Jon M. Chu ’s path to Hollywood eminence began with his biggest failure. Jem and the Holograms , a musical that Chu directed, grossed just US$2 million in 2015, posting one of the 10 worst opening weekends in Hollywood history. Net worths ranked: the unreal wealth of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills “I remember sitting there feeling very empty,” says Chu, 41. “I cleared my slate and started to look for whatever those next projects were going to be. I told my agents and managers, ‘I’m not going to make money for you for the next five years, so buckle up.’” Is Cruella the most stylish film of 2021? His time in purgatory didn’t last so long as it turned out. In 2016, Chu agreed to make two films: Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights . Crazy Rich Asians , released in 2018 , grossed more than US$238 million and turned into a global phenomenon. Chu credits the success, in part, to the months of marketing that typically accompany a release in theatres. The many magazine covers, billboards and talk-show appearances helped to turn the cast members into stars . Chu hoped In the Heights , his forthcoming adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning play, would have a similar impact for its largely Latino cast. Then the pandemic intervened, shuttering theatres and forcing the studio to postpone the movie’s release. While Miranda was eager to get the film out into the world, Chu held firm to his belief that it needed a big roll-out. Initially, AT&T Inc.’s Warner Bros. seemed to agree. The One Where They Get Back Together: the big Friends reunion unpacked But then Warner Bros. announced plans to debut the film and 16 others on HBO Max and theatres at the same time, a move that caught Chu off guard. He found out just 15 minutes before the press release dropped and was one of several filmmakers peeved by the lack of communication. “I don’t know, a little heads-up would have been great,” he says. “But, you know, they paid for it in the end.” As the movie’s release date approaches, Chu is starting to feel optimistic again. In the Heights will be one of the few major releases debuting this summer , promising a long run in theatres. We made a fun movie, and people connected with it. Precedent is the biggest change agent in this town. The real thing about the movie wasn’t that it was some brilliant movie that changed things. It gave a pathway Director Jon M. Chu on Crazy Rich Asians Video-chatting from his home in Malibu, California, Chu spoke about the making of In the Heights , the impact of Crazy Rich Asians on Hollywood and his relationship with Steven Spielberg. What are Netflix’s 10 most viewed original films? Some version of this movie has been in development since 2008. What was your vision for adapting it from the play? I knew the characters. Even though I’m not from Washington Heights – I grew up in a Chinese restaurant on the other side of the country – I recognised my family in that. I recognised my aunts and my uncles who took care of us growing up. I really related to knowing how big your dreams feel when you are imagining it in your bedroom, or in the kitchen of the restaurant. The 5 most anticipated TV shows returning in June You named your son Heights Chu, or is Heights his middle name? Heights is his middle name. His first name is Jonathan. But we don’t call him that at all. We call him Heights. I wanted to say that word every day of my life. And I wanted him to hear that word every day of his life. It’s such a beautiful idea to see beyond the trees, beyond your walls, beyond your fence. Who is Sara Ramirez, the Sex and The City revival’s newest cast member? Well, you’ll know how your son feels when he’s a teenager … It’s a lot of pressure to make the movie good! If this movie sucks, then, my bad. Have you started to get nervous about it? If I was younger I would be. I’m really excited that we get to share it. We made something, whether people like it or not, that we’re really proud of. Especially after this year. Having a movie with joy and energy and love and community and family. I won the lottery when I got into the business. I made a short film, Steven Spielberg saw it, and I got thrown into the studio world. I didn’t know who I was or what I was. What happens when Steven Spielberg likes your short? We met up in DreamWorks, and we had a great, two-hour conversation about musicals. My short was a musical. Inside Kelly Osbourne’s most dramatic transformation yet He said Oliver Twist was his favourite, so we started singing songs from it. He actually finished a whole song, which was kind of funny. It was very surreal. At the end of it, I said I was working on another musical, an original with my friends. So then I met him on a Thursday. I pitched him – me and my best friend and his eventual wife. It was my first pitch. They loved it. They bought it. It was like a fantasy. Then he invited me to come to a set with him. He was shooting The Terminal at the time. I got to sit next to him while he was directing and ask him any question. That was amazing. At the end, he said goodbye, the doors opened and there was a helicopter. And he jumps into his helicopter and flies over me. And then I didn’t see him for years. 