On Aug. 13, Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan came by the BuzzFeed office to talk about the series, future projects, Asian representation, and a whole lot more. Here’s what we found out.
1. He never intended Crazy Rich Asians to have an audience beyond a few friends and family members.
“It really began as a hobby. I was doing creative consulting, but I was giving so much of myself to other brands, other people, and I wasn’t really fulfilling myself creatively. So I thought I’d start a project, strictly for me. Maybe I’d share it with a few friends, but that was the full extent of it. I showed it to one friend and she freaked out over it and basically demanded that I show it to an agent. The agent loved it and said, ‘I’m going to give you a month to finish the book.’ So I basically dropped everything and wrote nonstop for a month.”
2. The book isn’t about his family (really!) but it is about people he knew his family would recognize.
“I knew they’d get a good laugh about it, and they did. One of my cousins sent me a complete flowchart of who she thought everyone in the book was. I never responded to her but she was way more accurate than I was.”
3. And some people are certain they’re in the book, despite his having never met them.
“People will come up to me and say, ‘Oh I know you wrote about me,’ or ‘You wrote about my best friend,’ and I’m like, ‘...Who are you?’ So it’s interesting that it’s so universal that people can connect to it on such a personal level that they think that I’m writing about them.”
4. The core team was director Jon M. Chu, Constance Wu, and Michelle Yeoh.
“Once we had those two women, we knew we had a movie. We knew the strongest character would be Rachel Chu, and Constance was the perfect person to play it. And of course the perfect person to play Eleanor was Michelle Yeoh — I mean, she’s just a legend.”
“One of my cousins sent me a complete flowchart of who she thought everyone in the book was.”
5. And we have Jon Chu to thank for bringing in Awkwafina, Jimmy O. Yang, and Ken Jeong.
“I would have cast super authentic actors from each country the characters are supposed to be from, but Jon was meeting and seeing the work of all these comedians and comics. He was like, ‘There’s raw talent out there that we need to showcase.’ And I’m so glad we did. Awkwafina steals the show. We have this dream team of the best comedians.”
6. Given the choice, he’d rather hang out with Awkwafina over her character, Peik Lin.
“Awkwafina is even cooler than Peik Lin, by a million times.”
7. He relates most to Alistair — the “lesser cousin” who can’t get his family to understand his work.
“To me, he really sums up my experiences, trying to be creative in a family that never really allowed creativity. He’s a filmmaker in Hong Kong, but no one really knows or cares or respects that, and I really relate. For 20 years, no one knew what the hell I did. My dad told people I worked in radio because he couldn’t wrap his mind around what a creative consultant was. No one could understand that I was not a lawyer or a doctor or a dentist — all very honorable professions. Even now, I’m doing this project with Amazon and it was announced in Deadline and Hollywood Reporter and Variety, and a relative called me up and said, ‘Are you getting paid for this?’ You’re not paid for your creativity — that’s the assumption.”
8. He’s worried he and his crew have created a dangerous precedent for weddings.
“In the book, I went into pages and pages and pages of detail that really buffer why this wedding cost $40 million. Onscreen you have one second to tell that story, to register that, and no one cares about the catering. You have to make everyone’s jaws drop, and [Jon Chu] really succeeded. I don’t know what he was on. To me, he made the most creative wedding in the world. A lot of churches around the world now are going to be damaged because of what he’s done. Everyone is going to want to copycat it. This is the downside of genius.”
9. As for Singaporean food, there’s one snack from his childhood that he misses the most:
“There’s a little dessert cake that’s only available in Singapore from street carts; it’s called kueh tutu. It’s powdered palm sugar inside of this little powdery dairy thing — can’t even quite describe it. It’s available less and less these days because it’s sort of dying out, these traditional desserts, which I really miss.”
“You’re not paid for your creativity — that’s the assumption.”
10. For food in NYC that reminds him of home, he loves New Malaysia.
“It’s in an alleyway right below Canal Street. To me, it’s very comforting.”
11. He credits the young generation of Asians and Asian Americans for pushing Hollywood toward better roles and better stories.
“This new generation of Asians is not going to take it anymore. They’re not going to sit there and be totally insulted. They want stuff that’s representative of who we are as Asians — full diversity, full spectrum — and we’re not going to put up with [anything else] anymore.”
12. And the best way to get those stories is for writers from marginalized communities to tell them.
“Really, really trust your voice. Take that risk. I’m looking at my own life, my own career, and for two decades I did everything possible to avoid my voice, because part of me was really self-censoring. I thought, I have to stand out from the crowd, and I can’t do something Asian because that would be expected — whatever that little voice of doubt was telling me. So very quietly I did this thing, never intending to share it with the world, and when I did share it with the world, the response was kind of unbelievable. I want to encourage everyone out there to do the same. Your voice, your story — it’s so important, so original, and so beautiful. So don’t censor yourself. Go for it.”
13. He and his team passed on an offer from Netflix because they “wanted to prove without a shadow of a doubt that this movie can work.”
“How could we quantify its success? How do you show it off to the world? With Netflix — and I love Netflix, by the way — their numbers are proprietary. They can just release a press statement saying, ‘This is great; people love it.’ We felt we needed to make something that would prove an Asian movie, an original story, nothing to do with a comic book hero — that people will actually see this. The only way you get that is in actual box office numbers. That paves the way for future talent.”
“This new generation of Asians is not going to take it anymore. They’re not going to sit there and be totally insulted.”
14. And because they wanted it to be not just a movie, but an event.
“This is such a community experience. We need more movies that bring us together, that take us to the theater with our family, our friends, our loved ones, rather than just sitting at home clicking a button. That’s not quite the event we imagined for this movie, given how historic it is.”
15. The cast members really are as close as they seem.
“So many of these actors have really found a family in a whole new way while working on this movie. For almost the entirety of their careers, they were on sets where they were the only Asian in the cast, a lot of times the only person of color. So to find these people who’ve been through what you’ve been through — there’s nothing like it.”
16. He doesn’t have plans for a fourth book in the Crazy Rich Asians series — at least for now.
“I’m going to give the series a rest for a while because there are so many other stories I’d like to pursue. There’s this whole new series in the works about another family that’s even crazier. Maybe not as rich, though.”
17. But he and Warner Bros. would love to make films based on the sequels.
“That will be decided on Aug. 21. Warner Bros. was so excited and they said, ‘You have three books. We want to make three movies.’ But really it’s going to be down to you [the audience] showing up, making the box office meet its numbers. No pressure.”
18. And about that new series...
“I'm creating a TV show with Amazon. It’s an original concept, one-hour drama. It’s going to be a very international, jet-set story, based in Hong Kong. It’s about the most powerful, ruthless family in Hong Kong. It’ll be tonally very different from Crazy Rich Asians, much more Game of Thrones territory — hopefully a lot of fun.”