In West Hollywood, Azza Arif sits down with Constance Wu, the leading lady of Crazy Rich Asians, to talk about the significance of an all-Asian cast in one of the year’s most anticipated films.
Almost everyone I know has read Kevin Kwan’s international best-seller Crazy Rich Asians. The author takes our imaginations through the extravagant and dreamlike melodrama that surrounds a sweetly ingenuous romance plot between an earnest, striving, working class Asian-American woman and the heir to one of Asia’s largest fortunes. From the title itself, one can already tell that the story is populated entirely by Asians. A huge step forward for diversity and inclusion, the same philosophy was implemented to its on-screen version that was released just last month, making Crazy Rich Asians the first major Hollywood production in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast since the 1993 film, The Joy Luck Club.
It’s time to see how wonderful and rich Asian culture is
“It’s about time for the world to see how wonderful and rich Asian culture is.” Constance Wu tells me, as she leans forward in her seat. We had just ended our cover shoot just moments before. In many ways, Wu, who plays Rachel Chu in Crazy Rich Asians as well as the hilarious, show-stealing tiger-mom Jessica Huang on ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, is similar to both lead characters ─ she is analytical, funny, bold, and extremely outspoken; especially about the Asian-American representation in Hollywood. “How am I similar to my character? Oh… we both like hot men.” She laughed, tossing her blonde locks that frame her tanned complexion over her shoulders.
How similar is Constance Wu and Rachel Chu?
“Me and Rachel are similar in that we are both are from working-class families, and we’re both very American.” Wu was a theatre actress and a waitress when she first moved from Los Angeles to New York City. Fast-forward some years later, she now leads a Hollywood blockbuster. It just goes to show that when you are passionate about something, you do all you can to make that passion a reality. “I’ve been an actress my whole life. I studied and I trained for it. It’s not a decision; it’s as natural as breathing. It’s just who I’ve always been.”
“I bring up Crazy Rich Asians and its glaring stereotypes.”
“A lot of Asians in Asia, they like to ─ like in Crazy Rich Asians ─ display their wealth, and if something makes you look poor, you’re embarrassed by it,” she says with a slight smile. “I think it’s interesting, because I think in America, people are proud of their working-class roots. They don’t hide it. I think they probably own it more if they are that.”
Asians vs Asian- Americans
Asians and Asian-Americans are very different, and she wishes that more people would realise how real that racial stereotype is when it comes to TV and film. “Just because two people look the same, doesn’t mean that they have the same things that brought them up. I think the one thing that should be obvious to any person – Asian or not – is that an Asian-American is going to be different than an Asian brought up in Asia.” She tells me. “People are narrow-minded. They’re not looking deeper than surface level. That’s why people like to display their wealth, because of surface level.”
Always be yourself!
“But what’s deeper than that? What is the thing that you contribute to the world that doesn’t have anything to do with money? What value do you bring to the world? What qualities do you have that don’t have anything to do with your external appearance?” Wu continues. “That’s sort of what I think Rachel brings to the table. Rachel goes through this makeover. She wears all these nice clothes. And at the end, she goes back to being herself, because that’s who she always was. She’s not a person that likes fancy things in order to boost her ego. Her self-worth is not based on what she looks like, or where she shops. It’s based on her actions. So I think that’s my philosophy of the movie.”
Q&A with Constance Wu
Have you met a real-life crazy rich Asian?
Michelle Yeoh is probably it. She’s probably the richest Asian I’ve met. In terms of what of the book is saying, she’s probably not as rich as the people who (???) they’re supposed to be like, multi-billionaires. Yeah, I don’t know any super rich people.
What is your dream role?
I wanna play Masha in Three Sisters by Chekov, Hermione in The Winter’s Tale by Shakespeare, and Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. Actually, I’d like to do any musical; I love musicals!
More from Constance Wu
When you were coming into prominence, what was the best piece of advice that you got about the fame monster?
You’re allowed to say no. They’re going to make it seem like you can’t say no, but you’re allowed to say no. And you should, sometimes, because you need to make your boundaries clear from the get-go in order to feel comfortable and safe to do your best work. If you don’t want to do something, or if something doesn’t feel comfortable to you, you’re allowed to say no. Unfortunately, sometimes you have to say no several times. I hope the culture is changing in that you only have to say no once, and your wishes are respected. By the way, I just have to add, when I’m talking about saying no, I’m not talking about sexual harassment. It’s anything like a stunt, or something you’re going to wear. You say no, and they’d say it’s such a great opportunity, but you’re still allowed to say no.
Let’s talk style. What catches your eye, in terms of fashion?
I really like the 70s. I like drapey stuff, I like vintage; clothes that seem old. I don’t like to look too polished, like I walked out of a magazine ad. I like to look like I walked out of a coffee shop, not a magazine ad. You know, that’s how we all are. We all have a little scuff on our boots somewhere. I like to have a little scuff on my shoe, or on my bag, or on my clothes. That’s the real part of you.