5 Asian actresses who made it in Hollywood, from Crazy Rich Asians’ Michelle Yeoh to Maggie Q You have worked a lot with relatively unknown actors in In the Heights and Crazy Rich Asians . Is that intentional? It’s about a lack of opportunity. I know that I’m going to be paying special attention to showing off Ronny Chieng, Jimmy O. Yang, Henry Golding, Awkwafina , Gemma [Chan] . I know what they do. Maybe other people didn’t know. I knew exactly what they were going to do because they are unapologetic about who they are. And then, this cast is so freaking talented. It’s unbelievable that they can sing. They can dance. They can be funny. They can do drama. They can do big. They’re athletic. They can do it all. I’m just so excited that we get to introduce them to the world. What has been the impact of Crazy Rich Asians on the entertainment business? There is a before Crazy Rich Asians and there’s an after. But that doesn’t mean that Crazy Rich Asians caused it. Crazy Rich Asians is a result of a lot of things bubbling up to a point where it manifested itself. Crazy Rich Asians: what are Henry Golding, Awkwafina and the others doing now? It was drilled into my head on the internet by #OscarsSoWhite and #StarringJohnCho and these movements, that I’ve been in the business for a long time, and I’m part of the problem. I believed the things that I was being told: “This person can’t lead a movie. It doesn’t sell internationally.” Reading these things from the outside, people yelling and screaming about what the problems were, woke me up. We made a fun movie, and people connected with it. Precedent is the biggest change agent in this town. The real thing about the movie wasn’t that it was some brilliant movie that changed things. It gave a pathway to show that there was going to be support, and the actors absolutely became stars and paved new paths for others behind them. Henry Golding and 4 more Asian actors taking a stand against Hollywood whitewashing The stars now are heading up Marvel films, hosting SNL , winning Golden Globes. That is its biggest impact. That’s why we persisted with In the Heights . We needed the machinery of AT&T and Warner Bros. We needed the investment of millions to tell the world that these people are beautiful. They’re worth your time. They’re worth your money. They’re worth your commitment. So come, let us tell you a story. Did you have any trepidation about directing a film that is about Latin culture and a diaspora to which you don’t belong? When I signed up for it, I didn’t because I felt so attached to it. It was only after Crazy Rich Asians that I was like, “Should I be directing this movie?” And I remember sitting, talking to my producers and Lin, and being like, “I just want to make sure we’re making the right decision here”. They always stood by my side. Bling Empire and Crazy Rich Asians vs America’s ‘model minority’ myth It sounds like Lin was a very active producer … Lin is a cinephile and understands the role of a director in a movie and gave us all the room we wanted. And the secret weapon was Quiara [Alégria Hudes]. Quiara balances both worlds. Lin trusted her implicitly, and he was distracted with Hamilton for the first couple of years of developing this with me. He trusts her so much that he allowed us to rip this show apart, put it back together and rip it apart. So this movie was supposed to be released last year, then it got postponed. Now it’s part of this whole HBO Max experiment. It’s on HBO Max? [Laughs.] Bling Empire in New York City? 7 real-life Crazy Rich Asians we’d love to see in an east coast spin-off That week some directors came out and said that it was the worst thing that’s ever happened to them. It was emotional. How soon did you realise the movie wasn’t going to come out last year? And were you all on the same page about the release plan? As soon as the pandemic happened, we knew we lived in a different world. We definitely had conversations about, “Should we release this on its release date so people have some sort of joy in their life during this?” Lin and I had that debate. Because of what I knew about Crazy Rich Asians , I saw what the machine can communicate to the world about the importance of beauty, of this culture, of these people when it’s a movie. Missing Crazy Rich Asians? Watch Netflix’s Bling Empire, for more bling and billionaires During the pandemic, did you find that you were gravitating towards certain projects? View this post on Instagram A post shared by Jon M Chu (@jonmchu) I was pretty focused on In the Heights . But what was heavy on my mind was that my next thing has to meet the moment. Our generation is now in control, and so this is now our moment to tell all the stories we want to tell. My main focus is to tell my children what world we live in. Our America is going to look very different than it does today in 20 years, when the Latino community and the Asian community are the fastest-growing minority communities. Is the world ready to look at each other and recognise your neighbour and have empathy? Celebrities expecting babies in 2021 from Crazy Rich Asians’ Henry Golding, to MMA stars Angela Lee and Bruno Pucci Is Hollywood ready for that change? When you look across the different studios and agencies, for the most part, they are run by white men … They’re not ready. Look at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. But if you don’t get with it, you’re out. So, they’re going to have to survive. And if there’s anything that business responds to, it is survival and money. I don’t think it matters whether they’re ready or not. Want more stories like this? Sign up here. Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .