On November 1, the 2018 IndieWire Honors ceremony will celebrate seven filmmakers and actors for their achievement in creative independence. We’re showcasing their work with new interviews this week.
Constance Wu is getting more offers — not auditions or scripts to read, but actual offers to star in movies. “I can’t take any of them because I film my show nine months of the year,” she told IndieWire. “But I’m getting them.”
That change, in and of itself, is an important personal development for an actress who’s been part of creating positive cultural touchstones with her work. Wu’s show, “Fresh Off the Boat,” is the first TV series led by an Asian-American cast to sell syndication rights. It’s also the first Asian-American series to complete a full season, not to mention the first to earn a renewal. Yet even after its fifth season was picked up on ABC (airing now), Wu’s offers didn’t start rolling in until “Crazy Rich Asians” became a global juggernaut, earning near-universal critical accolades and grossing more than $232 million worldwide — with a China release still to come.
This line of history now runs straight through Wu, but she doesn’t take much credit for it. As evidenced by her pinned tweet, she sees a clear connection between the two projects — beyond the “Crazy Rich” easter eggs Wu promises are coming in “Fresh Off the Boat.” To get a major studio to green light “Crazy Rich Asians,” she said another TV show or film had to break the glass ceiling.
“It could have been any show,” she said. The key was a unique, compelling, and accessible voice — like “Fresh Off the Boat” author Eddie Huang. “It’s because he stood out, that people watched him on TV, read his book,” she said. “And his book inspired the show. …I think if it had to be something. And I think it would have been somebody who has an unapologetic unusual voice. But not necessarily ‘Fresh Off the Boat.'”
Wu is more focused on pushing the movement forward. In the same message to fans, she credits her “Crazy Rich Asians” director for turning the phrase, but Wu is an outspoken advocate on social media and behind a microphone. She supports other women in the industry, including Natalie Portman and Olivia Munn, through her social media accounts, and when Wu gets behind the microphone herself, she’s backing everything from voting rights to groups like Girls Alliance, which aims to empower adolescent girls through education.
Yet through all her messaging, one idea reigns supreme: inclusivity.
“I don’t think there is one right way to continue the movement,” she said. “I think there is a way that I might want to do it, that somebody else thinks is bad. But I think action at all in media, in culture, is action.”
ABC / Byron Cohen
She cites her “Fresh Off the Boat” character as an example, remembering how some viewers were offended that Jessica Huang speaks English with a Taiwanese accent.
“It’s understandable that people might get prickly about that because they’ve been kind of teased their whole lives for [having an accent],” Wu said. “Some people might have thought that was a step backwards. [But] some people, like myself, think we need to center Asian American narratives and have that be a part of our character that we’re proud of. Some people think progress is going to be when we can play parts in movies where Asian American culture has nothing to do with the character. I think both are effective. Both are a movement.”
What matters to Wu is finding that unique voice; the kind Huang brought to “Fresh Off the Boat,” Kevin Kwan utilized in “Crazy Rich Asians,” and more Asian American creators will bring to future work.
“I think what people need to do is […] find the style and the voice that speaks to them, without seeking approval. Like, what do you think it should be? And how would you want to do it? And then you go do it.”
Wu is walking the walk on and off screen. In this season of “Fresh Off the Boat,” Jessica is dealing with unprecedented failure. The book she worked so hard on throughout Season 4 isn’t selling, and she struggles to admit as much to her family.
“I think it’s great to see Asian American characters navigating failure, or fame, or embarrassment — all the things that kids [might] tease them about growing up,” she said. “[It’s important] to show that was a thing that happened to them, and affected them. […] Showing failure, showing the difficult parts of being a human, that’s what makes other people feel less alone when they have their own struggles.”
Outside of the show, “Crazy Rich Asians,” and her upcoming animated film, “Wish Dragon,” Wu is making the time to build her own projects.
“I’m definitely writing,” she said. “I’ve got a robot movie I’m writing with Chloe Okuno, a director from AFI, and I’m very excited about that one.”
Wu said the script was “kind of like ‘Lars and the Real Girl,'” the 2007 film starring Ryan Gosling. “I like stories that aren’t bossy, but are […] humble and strange and embarrassing, but very human,” she said.
After Wu’s productive year, those parts should be coming her way, along with all the other “really, really great parts” she’s been offered since “Crazy Rich Asians.” Wu said that the roles currently coming her way “carry the narrative,” and characterized them as “parts that, as an ethnic actor, you don’t ever expect to have.”