HFPA in Conversation: Awkwafina’s Road From Rapper to Actress

by Kirpi Uimonen Ballesteros December 11, 2019
Actress Awkwafina, Golden Globe nominee

magnus sundholm/hfpa

Actress-musician Nora Lum aka Awkwafina just received a Golden Globe nomination for her role in Lulu Wang’s comedy-drama The Farewell. Lum started her career as a rap musician with the song “My Vag”. After the song became a hit on YouTube her manager recommended her to audition for Neighbors 2. “Before that, acting was never in the cards for me. I never had a game plan. That was my first audition and role,” she told HFPA journalist Ting Ting Xu.

Her career moved forward fast. In 2018 she was in three movies: Dude, Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians. “When it all happened, it was crazy but it was the time of my life because I was with my Ocean’s Eight and with my Crazy Rich Asians families. I was going around with people that I loved and we were celebrating something that we worked hard on.”

In The Farewell, she plays aspiring Chinese-American writer Billi.  “It is based on an actual lie and it’s a story that happened to the writer and director Lulu Wang in which she finds out that her grandma is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. But the get is that the family has agreed not to tell grandma. So to be with her for one last time they arrange a wedding for Lulu’s cousin who is in Japan. And when they get there a series of kind of farcical but also very kind of sad events happen. And then there’s a big ending obviously that you should go see to see what that is.”

The movie is also about the older generation sacrificing everything for the younger generation. Can Nora relate to that?  “My grandma and my great-grandpa moved to the United States. I feel a lot of gratitude towards him because at that time he really didn’t have anybody and he came here - the same story you hear all the time - $10 in his pocket. So it’s something that you risk your own life and your own happiness to do something that you think is good for your future and your family’s future. And I’ve always been very grateful for that.

Listen to the podcast and hear why she did a comedy series- Awkwafina is Nora from Queens; how she created her alter ego; what kind of awkward situation she remembers from her earlier years; what kind of influence her dad had on her musical side; why she felt she doesn’t fit in; who prepared her lunchbox; why she chose to play trumpet; why she studied journalism and women studies; why she didn’t make it as a journalist; why YouTube was important for her music career; why she likes to make people laugh; why she always has a little bit of anxiety; how she learned Mandarin and how her grandma reacted to her speaking Mandarin; how she felt in China when she visited there as a teenager; how she felt being nominated by Variety 2019 Power Women; how she feels about being part of the first Asian superhero in a Marvel movie; what kind of message she wants to send out regarding diversity; what makes her happy; and what is the most important thing she did to herself.