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Spider-Man: Homecoming actress teases important, secret role in film (update)

Plus, celebrating diversity in Hollywood

Spider-Man: Homecoming - Spider-Man squatting Sony Pictures

Thanks to trailers, press junkets and spoilers on various forums, we know quite a bit about Spider-Man: Homecoming.

But as Polygon learned in an interview with actress Jona Xiao, there’s still quite a bit we don’t know. For example, who is Xiao playing?

“I really don’t think I can say much of anything,” Xiao joked. “Everything I say could be taken as a spoiler.”

Well, that’s interesting. When asked to expand on that sentiment, Xiao paused before giving a very deliberate, cautioned answer.

“One of the actors I got to work with was Marisa Tomei [Aunt May],” Xiao said. “It was very exciting to work with someone I’ve respected for so long. She actually cast me in my role. She was a part of the team who got to select the actor for that particular role.”

Pushed a little further about what her character will be doing in the movie, all Xiao could say is that she contributed to one of the most dramatic moments.

“My character is part of a revelation that happens in the film, at a very dramatic point,” Xiao said.

While Xiao may not be a household name in the same way that Tom Holland, the man who will don Spider-Man’s suit, has become, she’s an accomplished actor. Xiao is best known for her work as Julie Yang on Halt and Catch Fire, a show that caught critics’ attention and love but couldn’t find a big enough audience on AMC. The series, which will return for a fourth and final season this year, has been kept around because of the fact that it’s a critical darling, but it hasn’t generated the same kind of fanfare that AMC’s other series, like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad, have.

Part of that, Xiao thinks, is because of how niche the subject matter is. Halt and Catch Fire is a period piece that follows the explosion of the personal computer and, eventually, the internet in Silicon Valley’s earliest days. While Halt and Catch Fire premiered in 2014, at a time when technology had become mainstream, the Silicon Valley lifestyle was still pretty niche. The fact that it was a drama, set in the ’80s, also meant it demanded more time and attention than Silicon Valley, Mike Judge’s satirical comedy on HBO that mocks the tech industry mecca.

“I'm not quite sure why it didn't fully catch fire and I think maybe it had to do with the marketing behind it,” Xiao said, referring to the lack of advertising and marketing AMC famously didn’t provide to the series. “I think it's sad because I think it's such a well written, amazing production. I also think it's something that's not going to have as wide of an audience because it’s about the history of technology.”

Despite the show’s poor ratings, Xiao said having a prominent role on a major network’s series was an incredible experience and something she didn’t think she’d be able to do. During our conversation, we spoke briefly about the diversity issues that actors of color face in Hollywood.

Xiao said that while she’s thankful actors like Constance Wu and others have become vocal on social media, pointing out when whitewashing occurs (like in the recent Ghost in the Shell movie), she also believes victories should be celebrated more often.

“I think there are a lot of similar views that I share with Constance, but I do want to acknowledge that there is progress,” Xiao said. “I want to acknowledge what is working instead of just acknowledging what isn't working.”

Xiao said when she was growing up, there were only a few Asian actors working in mainstream Hollywood movies that she could look up to: Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Lucy Liu. Now, she explained, there are more Asian actors working in Hollywood than ever before. While more work needs to be done, Xiao said, it seems like the studios are listening and learning from their mistakes.

“As much as I didn't like that casting choice [referring to Scarlett Johansson’s role in Ghost in the Shell], I think the studio blamed some of the box office problems on the backlash,” Xiao said. “I think that's a good thing to see happen when making those types of casting choices because it's a cautionary tale.”

Xiao can be seen next in Spider-Man: Homecoming, which will be released on July 7. Her role will probably remain a secret until then; just don’t scour subreddits looking for clues.

Update: Xiao’s rep emailed Polygon after the film screened notifying us that they had only just learned the actress’ scene had been cut. This happens often with movies, and Polygon has reached out to both Sony and Xiao’s rep for comment on whether her role could appear as a deleted scene as part of a digital and Blu-ray release.

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