Awkwafina (née Nora Lum) readily admits that she never knew she would be in entertainment. But when you star in two summer blockbuster hits (Oceans 8 and Crazy Rich Asians) in the same year and release an EP? It’s kind of difficult not to pat yourself on the back for reaching that type of success.
“It’s been crazy and I never knew I was going to become a musician let alone an actress, especially with the scale of the movies I’ve been able to be in,” Awkwafina told CASSIUS. “I compare it to being like if we were normal people and we were sucked into this fantasy alternate universe—initially it’s very shocking, but then you see a unicorn pooping and then it’s like a little less shocking, you know what I mean? I’m surprised at even how I’ve handled it, being around all these people. I just feel extremely blessed.”
The Queens, New York, native plays protagonist Rachel Chu’s college roommate and best friend, Goh Peik Lin, the crazy fairy godmother who ushers Rachel into the world of Singapore high life.
“One thing that Peik Lin has is a different kind of honesty and a level of humility that comes with her family,” she said. “Even though they’re rich, they’re still kind of dysfunctional and down to earth in certain ways. She has a really strong sense of identity and of the world that she is passing through.”
While she says she’d love to have a best friend like Peik Lin, she sees herself more as a Rachel Chu, in terms of being stuck between two worlds. She said it was huge for her to have a dad (played by Ken Jeong) in the movie who didn’t have an accent, something she could relate to with a first-generation Asian-American dad.
“For me, there’s always that struggle,” she notes. “You grow up in America, but you always feel a little bit different. But if you go to Asia, you don’t quite feel at home there either. So there’s always that little bit of an identity struggle and in more ways, I think I relate to Rachel in that way than Peik Lin.”
But what she thinks makes Crazy Rich Asians special is that it shows there isn’t a single way to be Asian or Asian-American. It doesn’t delve into debunking stereotypes or explain any of the rich cultural pieces of the film because it doesn’t need to. One thing she noted is how special it was for her to think about how her grandmother, who has lived in the U.S. since the ’50s, will be affected by the film.
“When Asian-American audiences see the movie, they walk out with such a powerful emotion that they don’t even know where it’s coming from,” she said. “I’m realizing that it’s the power of representation, the power of being represented in the medium of a country you’ve grown up in with so little. I think that is a privilege and when you feel it, it’s undeniable.”