Crazy Rich Asians
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Awkwafina as Peik Lin in a scene from Crazy Rich Asians. She says her character needs a boyfriend and a home of her own in the sequel, in which she will also appear. Photo: Sanja Bucko/Warner Bros. Entertainment/AP

Awkwafina of Crazy Rich Asians on her breakout year: ‘There was this idea that we were doing something big’

  • After scene-stealing parts in Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, comedian is in two more films premiering soon and a Comedy Central show based on her life
  • ‘Growing up I was looking for that movie,’ says Asian-American 29-year-old about the worldwide hit adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s novel
Awkwafina became a household name this summer, stealing scenes from the likes of Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock in the heist movie Ocean’s 8 and then as a stand-out in the cultural phenomenon that was Crazy Rich Asians.

But even considering her blockbuster summer, the 29-year-old New York native, born Nora Lum, whose dad wanted her to be an air traffic controller, still feels pretty normal.

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“Maybe when I open my phone there’s a couple more followers and a couple hateful comments, but my regular life is still the same. I’m Target pants and things like that,” the comedian, rapper and now actress said. “I love Target pants.”

She never even really planned to go into acting, but a viral rap YouTube video caught the attention of Seth Rogen and Nick Stoller, who cast her in a small part in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (aka Bad Neighbours 2). Then she got an independent film, Dude, from Olivia Milch, who would go on to co-write Ocean’s 8, and the pieces started falling into place. Her latest honour is being named among the Breakthrough Entertainers of 2018 by Associated Press.
Awkwafina, named as one of eight Breakthrough Entertainers of the Year by Associated Press, says: ‘My regular life is still the same. I’m Target pants and things like that.’ Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

“If this ended tomorrow, I wouldn’t be mad. I’m so grateful. And all of this I never expected,” she said. “I just go along with the ride.”

Still, it’s no doubt that Awkwafina is on the rise, with a Comedy Central show based on her life in the works, two films premiering at the Sundance Film Festival this January and, of course, the Crazy Rich Asians sequel. She’s gunning for her character, Peik Lin, to get a boyfriend and her own place.

“Peik Lin needs to move out of the house, man,” Awkwafina said. “She lives with the whole family. She’s got to move out.”

Awkwafina says the Crazy Rich Asians cast had the idea they were doing something big, but adds: ‘I don’t think we knew how big.’ Photo: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

The overwhelmingly positive response to Crazy Rich Asians was perhaps the most significant moment of this breakthrough year for Awkwafina. The US$30 million film has grossed over US$237 million worldwide (despite a lacklustre performance in China), and was the first big studio Hollywood production to feature a primarily Asian-American cast in 25 years, since The Joy Luck Club.

My regular life is still the same. I’m Target pants and things like that

“As an Asian-American kid, growing up I was looking for that movie,” Awkwafina said. “It was very emotional. We were having fun, but there was this lingering collective idea that we were there doing something big. I don’t think we knew how big at the time.”

She remembers seeing comedian Margaret Cho on television when she was seven years old and having an “ah-ha” moment.

“She was an Asian woman who was so bold, so unashamed and she was funny,” she said. “Seeing her made it possible. And my end goal in all of this is to inspire this next generation because we need more of it.”