Awkwafina on Adapting to COVID-19 Rules, Quarantine Video Games and New Heineken Partnership

Awkwafina and Partnership with Heineken
Courtesy of Mark Odgers/Heineken

It's nearly been a year since Awkwafina found herself on stage at the Golden Globes accepting a best actress trophy for her work in Lulu Wang's The Farewell. The win provided another boost on an explosive career trajectory following a breakout turn in Crazy Rich Asians in 2018. She had a busy 2020 lined up with back-to-back roles in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Raya and the Last Dragon, The Bad Guys and Breaking News in Yuba County but the COVID-19 pandemic upended some of that schedule. As she was about to head back to work filming the genre-bending drama Swan Song for Apple TV+ and Anonymous Content, the actress got on the phone with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss another new project — a partnership with Heineken on the beer maker's just-launched Bestie Gift Ever — along with how she's spent the unusual year.

What's the story behind Bestie Gift Ever?

I really love what Heineken is doing this year with their Bestie Gift Ever, or BestieGiftEver.com, where you can essentially send a customized cutout of you to your bestie. Knowing that this is a hard year to maintain connections in person, they're offering this kind of bridge for it. I was able to do one for my friend, [Jon Park], which was quite a surprise, we could say.

What did it feel like to have a beer with someone at this time?

The act of having a beer with someone at this time was more impactful than you'd think. The one thing that [the pandemic] has changed for us is everything that we were doing that was considered "normal," is now not. In some cases, it's not really advised. When it comes to catching up, it matters. Something as simple as having a beer with a friend means a lot right now.

Will you send any cardboard cutouts of yourself to anyone else to enjoy with a Heineken this holiday season?

Oh, yeah. I have a couple of people who I have a good idea will be pretty surprised. I'm just going to send myself to pretty much everyone I know. You're going to get one, too, actually. Just watch out for it.

I wasn't fishing, but I'll take it. 

You just have to put it on display somewhere prominent.

I will. You can help me impress all my neighbors.

Okay, great. Awesome.

What's the best surprise you've ever gotten?

I definitely have been surprised. I feel like ... Oh, man. Maybe I haven't been surprised enough? I never had like a car roll up to my driveway with a bow on it, never opened a box with a dog in it. I talked about this already in another interview, and she's going to think I'm a psychopath, but recently I was at a party and I was surprised to see Sarah Snook. I’m obsessed with Succession and one of the people I was with [at the party] said, “Well, guess what? She's waiting for you right now."And then they brought me to her. It was nuts. That was a fun surprise. She probably thinks I'm a stalker. I'm sorry. I love her.

I feel you on that. I wanted to ask you about this year because you had this explosive 2018 and 2019 with back-to-back films, projects and appearances and all this love and attention. To go from that a complete shutdown this year, what has that been like?

The way the year started in January was the Golden Globes, which I just realized now. It had been, from 2018, this very intense ride. Given the events of what's been happening these past couple of months, I've spent half of it working and the other half just at home. On a more personal level, it’s been a time for me to reprioritize what is meaningful in my life. The time that I spent on my downtime this year, it's definitely been more of an introspective, reflective time. As far as working, I mean, in a way it slowed down, and in a way it hasn't. I was, for a big majority of the time, in Australia filming Shang-Chi, and now I'm in Vancouver quarantining for another movie. Set life in general has changed. There's a lot of different rules now that you have to follow, so it's getting used to something new. It feels like a new era that we're entering.

Congratulations, by the way, on the Golden Globe win. Where are you keeping it these days?

Oh, man. For the first couple of months that I had it, I was just really scared of leaving it out. You know when you get something new and it's like you're scared of taking it out the box, you know? So, I left it under my bed. Then when people would come over, they'd be like, "Oh, my god. Can I see it?" It'd be this whole ceremony of, "Yes. It's under my bed." I recently took it out because someone, a friend that I'd known from childhood, came over and wanted to see it. I left it out in my office, and I pretty much didn't put it away, so it's just there now.

You mentioned filming with COVID rules, what has been the most challenging thing about navigating the new way of life?

It’s definitely been different. It's something that I think everyone has to get used to but if you've been on a film set, you know that they become family, in a sense. Everyone does their part and looks out for each other. That’s definitely the vibe on set right now. The biggest challenge is probably all the planning that goes into it and really wishing and hoping that nothing goes wrong. In my experience, especially on Shang-Chi and then I had done some other smaller shoots since I got back, is that everyone seems to know what to do.

These restrictions put in place are designed to make you feel safe. The most important thing a film set should offer its crew is safety. The cool thing about it I think, also, is that it's not so much everyone policing each other. It's a lot of self-policing, which is like, "I want to make sure that I'm not doing anything to put my crew members, my castmates, in danger.” As long as there's that aspect of the responsibility that you have to have, that if you go out at night or you do those things, you're bringing that onto the set and possibly affecting a lot of people. You just have to be careful. In my experience, it's been a really positive thing, and it's kind of boosted this idea that we're all in it together.

How are you spending your quarantine time before shooting?

This is probably one of my busier days, but I think my quarantine in Australia, which was ... That one was pretty intense. You get used to it and, actually. I do kind of enjoy it. I feel like it is a kind of a built-in piece of downtime. I get up and play video games and watch TV and order food, so it's not the worst, you know?