Crazy Rich Asians — based on the 2013 Kevin Kwan novel of the same name — is a huge victory for Asian representation. Constance Wu and Henry Golding open up about leading such a glamorous and ambitious film project and how gratifying it was, especially, to be playing such well-rounded, complex characters, considered a rarity for actors of Asian descent.
As Asian Americans who grew up Stateside, Crazy Rich Asians stars Constance Wu, who plays Rachel Chu, and Henry Golding, cast as Nick Young, rarely saw Asians on screen in film and television. But now they’re at home in Hollywood — and paving the way for further victories in representation and opportunity.
Wu, in a casual beige blouse and jeans, and Golding, in a black shirt and dress pants, sit in front of the camera, an energy and eagerness that’s palpable even after a presumably busy week filming the series. With her hair pulled back into a high ponytail, dewy complexion, and bright eyes, Wu is both passionate and bubbly. Beside her, Golding smiles genially.
But it’s easy to forget that Wu and Golding are the exception, not the rule, as they fight an uphill battle against racial stereotypes limiting the roles available and type casting. As in Crazy Rich Asians, with the emergence of more Asian-Americans in the acting industry pushing for better representation and portrayals as well as opportunities for diverse and identifiable characters, more and more audience members are able to visualize themselves in the roles of characters and connect with what they see on-screen.
“I just remember the first Asian American, or not, Asian Canadian, actually, I think that I saw in a movie was Sandra Oh in this movie called Guinevere and she was so great,” Wu said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “She wasn’t the, Sarah Polley was the lead, and she (Sandra Oh) just had, like, two scenes and she just killed it. She was so good. I was like, ‘yeah, go girl.’”
And how has seeing these actors on screen influenced Wu?
“I mean, it wasn’t even an actor, but on a screen I remember seeing Kristi Yamaguchi win,” she replied in the interview. “I remember she won the Olympics. She was just, like her smile, like, she was just so radiant. She was just so good at what she did. And like, I signed up for ice skating lessons. I quit pretty quickly, but I signed up because she was cool and she was the first ‘actress’ for me.”
When asked if heritage and culture influenced their perspectives on this, Golding explains his experiences as a child.
“So, you grew up in Malaysia,” Wu said to Golding in the interview. “How did that shape your view of cinema?”
“That’s right, so I was kind of surrounded by cinema,” Golding responded in the interview. “It was, it was something that, there as a whole, there was nothing sort of representative of that. But for me, growing up in Malaysia and Singapore, we weren’t as aware, as say American-born sort of Chinese or Koreans or Asians, any Asians for that matter, because there was a real struggle.”
Then they discussed the first Asian American on television whom they could relate to.
“There was, like, there’s nothing on television that people could relate to,” Golding said in the interview. “But for us, at least we have had the local content. But for cinema, I think it was, I don’t know, it was just like all these wacky characters. I just remember Bruce Lee as Kato and, you know, the Green Hornet back in the day. And that (Bruce Lee) was definitely, like, the first sort of Asian that I recognized them to realize.”
And it’s reassuring that we’re all storytellers, searching for different angles and lenses with which to view the world, and advocating for Asian American representation.