Hit­ting the jack­pot


The Gulf Today - Panorama - - Contents - by Jen Yam­ato

Queens na­tive Awk­waina (aka Nora Lum) is ev­ery­where these days as she charges her way through a ban­ner year. This sum­mer she lights up the mul­ti­plex with a slot on San­dra Bul­lock’s squad of all-fe­male thieves in heist se­quel Ocean’s 8 (June 7) fol­lowed by a break­out turn in the highly an­tic­i­pated lit­er­ary adap­ta­tion Crazy Rich Asians, both from Warner Bros.

Phon­ing from Barcelona, Spain, the rap­per, co­me­dian and ac­tress relected on her streak of projects, in­clud­ing the Netlix com­edy Dude and a just-inked Com­edy Cen­tral deal for a scripted se­ries based on her life.

“I’ve been hav­ing this dream where I wake up from the dream that is my ac­tual life,” said Awk­waina, in Spain film­ing the sci-i thriller Par­adise Hills with Emma Roberts, Eiza Gon­za­les and Danielle Macdon­ald. “I have that dream maybe three times a week where I wake up and I’m just back in the ve­gan bodega or at the book com­pany. I can’t be­lieve that it’s real, and I don’t think I ever will.”

Hap­pily, she no longer has to hus­tle those day jobs now that Hol­ly­wood has taken no­tice.

Awk­waina, 29, brings the same swag­ger to the screen that made her rap ca­reer ex­plode in 2012 when her dead­pan fem­i­nist sin­gle My Vag an­nounced the ar­rival of a fierce new tal­ent equally un­afraid to stunt in her lyrics and ex­plode stereo­types and taboos.

Lean­ing into act­ing, she scored a small role in Neigh­bors 2, but land­ing a cov­eted spot in the all-fe­male Ocean’s 8

line-up in a cast led by Bul­lock, Cate Blanchett and Anne Hath­away gave her Hol­ly­wood ca­reer a next-level bump.

“Con­stance is a per­son I’ve never seen on-screen be­fore, ever,” she said of the Oceans role direc­tor Gary Ross and co-writer Olivia Milch tai­lored to her. “‘Asian’ is not part of her char­ac­ter — she just is. She’s a kind of New Yorker, this mod­ernised, outer-bor­ough, fast-talk­ing three-card-monte char­ac­ter, but she’s real.”

Another perk of be­ing part of the Ocean’s 8 en­sem­ble, which also in­cludes He­lena Bon­ham Carter, Mindy Kal­ing, Sarah Paul­son and Ri­hanna? “We might have a group text,” she teased. “Yes, there is a group text. It’s hi­lar­i­ous. Con­stant laugh­ter, al­ways a joy. A lot of GIFS. I’m very tal­ented at GIFS, I will say that. I’ll ind a GIF for any oc­ca­sion.”

In Crazy Rich Asians, direc­tor Jon M. Chu’s slick adap­ta­tion of Ken Kwan’s best­seller of the same name, Awk­waina brings the Sin­ga­porean new-money char­ac­ter of Peik Lin to life as a brash, blond-be­wigged, hu­man adren­a­line shot draped in de­signer silk pa­ja­mas.

Peik Lin bridges the stark worlds of the film’s Asian-amer­i­can hero­ine Rachel (Con­stance Wu) and the en­ti­tled, in­ter­con­nected and snooty 1-per cen­ters de­scended from dy­nas­tic gen­er­a­tions on the wealthy is­land.

“I think that a lot of Amer­i­cans don’t un­der­stand the new-money class that is com­ing up in Asia. These are kids — kids! — that have ive Lam­borgh­i­nis, they

shop at Supreme, they go to Louis Vuit­ton! In malls here, we have Orange Julius. In their malls they have Prada and Go­yard and Gucci and Chanel.”

“It’s re­ally cool when Asian peo­ple get to tell sto­ries, be­cause then in­stead of see­ing one Asian char­ac­ter you get to see a world of Asian char­ac­ters,” she added, “and they be­come just char­ac­ters at that point.”

Chu cast Awk­waina and tweaked the char­ac­ter with in­spi­ra­tion from outre Asian fash­ion blog­gers and In­sta­gram celebri­ties. On set, Awk­waina’s knack for im­pro­vi­sa­tion made Peik Lin pop even more.

“She’s so cre­ative,” he raved. “You can write a line, but you re­ally don’t know how she’ll de­liver it un­til she does it. We let her riff a lot, and it raised every­body’s game that she could be bold, and her­self, and it could it within this world.”

Com­edy and im­pro­vi­sa­tion have al­ways come easy to Awk­waina. And with a new EP on the hori­zon — one not mixed in her bed­room, like 2014’s Yel­low Ranger — mu­sic fans will soon see Awk­waina re­turn to her rap roots.

“I think it’s pretty dope that I don’t have to ile for un­em­ploy­ment,” she quipped in her sig­na­ture self-dep­re­cat­ing style.

“The hus­tle will never end for me, and I’ll want to see what’s com­ing next. I’m re­ally grate­ful for what’s hap­pened. I would have never thought that it would.”

The ac­tress (left) with co-star Con­stance Wu in the book-adapted movie Crazy Rich Asians.

Awk­wa­fina (right) along with the other stars of Ocean’s 8, the highly-an­tic­i­pated all-woman heist movie.

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