If it weren’t for two fateful incidents, perhaps Constance Wu wouldn’t have starred in Crazy Rich Asians. First, Wu originally passed up the chance to play the blockbuster comedy’s female lead role, Rachel Chu. The movie’s shooting schedule conflicted with the Season Four filming of her TV series, Fresh Off the Boat. “So, I let it go but then I was thinking about it,” the actress said.
Wu explained how she tried to convince the film’s director, Jon M. Chu, to hold the production for several months until she finished taping Fresh Off the Boat. “I thought it would be remiss if I didn't at least express why the movie was important to me,” she said. “As an artist, you never want to suppress the things that are in your heart, so I actually wrote Jon an email. I said, ‘Hey, listen, whoever you cast and whatever you do with this movie, I am going to be the first in line. I will be your biggest cheerleader. But I just want to let you know why this means so much to me and that if you wait for me, I will put 110 percent of my heart into this and make it the best movie that I can make it. I know you want to do that, too. I guess he liked the email because I'm sitting here,” Wu quipped.
A heartbreak which motivated Wu to flee New York and move to Los Angeles is the second serendipitous incident in Wu’s life and career. Had she stayed on the East Coast, she might have missed the opportunity to star in Fresh Off the Boat and consequently, to be considered by Chu for the lead in Crazy Rich Asians. “A boy broke my heart so bad that I was like, I can't live in New York anymore,” Wu revealed. “I can't live in the same place as this person who broke my heart. So, I'm just going to fly across the country. That's exactly what I did and that's how I am here today because I auditioned for this movie. So, it's been quite a journey, for sure.”
And quite a result as well. For her portrayal of a professor whose life gets complicated when she flies to Singapore to meet the ultra-wealthy family of her boyfriend (played by Henry Golding), Wu cinched a Golden Globe Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy nomination. She joins a handful of women of Asian heritage who nabbed this honor. Only four other actresses of Asian heritage have earned a nod in this category: Hailee Steinfeld (2016), Yvonne Elliman (1973), Miyoshi Umeki (1961) and Machiko Kyo (1956).
In addition, Crazy Rich Asians also bagged a Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy nod. “This is my first studio film ever in my life,” she pointed out. “And I get to be the star of it, which is crazy. I had done indie films, but this was my first studio feature.”
Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Wu is the daughter of immigrants whose paternal grandparents were farmers in Taiwan. Her family was the only Asian one in the neighborhood. She found a sense of community in the local community theaters. A theater actress since she was a kid, Wu went on to drama school in New York which led to roles in Shakespeare productions and regional theater.
The move to Los Angeles led to her casting as Jessica Huang in Fresh Off the Boat, which is the first mainstream sitcom focusing on an Asian family in more than two decades. “I love that I can be in a show that Asian-American kids or any kid can watch with his or her family that's wholesome and fun and depicts a regular working-class family,” she said.
She reminisced, “When I was in my 20s in New York and I didn't get parts, I actually never thought it was because of my race. I actually always thought it was because I wasn't pretty enough. I'd be in these rooms with all these tall, willowy models who are impossibly cool and beautiful. It made me feel really insecure, but it made me feel that (I was) going to work on the parts of my career that I can work on.”
And she did, attending the legendary Lee Strasberg Institute at age 16 and then going to a state university in New York where she studied acting. She further honed her acting talents in theater, TV and indie film roles. With two fortuitous developments paving her journey, Wu has earned her first Golden Globe nomination for starring in what is now the top-grossing romantic comedy in 10 years.