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With production grinding to a halt in the face of the novel coronavirus, the entertainment industry has found itself navigating uncharted territory. To offer a better sense for how, The Hollywood Reporter is launching a regular series that focuses on how Hollywood’s top writers, actors, directors, executives and more are living and working in these challenging times.
Lulu Wang (The Farewell) had been splitting her time between her next feature and a forthcoming Amazon series when the pandemic set in. Reached earlier this week from her home in Los Angeles — before she began quarantining with her director boyfriend, Barry Jenkins — she opened up about her new normal, which includes writing, pickling and Questlove afterparties.
Let’s start easy: How are you?
I’m doing OK. I’m very, very grateful because my job allows me to work from home, and I’m on a project right now, and that’s why I’m trying to lend a hand where I can in some small way. There’s a lot of people who are not in such fortunate situations.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on two projects, not simultaneously. One of them is a series for Amazon and Blossom Films, which is Nicole Kidman’s company, called The Expatriates. We fortunately just broke from the writers room right before all this happened. We were planning to come back into the room on the 30th, but we’ll just run the room remotely now.
I’m also writing my next feature film, Children of the New World, that deals with a couple who have children in a parallel VR setting, based on the short story of the same title by Alexander Weinstein. In order to make it feel really grounded, I’m trying to better understand the realities of the technology and how they’re going to be used in daily life. We had a lot of VR visits lined up as part of the research, but all of those visits are on hold now.
What does your day look like in this new world?
I’m working from home right now. Barry, my partner, and I are quarantined from each other because he was on set and I had been flying around, so we’re taking some time to make sure we’re both healthy before we quarantine together. Once we get back together, which will be this week some time, I’ll start commuting to my home office to write.
Before this, we started the writers room every day at around 10 a.m. We ordered lunch, we went for walks, we would sometimes go out for lunch. We worked in a common area with other people, so there was kombucha and cold brew on tap. Now it’s completely deserted. Last night, I was at the Questlove afterparty with a bunch of friends. Everything has become digital.
What’s been the easiest adjustment? And the hardest?
I’m trying to stay off the internet so that I can get chunks of time to focus. None of those productivity apps work well for me, the ones that keep you off social media and websites. But I think, particularly during this time where there’s a lot of information, it’s overwhelming. One of the things I do is the Pomodoro — it’s named after the kitchen timers that are shaped like a tomato. You basically set the timer to whatever period of time, and then you just focus for that amount of time until the timer goes off. And then you can get up, move around, do whatever and then you set the timer again.
The fortunate thing for me is that I’m very used to this kind of self-quarantining. When I’m in a writing cave, this is what I do. I wake up, I make myself coffee, I eat a very light breakfast and then I make myself lunch and dinner. I start to grow things — I take better care of my plants, like, I’m growing the scallion stubs, I plant my avocado seeds. I’m pickling today.
What’s the best advice you’ve given or received about staying sane right now?
I do yoga, and I think just trying to do any kind of workout or time outside where I’m away from my phone really helps to shut things off. I feel like, previous to this, my time was always regimented. I had no space to be bored: This is the hour I have to workout, this is the hour I have to rest. There were always a million to-do lists. Now I’m really welcoming space where there is nothing slotted in. I can just do what I feel. It feels like reconnecting back to just being a human.
What are you watching, reading, playing or listening to as a reprieve?
It’s got to be the Questlove afterparty [on Instagram Live] after DJ D-Nice’s dance party. I don’t know how long he’s been doing it, but I just got on it and I was there for, like, four hours. It’s such a throwback, it makes me feel like the times when we had mixtapes that we would give each other. He does it on YouTube as well, so I was able to link it to my TV. It felt like I had a live DJ in my house. I made myself a cocktail. That’s something that Barry and I are also doing — we did one last week, a cocktail hour live on Instagram. We’re going to just spontaneously pop up and do a cocktail hour where people can ask us questions and just hang out.
What or who have become your go-to news sources during this period?
I try not to get it from my parents — they send an overabundance of it. But I think mostly L.A. Times, Seattle Times, BBC. I listen to The Daily and NPR Up First. And I also listen to VOX’s Today, Explained.
Are you dusting off any old hobbies or finding new ones?
I was on the whirlwind festival/promotion tour and then the awards circuit all year, so my apartment/home office has been kind of a disaster. I’m Marie Kondo-ing everything to an extreme. And the one really nice thing is that I now know every single thing in my apartment. Previously, I’d be like, ‘I think I have that.’ Now I could literally find a bobby pin. I know everything is in its place. I painted my front door pink, and I’m going to freshen it up and repaint it. I’m going to make my own vinegar from the remains of wine that I drink and ferment a bunch of vegetables. I might start planting too.
What have become your go-to comfort foods during the quarantine?
I’m enjoying cooking right now, but I did get a lot of tamales from Broken Spanish. My brother, Anthony, picked up a couple dozen because they’re easy to freeze and easy to reheat (he’s a sous chef at Auburn, so he’s up to speed with who’s serving what for curbside pickup). I almost went to Farmshop yesterday to pick up a bucket of fried chicken, but because I’m by myself right now, I thought, “I can’t eat an entire bucket of fried chicken.”
What’s atop your to-do list once this is all over?
We’re hopefully going to shoot the series. All of it is set in Hong Kong, and we’re trying to do it on location.
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