By Erin Chew
DreamWorks Animation Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken dives into the turbulent waters of high school, as teenager, Ruby Gillman (voiced by Lana Condor), grapples with life looking different from everybody else in school.
Wearing clothes that hide her gills and other notable signs that she is not human, Ruby dreams about living a regular teenage life – going to prom, hanging out with her friends and finding love with her current crush.
The only problem is, Ruby Gillman is kraken- which are sea creatures living in the depths of the ocean. To make life a little more difficult she also discovers by accident that she is not your ordinary kraken. She is part of a legendary royal lineage of mythical sea Kraken, and she was born for a mission and with powers.
A lovely heartfelt action comedy, Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, is meaningful in that it highlights issues around being different and being a minority. This is no different from how Asian Americans and other communities are treated in America – always perceived as the perpetual foreigner. In addition, Ruby with all her quirkiness is looking to belong, be accepted and find her true identity.
This topic of finding one’s true identity was recently discussed with both Condor and Liza Koshy who voices Margot, one of Ruby’s quirky friends. For Condor finding one’s identity meant going on a journey from square one to find out her roots to truly understand who she is as a person and as an Asian American.
“For me, the pursuit of my own identity is something I am always working on. I am an adoptee from Vietnam, so growing up understanding my identity was a struggle – this is pretty much the predicament Ruby Gillman is in – having that unknown fact about her own upbringing like I did. Like Ruby I am always trying to find answers, and I have traced my roots to find what makes me Lana, what makes me Vietnamese and what makes me Asian American”, Condor told AsAmNews.
The experience of finding one’s identity was slightly different for Koshy. Being half Asian and growing up in Texas, Koshy felt like she was able to enjoy two different cultures – Indian from Kerala on her father’s side and German American on her mother’s, as well as the cultural diversity she grew up with in Texas.
“I grew up between cultures and with that experience, you create a subculture that you can identify with. That is pretty much what Margot goes through – creating her own culture that she is comfortable with. I see my identity as a mix blend that is deep, flavorful and full of rich cultural experiences. I feel that is how Margot sees herself and what she hopes Ruby will see herself as too considering their friendship”, Koshy mentioned.
On the topic of voicing Ruby, Condor spoke about how it was such a privilege to voice a character that is so similar to herself. However, being a voice actor came with its own set of challenges, and it took three years to finish off the Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken project. As an actor who is used to being in front of the camera, the entire process of voicing was different and a learning as she goes type process.
“When you record a voice for a character over three years, you definitely get familiar with them and by default you inject your own personality into the character. I can say Ruby’s quirkiness comes from me as well as her sense of loyalty. During the time of voicing I was finding who she would end up being as I went along and creating nuance so the character could adapt to change, with the storyline for Ruby changing a few times over the three years”.
One important thing Koshy wanted to remind audiences is that when they watch the animated film, they should reflect on the growing number of Asian and women of color doing the character voices.
“I hope when audiences watch the film, they can appreciate the number of generations of actors working on this project. We have actresses like Jane Fonda, Toni Collette and of course Lana voicing characters- so it is really a powerhouse of experience. Also, roles being filled by Asian women like Lana and myself, are hopefully an indication that more roles like ours will be available for other Asian Americans – lots of deep food for thought for audiences”, Koshy expressed.
Finally, reflecting on her own career which has led up to this point where she is voicing the primary protagonist in a major animated film- Condor, who made her name in scoring the lead role as Lara Jean Covey in Netflix’s romantic drama film To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, passionately talked about one of her goals in being an actor is to change the perception of how Asian women are perceived, and she hopes she has kept to this goal so far.
“One of the biggest focuses in my career has been to try and combat some of the negative tropes that exist out there about Asian women. We are not weak, meek and submissive, but we are strong, opinionated and independent. For me, it is an honor and privilege to be able to have this goal when I work on films and TV, and I hope I can and will continue to do this. It is my desire to show how strong and powerful we are”, Condor discussed.
Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken will be officially released in theaters all across the US on June 30, 2023.
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