If You’re Not Already in Love With Zoë Chao, You Haven’t Been Paying Attention


My sister and I played a lot. She’s five and a half years younger, and I’d be like, “Today, do you want to play prohibitionist times? Do you want to play Westward Ho? Do you want to play gambling at the horse track with Frank Sinatra?” So I’ve always loved the world of play and slipping into other worlds. 

I went to college for art history. My parents are both artists, and my sister is a visual artist too. I thought maybe some proximity to the art world is where I would fit. But then I realized I was spending most of my time focusing on this one-woman show and doing plays and musicals. At the end of my senior year, I decided to go to grad school for theater. I did three years of intensive theater study and realized, Oh, turns out I can do this six days a week, 12 hours a day. 

You have a movie with Rebel Wilson coming up called Senior Year. What can you tell me about that?

What was so fun about Senior Year is that I got to play a very unlikeable person who has a point of view on everything and is kind of unhinged. We get to see her fall apart, and that is just so fun. For that role, I was like, “She’s got to have talons. She’s got to have nails!” It was the first time I’ve ever had gel extensions, and so much of my character’s physicality was informed by having these very long nails for two months. They made my real life a pain. But on set…sometimes you have to say a certain phrase to get into the character, to find it again. All I had to do was look at my nails and try to pick something up or try to text and I’d be like, “Oh, she’s here. She’s with us.” That was really fun.

Have you played a villain before? 

No, it was truly a dream of mine to play a really heinous human being. So I had a great couple of months. 

You’ll also be starring in After Party. Tell me about that role. 

It’s a modern-day whodunit with some of the funniest people ever. It’s an ensemble piece, and we shot it for five months in Los Angeles during the height of the pandemic. It feels kind of miraculous that we made it through. It’s about a high school reunion after-party, where someone is murdered. Each episode is a different character’s take on the sequence of events, and it’s done in a different genre each episode. I love a mystery, and I think a funny mystery is a delight. Hopefully people will like it.

Those both sound truly entertaining. It’s nice in weird times like this to have some levity. 

There’s something about this Modern Love episode, too, that feels hopeful. The things I’ve participated in during the pandemic all feel like there’s something uncomplicated about them. That’s really simplistic, but there’s an escape that feels clean and joyful—like, you don’t have to apologize for these escapes.

Last question: If you could put it out into the universe and manifest a role you’d love to play, what would it be? 

If you’d asked this before Senior Year, I’d be like, “Sign me up for Villain With Very Questionable Morals!” I love playing people that are not spending every second being like, “What is the right thing to do?” I experience that enough in real life. 

But now that I’ve played a villain, I would love to play within the action world. I just watched Be Water, which is this brilliant documentary on Bruce Lee. I’d love to be in some sort of genre-bending weird piece where there’s dance in it but people aren’t dancers and it’s not a musical. Physical and genre-bending and weird and surprising and darkly funny—that’s the world where I live in and would love to inhabit on screen.

Anna Moeslein is the deputy editor at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @annamoeslein.


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