The international cast and creators of "Crazy Rich Asians" on their crazy diverse journeys to Hollywood and why they hope their groundbreaking rom-com is a watershed moment for underrepresented voices.
This summer marks the return of the splashy, big-budget Hollywood romance — but with a crazy historic twist. Featuring lush sets, glamorous locales and an ensemble of talent from all over the globe, Warner Bros.’ “Crazy Rich Asians” is adapted from Kevin Kwan’s international bestseller about a New Yorker meeting her boyfriend’s sprawling, intimidating Singaporean family for the first time. And when it opens nationwide Wednesday, it will mark the first studio film in 25 years to tell a contemporary story centered on an all-Asian cast.
The significance is not lost on its stars and filmmakers. Fans, too, have rallied around “Crazy Rich Asians,” cheered the watershed moment on social media and bought out theaters in hopes of boosting its crucial opening weekend box office returns — the barometer by which studios, financiers and gatekeepers will surely measure the value of greenlighting similar diverse stories.
Because the truth is that in spite of increased calls for industry change in recent years, significant progress has not hit the big screen. According to an Annenberg study of the top 100 films of 2017, only 4.8% of movies featured a character of Asian descent with a speaking role.
Here, the cast and filmmakers of “Crazy Rich Asians” share their own disparate paths to Hollywood, as well as their hopes for how their film might pave the way for all stories historically under-seen and heard in Hollywood.
Television audiences know Wu from “Fresh Off the Boat” where her portrayal of Jessica Huang made her a household name. Now, Wu’s turn as the heroine of “Crazy Rich Asians” is one the Richmond, Va., native hopes will open doors for those who don’t yet see themselves reflected on screen.
The star-in-the-making has since filmed two roles in upcoming films: “A Simple Favor” opposite Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick, and “Monsoon,” from Sundance and BAFTA nominee Hong Khaou (“Lilting”). He hopes this is just the start of a long run of — colorblind — leading-man roles.
Two sequels follow his debut novel, which Kwan hopes may also make it onto the big screen if “Crazy Rich Asians” delivers at the box office. But first he’d like to see a new era of inclusive storytelling in Hollywood — for underserved voices who aren’t necessarily crazy, rich, crazy-rich or Asian.
Lim worked her way up through an impressive résumé, writing on shows including “One Tree Hill,” “Life Unexpected,” and “Reign.” But she never imagined she’d get to write a movie for Asian talent in Hollywood, where leads of color, sadly, remain rare.
From her early break in action classics like “Yes, Madam” and “Supercop” to her crossover turns in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and beyond, Yeoh has amassed an impressive résumé of roles. She even broke intergalactic barriers as a Starfleet captain in “Star Trek: Discovery.”
Like many Asian Americans, Awkwafina (a.k.a. Nora Lum) grew up not seeing women who looked like her in entertainment — with a rare exception: Comedian Margaret Cho, whom she vividly remembers catching on television.
Ken Jeong began his career as a doctor — a real life, practicing physician — before answering Hollywood’s call in comedy smash films. “I got Koreaned into being pre-med and I got Americaned into being an actor,” he jokes.
“[My] dad said to me, ‘It doesn’t matter how good you are or how talented you are — how many faces do you see on the screen that look like ours? You won’t get enough work.’ I said, ‘Dad, I just want to be part of a change.’ ”
Filipino American actor Nico Santos (NBC’s “Superstore”) was born and raised in Manila until his teens, when he moved to Oregon. He made his way to California where he began his showbiz career in stand-up comedy before acting.
“The best thing about this project is that it’s not really diversity for the sake of diversity. It’s a cool story being told here, and there’s a lot of heart in it,” says Chieng, who plays hilariously uptight, status-obsessed investment banker Eddie Cheng.
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Additional credits: Portraits by Mel Melcon. Video by Jen Yamato, Jeff Amlotte, Myung L. Chun and Mark E. Potts. Digital design and development by Agnus Dei Farrant.