'Crazy Rich Asians' Cast on Their First Asian Pop Culture Icons

5:45 AM 8/16/2018

by Rebecca Ford

Henry Golding, Constance Wu, Awkwafina and more reflect on the Asian and Asian-American talent that came before them and inspired them to pursue their careers.

Sanja Bucko/Warner Bros.

As the first studio movie starring an Asian and Asian-American cast in a contemporary setting to be released in 25 years, Crazy Rich Asians will be, for some of a certain generation, the first time they see stars of Asian descent in a studio movie on the big screen.

The Warner Bros. film, which opened Aug. 15, centers on couple Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Nick Young (Henry Golding), who travel from New York to Nick's family home in Singapore. There, Rachel discovers that Nick is from an extremely wealthy family, with whom she tries to gain acceptance, including his tough mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). The film, helmed by Jon M. Chu, co-stars Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Ken Jeong, Nico Santos, Jimmy O. Yang and Ronny Chieng.

The romantic comedy's release comes at a time when there's an increasing demand for more diverse stories to be seen on the big screen. “I’ve been waiting and waiting [for a movie like this],” says Yeoh. “I wish for personal reasons that it happened when I first started my career. But the important thing is it’s happening now.”

Ahead of the film's release, the cast spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about representation, and the first time they saw someone who looked like them onscreen.

  • Jon M. Chu

    Araya Diaz/Getty; GeekTyrant.com

    “I remember seeing Rufio [Dante Basco] in Hook and I remember thinking, ‘I want to be like that guy.’ I was proud. I even had the hair with shaved sides. Ultimately, my life was always trying to be Rufio.”

  • Constance Wu

    Bob Martin/Getty; Albert L. Ortega/Getty; Mike Powell/Getty

    “I remember some of the Asian-American faces I saw on TV, like Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan, were figure skaters. I loved them so much. If I’m sad and I need to be inspired, I'll go on YouTube, and I'll look at Michelle Kwan videos. She's so expressive and beautiful. And then when I saw Lucy Liu on Ally McBeal, and then I saw Sandra Oh in this movie called Guinevere with Sarah Polley, and I really responded to that, because Sandra Oh fucking kills it in that role. Her role was messy. She was filled with contradictions and emotions. And then I was a theatre girl, and I think everybody Asian in theatre probably remember the first time they heard Lea Salonga.”

  • Henry Golding

    Michael Loccisano/Getty; Pinterest

    “The first time growing up seeing myself represented on screen was during my time as a kid in Malaysia. There was one prolific golden age actor by the name of P. Ramlee, he was the Malaysian version of Frank Sinatra/ Charlie Chaplin. He sang, acted, directed, wrote and created such memorable stories. Still a hero in Asia to this day.”

  • Awkwafina

    Prince Williams/WireImage; Photofest

    “Margaret Cho changed my life. I saw her when I was so young for the first time. And seeing her was something I've never seen before and it empowered me. Then I was obsessed, obsessed with Lucy Liu in Charlie's Angels and Charlie's Angels Full Throttle. I thought that it was so cool that she hosted Saturday Night Live and in her opening speech on Saturday Night Live she said that she was the first Asian woman to ever host Saturday Night Live. Margaret Cho, and all of the Asian American influences that I grew up with, they made it more possible for me to pursue what I'm doing now.”

  • Gemma Chan

    Albert L. Ortega/Getty; Photofest

    “The Asians I saw onscreen would be a in Chinese or Hong Kong cinema. It was so rare. I think it was Lucy Liu – she was incredible. I remember seeing her in Ally McBeal and thinking, ‘wow there’s an Asian woman in Hollywood, working.’”

  • Jimmy O. Yang

    Amanda Edwards/Getty; YouTube/Anchor Bay

    “Jackie Chan and Jet Li were probably the first. But it definitely seemed like you had to know martial arts to be an Asian on screen. Then I saw Bobby Lee on Mad TV and Ken Jeong doing stand up on Showtime at Apollo as Dr. Ken, that opened my mind for the possibility for Asians to be in comedy.”

  • Ronny Chieng

    Noam Galai/Getty; Photofest

    “The first time I saw someone who looked like me onscreen was watching The Last Emperor when I was 4 years old, which in hindsight was not an age appropriate movie at all. I remember thinking, ‘oh cool this is what Chinese history is.’ I just thought it was normal because I didn’t realize at the time how rare it would be to see Asian people on American television or movies.”