BD Wong on Awkwafina's 'weirdness' — and how it led to the most fun he's had on set
Awkwafina broke out as the wacky, hilariously blunt Peik Lin in 2018's smash-hit Crazy Rich Asians, and now she's starring on her own show, Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens. Her new TV dad, BD Wong, says the rapper-turned-actress' quirky, larger-than-life persona is not just for show.
“The energy that you see of her, in her weirdness in Crazy Rich Asians and all that — that’s real, that’s a part of who she is," he said in the EW studio at the 2020 SCAD aTVfest on Friday.
In fact, it was Awkwafina's appealing persona that drew him to join the Comedy Central series, which dramatizes Awkwafina's life before she made it big. It's already been renewed for season 2.
“The whole reason I took the job was because of Awkwafina’s energy. Her energy is not like anyone else’s," Wong explained.
The esteemed actor, known for more serious roles on shows like Law & Order: SVU and Mr. Robot, even took notes from Awkwafina, which he'd never done before.
“She’s the core nucleus energy of the whole thing, not only as the character but as the creator of the show," he said. "We’re all looking to her — I’m looking for her approval of what I’m wearing: 'Would your dad wear this?' 'Am I doing OK?'"
The core cast, which also includes Lori Tan Chinn as Awkwafina's grandma and Saturday Night Live's Bowen Yang as her cousin, comes from comedic backgrounds, which allows for a lot of improv and looseness in their performances.
“Sometimes they just roll the camera and all this crazy stuff comes out," Wong added. "To be in the energy of it all swirling around, it’s the most fun I’ve had on a set in a long time."
Wong also talked about the significance of the show's “absurdity” on Asian-American representation, which has changed since he was growing up. He was used to Asians shown onscreen in subservient or stereotypical positions, where "there was a lack of dignity" that affected his own esteem as an actor and a person in general.
“I thought, 'What does it mean to be Asian American? Is this what I’m supposed to be or what people think I am?' Or, 'Am I being made fun of?'" he recalled.
On the flip-side, while Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens is a comedy that does show the characters' mistakes, it's not from a negative place.
"It's taking the comedy away from that stereotypical kind of positioning. We’re not being laughed at — we are the ones generating the humor," he said. "The humor is coming from a completely different place. It’s coming from a very dignified and very organic and real place. These are people who are absurd in many ways, but they are real people. It’s a family from Queens, it’s real life."