Crazy Rich Asians‘ very own Auntie Felicity chatted with asienne about: her acting beginnings, her theatre background, having fun with the Crazy Rich cast, playing host and tour guide for the visiting cast members, eating authentic Asian food in Singapore on the daily, nighttime karaoke-ing and following one’s passion from an Asian perspective.
Here’s asienne’s interview with (another one of) your favorite auntie(s).
A: Can you tell us a little bit about you and your Asian background?
JK: I’m from Singapore. I was born here and I’ve lived here most of my life. Although, I’ve also spent time living for a short while in London and in Boston, but I’m based out of Singapore.
Most Singaporeans would speak a second-language because we are multicultural. [But] our first language is English and because I’m Chinese, I speak Mandarin. I learned Chinese as my second language.
A: How has the success of CRA helped your career from what it was before?
JK: It’s hard to say because it’s literally been two to three weeks ago (laughs). I’ve not seen any direct impact at the moment but I think the awareness of Asian actors in general and in Singapore as well is something which is really positive for those of us who are working in the industry. I really hope that there is a positive effect [for those] who are working out here.
In America and Hollywood, the fact that there is English-speaking talent based out of Asia, for example, is something people may be surprised at because they just don’t realize that. So, I’m hoping that would have a very positive impact in North America and other parts of the world.
A: In terms of acting beginnings, who did you look up to growing up that made you pursue this career?
JK: Wow, (laughs) I think [there’s] various. It’s kind of a mixed of on-screen mentors but also in the theatre. A lot of my background is in the theatre. I have mentors [here] in Singapore who I admire greatly and I have theatre directors who I work with closely–Ong Keng Sen [for example], he’s a theatre director with Theatre Works.
But on-screen…the likes of Meryl Streep, [then there’s] Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li [who really was one of the firsts].
[Michelle and Gong Li] are some of the first few Asian actresses–for me, at least–to really break out into the big screen. I’ve always admired them as a child because it was just so rare to see Asian actresses do so well.
For those of us who live in Asia, we have a lot of access to Asian Cinema. So, in a way, actresses like Gong Li and the really well-known in say, Chinese cinema–at least for actors like myself–they are our on-screen heroes which is just really, when I look at representation–
we are very visible on-screen here which is very different from the Asian-American community back in the U.S. Which is why this film is so impactful and special at this time.
A: How was it working with one of your on-screen heroes, Michelle Yeoh?
JK: Amazing. A lot of my scenes were with her. That script was really special.
A: Were you nervous?
JK: No, not at all. She was a very kind, gracious and generous person and really friendly to everyone on-set. It was just thrilling. It was just exciting to be on set with her. But also thrilling to be on-set with Asian-American actors, as well as Singaporean actors [with us] all knowing that we would be part of something that was very special. That was the feeling from the get-go.
A: How was it filming at home for you?
JK: Proud. We very much played host as well to our fellow cast because it was a real deep sense of pride of where we come from and I guess I can speak on behalf of the Singapore cast: we were very happy to share Singapore with everyone who was visiting for the first time. There were many of them who were visiting Asia for the first time, so we would always take them out for food and all kinds of Singapore food…We’d offer durian (laughs).
A: Is there one memorable moment with the cast that stands out?
JK: Gosh, we spent so much time at the KTV (laughs). I know that’s something that a lot of people talk about but it’s really true and sometimes the only downtime that we may have had [was] at night and for some reason, this cast really loves to sing! It’s been a really great way of bonding. You can let your hair down and everyone has fun and I guess in a funny way, there are these two things:
Even though so many of us are Asian, we come from so many different backgrounds but what really bonded us was music and food.
You would think that just because ethnically we’re Chinese or Asian, that would make us similar, but because we all grow up whether that’s Australia, England, or Singapore, we are not the same. We don’t share that many cultural similarities, so to speak, but it is the food that we all remember as childhood foods that everyone grows up with.
The American actors would say ‘Wow, we can eat dim sum and really great Asian food every single day and it’s affordable and cheap and we could eat it anytime we want’ and that’s why we brought them out so much to eat.
(As for music karaoke) I don’t karaoke (laughs). I do not. I think I was heavily influenced by the cast who has flown out here and they were looking for something to do and I don’t know how we ended up going to the karaoke bars to do that. I don’t know how that became a thing but it was so much fun.
A: Who was the leader? Who rallied everybody to go?
JK: Fiona Xie was very good at organizing and making it happen. But everyone else was always game, especially Awkwafina (laughs).
A: And lastly…what do you have to say about passion being an “American” thing?
JK: I think it does ring true, for me, at least. I mean, of course, it’s a very big generalization. But what strikes me from an Asian perspective is that when I [was growing] up, there was always the sense that: sometimes the individual want has to be given up for something bigger than ourselves.
Although, I think it’s really changing, at least in Singapore today where there is a lot more freedom for young people to pursue what they love and they enjoy. I don’t know whether or not if that’s got to do with affluence and poverty because in the old days when families were bigger and there were more mouths to feed…every choice that we made needed to serve that greater good…
Whereas today, at least in Singapore–where we are a little bit more affluent and economically well-off and families are smaller–the perspective in thinking has changed around that.
This interview was slightly condensed for time.