'Crazy Rich Asians' Author's CBS Comedy Finds Lead

Max Willems - Publicity - P 2019
Courtesy CBS/Warner Bros. TV

One of the most coveted roles of 2019's pilot season has been filled.

The CBS comedy The Emperor of Malibu has cast Max Willems in its lead role after an extensive search. The pilot from Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan and Warner Bros. TV centers on Auggie (Willems), an environmental lawyer and son of a Chinese tech billionaire who announces his engagement to an American woman — and is terrified of how his parents will react to the news.  

Newcomer Willems joins Ken Jeong and Deborah S. Craig, who will play his parents. The actor recently starred in the Jill Soloway-produced Amazon pilot College and has had a couple of roles on series in the Netherlands. 

Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that Kwan wrote the role of Auggie with Crazy Rich Asians actor Harry Shum Jr. in mind. Shum, who is coming off Freeform's Shadowhunters, was among the most in-demand actors this pilot season. He ultimately reunited with former Freeform head of originals turned ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke in the network's drama Heart of Life, based on the John Mayer song of the same name.

Emperor of Malibu, which Kwan co-wrote with David Sangalli, will follow Auggie and his college girlfriend, Kate, as his outrageous family descends on the couple to win their son back and test-drive the American dream. 

Kwan and Sangalli are executive producing the multicamera pilot with showrunners Michelle Nader (2 Broke Girls) and Christina Lee (Search Party), along with Danielle Stokdyk. Veteran sitcom helmer Andy Ackerman (Seinfeld, The Conners) is directing.  

Emperor of Malibu is one of four comedy pilots this season centered on Asian-American characters. ABC has untitled projects from Hannah Simone and Jessica Gao, and NBC has Sunnyside, starring Kal Penn. 

Willems is repped by Buchwald and Asian Cinema Entertainment.