Meet the ‘Crazy Rich Asian’ women
LOS ANGELES—Among the actresses in “Crazy Rich Asians,” the first Hollywood movie with a predominantly Asian cast in 25 years since “The Joy Luck Club,” the casting of veteran Lisa Lu is significant. The esteemed Chinese thespian is in the cast of both movies.
Lisa, who played An-Mei (one of the mothers) in “The Joy Luck Club,” has been our friend and colleague for years in Hollywood.
One of her first breaks was landing the female lead opposite James Stewart in “The Mountain Road.” And who can forget her brief but indelible appearance as the Empress Dowager in Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor”? We saw Ang Lee stand up in one occasion to reverently greet and acknowledge Lisa. She had a cameo role in his “Lust, Caution.”
The Beijing-born actress, always the epitome of grace and elegance in person, still does theater. She portrays Ah Ma in Jon M. Chu’s well-reviewed adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling 2013 novel. When Lisa came back from shooting the movie in Singapore, we peppered her with questions about working with Fil-Am actor Nico Santos (who plays Oliver T’sien) and meeting Kris Aquino (Princess Intan in one scene).
Constance Wu (Rachel Chu) figures not only in Tinseltown’s groundbreaking romantic comedy set in Singapore, but she also stars with Randall Park in “Fresh Off the Boat,” the first sitcom revolving around an Asian family on American network primetime in more than 20 years.
Malaysia-born Michelle Yeoh is also a pioneering actress, and has championed stronger female roles in Asian cinema. She is considered the most famous Asian Bond Girl. And she is a captain (Philippa Georgiou), no less, on CBS’ “Star Trek: Discovery.”
Can you also talk about Lisa Lu? Lisa is still one of the most beautiful, amazing actresses of our time. When she agreed to make the movie and came to the set, it made her character, the matriarch of the family, and her relationship to Eleanor Young, mean so much more. We have an amazing photograph of the two of us, and we actually look quite good (laughs). It looks like a mother and daughter portrait.
Lisa is such a beautiful, gracious woman. She is a great mentor to all of us.
What were the stereotypes that were broken in the movie? Jon Chu just took a baseball and went ka pow! And hit it right out of the park. It’s time that all stereotypes are broken because as Asians, we are proud of our heritage. And to be able to share it with the world—a contemporary story with a leading man and woman who are Asians, we love it.
After the success of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” what kind of roles were you offered? The most significant actually before “Crouching Tiger” was when I did “Tomorrow Never Dies,” the James Bond movie. It puts you on the map right away because Bond movies are seen globally and are so popular. But I waited two years and I did not take on another role until “Crouching Tiger” because the roles that came to me were the very stereotypical Chinese Asian roles. If I take those on, it’s like I agree with those representations of us.
I’m blessed that I can choose. I’m single … Fortunately, my parents were well-off … [and] ready to assist me.
How do you think this movie will resonate in Asia? When the book came out, my friends in Hong Kong called me up and said, “You have to read this book.” I was like, “And they make fun of us, right?” But in life, you must be able to laugh at yourself.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is about family. It’s about love. It doesn’t matter who made it, but because it was so well-made and was made with love, people will laugh, cry a little. But they will walk away and feel that they’ve watched a really fun movie.
“I am honored to be included in both films,” Lisa said about being in both “Crazy Rich Asians” and “The Joy Luck Club.” “I look forward to participating in more films with an Asian theme.”
On how different it was working on both films, the actress answered, “The scope in ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is larger with today’s technology of motion picture making. And the cast came from all over the world. They’re very talented and enthusiastic like the cast in ‘The Joy Luck Club.’”
“I had a wonderful time with Nico Santos, both on and off set,” she said of the actor who stars as Mateo Liwanag in NBC’s sitcom, “Superstore.” The duo hung out on their filming breaks in Singapore. “He’s such a spontaneous actor. He is full of humor.”
What was the craziest thing you have seen so far that somebody rich bought? And what did you buy with your first paycheck? I have a couple of friends who bought a Tesla. I thought that was pretty cool. I just bought my first piece of artwork—a contemporary one by this artist named Mattea Perrotta. And I bought my first house (in Los Angeles).
Why do you think there’s a lack of Asian representation in Hollywood movies? First of all, I don’t blame anyone because I think most people are inherently good people, and they have good intentions. If most of Hollywood’s creators are not Asian, they’re going to tell stories that they’re more familiar with. So I don’t think there’s necessarily any faults.
But the digital age is opening up more avenues for young creators to make work and when people see the responses to that, they want to invest in it.
What’s your dream wedding? I don’t know about the wedding. But I know the dress I like. I like something simple like Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s dress. It was just a simple slip dress. I’d probably just have a bunch of friends and family and have a barbecue.
Did you know how to play mahjong before this movie? They gave me mahjong lessons because I hadn’t played it before. There is power in it. There’s a lot of strategy, just like in poker. Michelle Yeoh is actually great at mahjong, and she really taught me. There are many levels to that game, which is why it was a perfect metaphor for our movie.
Can you talk about working with Lisa Lu? Lisa Lu has grace and elegance that I aspire … She knows who she is. She’s very generous with her heart.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at http://twitter.com/nepalesruben.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.