the show. In the play, Jack Pickford, the lead character, gave me syphilis – so obviously, I had bones to pick with him. The audience was even allowed to interact with the characters of the show. I had so much fun.

The worlds of film and video games seem to sit quite far from one another. Even so, have your video game experiences resulted in subtle (or prominent) influences and inspirations in your work in film and on stage?

The last film I directed, In The Cards, was actually quite inspired by the ‘unrealness’ of older video games where there is background music playing throughout; also, the movie’s car crash scene was super quick. Actually, like in a video game, it was done in a flash. I’m currently writing a series called Otherkin and I am super inspired by so many video games – I’m hoping it’ll be an amalgamation of everything that I love from both worlds, video games and films. 

In terms of performance, there were projects where I had to literally emulate video game characters! I played the lead villain in this play, Swordfight Christmas by award-winning playwright Michael Hagins, where I had a rapier and a dagger. There were super cool moves I had to do and I literally fancied myself as Diablo’s assassin! That was such a fun play with incredible fight choreography. The swordplay really took center stage. I got to wear a corset and a cape for my character, too! 

Share with us your thoughts on film adaptations of video games.

I had the opportunity to attend the SAG screening of Warcraft (the film), actually with Raphael Corkhill! I remember how the film was so visually captivating and epic in scope that this, I think is an influence that video games has had on films (especially those based on or inspired by video games). You really feel the world – the World of Warcraft verse, in this case. Although, I still think that the feel of the film is absolutely super different than the feel of the game – so I can’t compare them. I think one film that made me feel like I’m in it was Avatar. I can’t tell you exactly why but that was how I felt. With Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed I still felt like a voyeur, but with Avatar I was so immersed that after seeing the film, I felt like I’d just experienced being in a world that’s not my reality – I missed the film when it was over. Well done, James Cameron! 

What’s your video game of choice for winding down after work?

For years it used to be Blizzard’s Diablo II, Diablo III and World of Warcraft. But nowadays with my crazy busy schedule I play almost everything only sporadically and I never go too far with any of them. I played a little bit of Portal and also Civilization V since now I only have my Mac but even those I’ve stopped playing. I’m, however, super curious about Overwatch. I have a thing for Blizzard games. I don’t want to get sucked in again though, I have such an obsessive personality when I’m gaming that it’s going to be difficult to juggle that passion with acting. It’s an all or nothing career, acting is! I play anything on my iPhone though! Even McPixel! Yes, try that game and see if doesn’t drive you completely doodoo!

Is there an element of film or stage that you’d like to see video games attempt to learn from?

Some video game characters can be quite devoid of development. In both film and theatre, we usually see a clear character arc and this is absolutely essential. I would definitely like to see more of psychological and moral growth in some of my video game characters so I do not see them as a tool to get somewhere in the plot. 

Tazlin as Juliet, performing with Titanfall 2 voice actor Raphael Corkhill.
Tazlin as Juliet, performing with Titanfall 2 voice actor Raphael Corkhill.

Which video game do you think would be fit for the stage?

Oh, you have no idea how happy I am that you asked me this question. There is one video game I would kill, no pun intended, to see on stage. In fact, I have been trying to reincarnate elements of this game for a theatrical or film adaptation. I love the story, I love the plot, some character relationships need explaining but still, this game is absolutely perfect. This glorious game is called Murdered: Soul Suspect

Have you considered getting involved in more video game-related projects?

I remembered having an audition that I could not attend and it was for an interactive game where the actor’s face is going to be used as the base to build character faces for the game. I would most definitely audition for something like that again. I have also been doing this wonderful radio play with Radio Room in the series, ‘Queens of the Sapphire Sea’ where I play the evil pirate captain, Cat Yudain. I absolutely relish these voice acting sessions and Steele Filipek is a god of voice acting directors – he just gets it out of me, whatever salacious monstrosity is needed for this villainous Cat Yudain character. I listen to it and go, “No, that can’t be me.” I will do more voice acting and perhaps for a video game character soon!

How was it like working with Raphael Corkhill?

I still have his chillingly powerful voice bellowing ‘You men, you beasts’ in my head every time I think about Romeo and Juliet. He is such a powerhouse! I adore him. Two words describe the dashing Raphael Corkhill as an actor: talent and professionalism. He is such a versatile actor. In our version of Romeo and Juliet, the role of the Prince is of twofold: one as arguably the most powerful character in the play’s universe, the peacekeeper, the judge and two as cool DJ like character at a party with a camera, capturing this entire world for public display, the ‘Romeo and Juliet Reality TV’ director. The Prince is the character we rely on, our moral compass but at the same time, he is the most voyeuristic character in our reality-tv-themed Romeo and Juliet. The Prince is probably one of the most difficult characters to play and really it takes a certain chameleon-like charisma which very rare among actors and Raphael has that. I can gush for hours about Rafe. He is really one of my closest friends here in New York and it’s amazing to know that he is the most pleasant to work with.

Could you share with us details about your recent/current projects, along with what’s coming next?

I’m writing Otherkin, a supernatural psychological thriller about people who identify themselves as ‘otherkin’ because they believe that they are a different species stuck in a human body. Writing this is taking up practically all my time. I’ve been cast in In The Cards, a series about Tarot cards by the same writer of the film I directed by the same name. I’m also going to play Alice in a play called Closer by Patrick Marber. And, Radio Room’s Queens of the Sapphire Sea has a couple more episodes to end the season so I’ll be recording that super soon. My latest film Snap written and directed by the wonderful Tribeca Film Festival award-winner, Yi Liu, is coming out very soon, too! Lots and lots of work. I’m happy as kings when there’s far too much work to do! Absolutely love it.

Since you’re an Overwatch player, I feel obliged to ask: Who do you main? And what’s your favourite skin?

Yes, Overwatch is my new plaything. I main on D. Va but most ranked matches I play Lucio. My favourite skin for D. Va is Junebug. The Midas touch does it for me! 

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Melvyn Tan
About the Author
Freelancer for Gamehubs since 2015, who enjoys various forms of entertainment including gaming (naturally). Since watching Dunkirk, he now plays Day of Infamy more than usual.
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