Harry Potter's Katie Leung Recalls Racist Bullying Over Cho Chang Casting: 'I Just Broke Down'
Katie Leung is speaking out about the racist abuse she endured when she was cast as Cho Chang in the Harry Potter franchise.
The 33-year-old actress recounted the bullying she faced during Monday's episode of the Chinese Chippy Girl podcast, saying that it all began when news of her role was leaked before she had started filming.
"It had got to the papers and then someone secretly took a photo of me," she remembered. "I just broke down. I just started crying."
After that photo was published, Leung — who was a teenager still in school at that time — said she started receiving a lot of hateful and negative messages.
"I was like, Googling myself at one point and I was on this website, which was kind of dedicated to the Harry Potter fandom, and I remember reading all the comments. It was a lot of racist s—," she said.
"And then somebody had actually created a website, a hate site — it was like, if you disagree with this casting, then click on this button and then it would just be like a count of how many people disagreed with the casting and you would just see a number," Leung continued. "I know, it's awful. It's so awful."
Leung, who didn't have any media training at the time, said she approached a publicist about the online abuse, but was told not to talk about it to the press.
"I remember them saying to me, 'Oh look, Katie, we haven't seen these websites that people are talking about. And if you get asked, then just say it's not true. Say it's not happening,' " she recalled.
"And I just nodded my head. I was like, 'Okay, Okay,' even though I had seen it myself with my own eyes," Leung said. "I was like, 'Okay, yeah, I'll just say everything's great.' "
It's unclear if the publicist was working for Leung or Warner Bros. Pictures, the studio behind the Harry Potter movies. A spokesperson for the company did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.
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Looking back, Leung wishes she had spoken out about the hurtful comments at that time.
"Of course, I was grateful. I was really very f------ grateful that I was in the position I was in," she said of her role. "But then, yeah ... it wasn't great."
Leung played Cho, a Hogwarts student, in five Harry Potter movies.
She previously spoke about the backlash over her casting in a 2016 interview with Scottish newspaper The Herald.
"Looking back I can't remember much about that part of it because I was so in denial of what was happening," Leung said. "I put it to the back of my mind. I don't know if that is the best way to deal with it, but that is naturally what I did in order to move on and be a good actor."