Cover Pro­file: Awk­wa­fina

CLEO (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

What hap­pens when you star in not one, but two of the most talked­about block­busters this sum­mer? You quickly be­come the one to watch, and a quick Google search on your name will throw up ar­ti­cles like “Who is Awk­wa­fina?” and “Five Things You Should Know About Awk­wa­fina”. Well – if you didn’t know, now you know.

World, meet Nora Lum. Bet­ter known as her stage name Awk­wa­fina, the 30-year-old hits the big screens twice over the span of two months this year: first in Ocean’s 8, and again in the highly-an­tic­i­pated

Crazy Rich Asians this month. Her ini­tial claim to fame, though? A mu­sic video called “My Vag”, which ap­peared on YouTube six years ago and has since gar­nered more than two mil­lion views. Choice lines in­clude: “My vag won best vag, your vag won best sup­port­ing vag” – which, now that we think about it, might be­come a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy given that her ca­reer is on a steep up­ward tra­jec­tory.

First, let’s talk Crazy Rich

Asians. How much of the coun­try did you get to see?

A lot of it was shot at Ma­rina Bay Sands. We also went to Tim Ho Wan and Lau Pa Sat a lot. There was a lot of eat­ing. And shop­ping too, be­cause we were right next to Far East Plaza. It’s, like, the best mall ever. We were in Sin­ga­pore for a month, and we’d been in Kuala Lumpur for a month be­fore that. It was re­ally cool be­cause Henry Gold­ing has lived in both KL and Sin­ga­pore, so he took the cast around to the restau­rants.

What are some of your favourite Sin­ga­porean food?

OMG, the chicken rice was re­ally good. And also the prata, which was re­ally good in both KL and Sin­ga­pore.

You were also in another huge sum­mer block­buster,

Ocean’s 8. The ex­pe­ri­ence must have been in­sane with the ensem­ble cast.

There was a lot of anx­i­ety. I was ex­tremely ner­vous, but those nerves quickly dis­ap­peared. They are pro­fes­sion­als who are re­ally sweet, and we’ve be­come a very tight-knit fam­ily.

How did you deal with that anx­i­ety?

There is go­ing to be anx­i­ety on any level: you want to do well and you want to be as good as

the peo­ple in it. What kept me go­ing was that I knew I could play my char­ac­ter Con­stance well. You could feel like “OMG, OMG, I can’t” but at the end of the day, we all be­long there. So that re­ally helped me, just the feel­ing that I be­longed there.

The two movies gen­er­ated a lot of con­ver­sa­tions about di­ver­sity and rep­re­sen­ta­tion – was it a con­scious de­ci­sion for you to pick these roles?

These roles were a no-brainer in many ways. I learned I was do­ing some­thing way big­ger than my­self, and some­thing that I think will in­flu­ence how peo­ple look at [women and Asians]… The au­di­ences need to see that world, where Asian-Amer­i­cans ex­ist and we have sto­ries that are beau­ti­ful and bold, and where women can all get to­gether and be bada**es.

How does that feel, know­ing it all started from a rap video about your vagina?

(chor­tles) I mean, it’s very un­be­liev­able, you know. A lot of peo­ple asked if I planned this, but the truth is, I’ve never dreamt that this would hap­pen.

Was there a mo­ment where it sud­denly hit you, like, “Oh sh*t, this is hap­pen­ing”?

It’s weird. Yes­ter­day, I was at the Ocean’s 8 promo and even then I still couldn’t be­lieve what was hap­pen­ing. When I saw the first trailer for

Ocean’s 8, I was like “OMG, this is hap­pen­ing” and for

Crazy Rich Asians… I’d never imag­ined that this would hap­pen in my life­time, like, hav­ing an all-Asian cast, you know?

How are you jug­gling these two sides of your iden­tity – Awk­wa­fina the co­me­dian-rap­per, ver­sus Awk­wa­fina, the glam­orous Hol­ly­wood ac­tress?

I of­ten say that Awk­wa­fina and Nora rep­re­sent this du­al­ity in my per­son­al­ity. Nora could never do what Awk­wa­fina does mu­si­cally. She can’t per­form live. But I think that both Awk­wa­fina and Nora do bleed into act­ing. In gen­eral, mu­sic is my thing, and that’s what I’m go­ing to

do. With act­ing, I can’t con­trol it. I can’t say I’m go­ing to be in this movie this year and that movie that year. Ev­ery movie that hap­pens is a bless­ing.

Speak­ing of mu­sic, let’s talk about your new EP, In Fina We Trust.

It coin­ci­den­tally came out to­gether with Ocean’s 8. It took a long time. I had half of the al­bum when I was al­ready in Sin­ga­pore. I haven’t had a project out since 2014, so it meant a lot for me and I wanted to do it right.

Your next film is the sci-fi thriller Par­adise Hills. It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent genre from what you’ve been do­ing; what made you want to take it up?

I want to chal­lenge my­self. I’ve done a lot of com­edy, I’ve worked a lot with cer­tain emo­tions and I’ve learnt to re­ally flex that. But Par­adise

Hills is a de­par­ture from that, and it also makes a strong state­ment about strong women. And I al­ways want my char­ac­ters to be strong.

Does this mean we’re go­ing to see you in more se­ri­ous roles in the fu­ture?

Af­ter watch­ing Crazy Rich

Asians, my grandma said I didn’t re­ally act at all, and that I pretty much played my­self. So that’s like a com­pli­ment as much as an in­sult (laughs). As an ac­tress, I want to step out of my com­fort zone, but com­edy is my zone. So I think you’ll see me in a lot of com­edy roles.

Do you ever feel the Im­poster Syn­drome, now that you’re branch­ing out into act­ing?

Yeah, for sure. It’s the most hu­man re­ac­tion to any­thing – that when some­thing good hap­pens, it takes them by sur­prise. Im­poster Syn­drome is only as real as you let it be. What saves us from that is know­ing we de­served [the good things], and that’s a hard feel­ing for some of us who are very mod­est. But you have to tell your­self “I de­serve to be here, be­cause I worked hard for it.” You have to be­lieve it.

How do we get to Awk­wa­fina’s level of con­fi­dence? Is there a mantra to fol­low?

Oh man, I wish it was as sim­ple as that. The beau­ti­ful thing about Awk­wa­fina’s con­fi­dence, is that Nora gets the panic at­tacks, but Awk­wa­fina’s con­fi­dence in­duces the panic at­tacks. So one of them deals with all the anx­i­ety, and ner­vous­ness, while the other one just dishes it out. You need both sides, I think. You can’t walk around be­ing con­fi­dent with­out be­ing hum­ble as well. You need to be grounded. For me, where I found my con­fi­dence was that I only knew to be my­self, and if you don’t like me for my­self, then you’re never gonna get it. When you’re com­fort­able be­ing in your own skin, it’s go­ing to show and it’s go­ing to be ex­tremely com­mand­ing to the peo­ple around you.

Ak­wa­fina as Goh Peik Lin in Crazy Rich Asians. In Ocean’s 8, Awk­wa­fina plays a loud­mouthed street hus­tler known as Con­stance. From left to right: Anne Hathaway, Awk­wa­fina, Sarah Paulson, Cate Blanchett, San­dra Bul­lock and Mindy Kal­ing.

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