Becoming a viral internet phenomenon is a “delicate” business — there’s no rhyme or reason to what might capture the attention of the masses on the worldwide web.
“This is my mom. She’s 57 and felt like pursuing acting recently… mostly for s—s and giggles, but here she is. So beautiful,” wrote Cheng’s daughter Meg alongside screenshots of images of her mom in the video.
Cheng re-tweeted it, adding the caption, “I actually made my teenage daughter proud. #winning.” Both tweets have garnered nearly 60,000 likes.
We wanted to know what it’s like to suddenly find yourself at the center of an internet phenomenon, and better yet, what it’s like to be in a Taylor Swift music video. So we called up Cheng, who is a Christian singer-songwriter and just recently transitioned into acting. She told EW all about her experience, from her audition through shooting and how difficult it was to keep the project a secret from her family.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get cast in the video?
JUNKO CHENG: I just got signed with Prestigious model and acting agency in January, and this was the very first audition I was sent out for. I don’t know why, but I got the job right away. I had been taking some acting classes for the last couple of years as a diversion from my music career, which I’ve been doing since my 20s. The audition was really short. I went up to downtown L.A. and I walked into a room, and they wanted an older female person. I didn’t know what this was for. I knew it was a music video, that’s all I knew. Initially it said for an unnamed male artist so they really kept it under wraps. They told me, “Pretend I’m in an elevator and someone really famous and tall comes in, like 8 feet tall. Show me your expression, go.” So I relied on my improv class that I was taking, did a couple of improv-ish things and they liked it and they had me do it again, and then they thought it was really funny. And I thought, “Oh that was probably it.” This is a really freaking early point in my acting career to get even an audition, so I just left thinking I didn’t get it. Well, the next day I get a call saying “You got the job!”
At that point did you know what the project was? What happened next?
When I arrived for the wardrobe, they confiscated my phone and I had to sign a non-disclosure [agreement], and I walked onto the set, which was like a huge, like a major motion picture kind of set with lighting and camera and crew, and people running around. The guy that met me with a clipboard said, “Just remember when you leave this place, this didn’t happen, okay?” So everybody inside, the other actors that were inside, were like, “This must be legit. We don’t know who it is, but it must be legit.” We all didn’t know what to do without our phones. We didn’t even know what time it was. We were getting our wardrobe and then after that, I went home. It was a two night shoot…I was the final scene in their shoot. When I showed up for my hair and makeup, that’s when I found out it was Taylor Swift, and I almost fell out of my chair. I had to swear to secrecy for 5 or 6 weeks before the video came out. I was dying. But it was so fun.
Were you a big fan of her music?
Of course. I love her songs. I’m older, and I think she has an appeal for all different ages. My kids like her; they always have. Maybe not a huge Swiftie fan, but we enjoy her music and I always thought she was really cute. Sure enough, she really is a sweet person — humble and kind and not into herself. She would make eye contact and ask about you, and just a really nice person.
So no one, including your kids, found out until the video debuted — what was their reaction?
They were completely floored. They were just shocked. As soon as the video showed on the iHeartRadio awards show, my phone started to go off. I was flying home from Seattle and I was just boarding and I didn’t have good Wi-Fi, so I didn’t get to see the whole video until I landed back in Orange County two and half hours later, but my texts and messages were going crazy. “I think I just saw you. Is that you?” And I’m like, “Oh you did. How did I look? I can’t see.” It was crazy.
What did you think of the video once you saw it?
I thought it was so lovely. It’s so classy and different than the last two or three she had done. Those are fun, but I could tell this wasn’t going to be like that. Just with the wardrobe and the hotel. You saw how pretty the set was, that it wasn’t like that anime-inspired, futuristic thing she’d been doing in the last few. I knew it was going to tell a story. I wasn’t really sure what the story was, but it all made sense when I saw the whole video. This is one I’m really proud to be in. This is great.
Her dancing has sparked a lot of discussion — what do you think of it?
All I was thinking was, Man, this is the second night of an all-nighter and the girl is still dancing each time full-out. She was dancing with full abandon and just having fun. To see her dancing so happily and without a care of what people thought, I love that.
Your Twitter exchange with your daughter is so adorable. How did that come to be and how has it made you feel?
Having a teenager, your parents are dorks no matter what. I’ve been a singer all this time and she’s seen me perform. When she was little she wanted to come onstage with mommy, but as she got older she got more and more embarrassed. I’m 57. She thought it was pretty impressive that it was Taylor Swift. That was about it. I didn’t know; she didn’t tell me she was going to post on Twitter, that little collage of the screenshots from the video. She said what she said. She didn’t tell me, and at first, she didn’t put any hashtags or @taylorswift or anything. So it didn’t really trend, it just was her friends seeing it, and then one of her friends re-tweeted and then it got found by a Swiftie and then it just mushroomed from there. She was as shocked as I was the way people are responding. Last night, that’s when it really started to blow up. She was trying to do her homework and her phone was buzzing, buzzing, buzzing with every notice. As much as a teenager can tell their mom that she’s proud, I think in her own way she’s doing that now. One of my goals in life is #embarrassmyteen.
What comes next for you and has this changed anything for you?
I’m so old now. I really don’t care about a lot of things, especially what people think about me, but as I get older and some of my peers are starting to die — not of tragic accidents, but natural causes and heart attacks and cancer — I don’t know how much longer I have here on earth, but I want to do the best with whatever time I have left. And whatever purpose God has planned for me and however long I have. Maybe I could be a Betty White and live to be 90-something, but I’m just going to enjoy and do my best with whatever I get to do.