LOS ANGELES – Awkwafina is anything but awkward.
The day after Academy Award nominations were announced, the 31-year-old star of “The Farewell” handled questions about her film getting snubbed with the grace and maturity of a veteran with decades of disappointments under her belt.
“ ‘The Farewell’ came out last January at Sundance and we really didn’t know where it would take us. To see all the attention that it’s gotten, that feels like a win,” said Awkwafina, who was born Nora Lum. “For me personally, I feel very grateful for where I am, where we’ve come.”
It’s no small consolation that the comedian took home a Golden Globe earlier this month for a role that showed off her dramatic skills. She is the first person of Asian descent to win as a lead actress in a film category.
And then there’s “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens,” debuting Wednesday on Comedy Central, in which she plays a slacker who still lives with her foul-mouthed grandmother and can’t be bothered to memorize her Social Security number. A well-spent afternoon consists of inhaling a bong while getting aroused by “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.”
The character would most likely be gal pals with the free spirits of the recently concluded “Broad City” — if she could bother getting off the couch.
“We’re looking at a show that is about a 20-something woman in New York figuring it out — Who am I in life? What do I want to do? How do I get there? — and so, inevitably, there’s going to be a little bit of a crossover,” said Lucia Aniello, an executive producer for both series. “But you know those [Waboba Street] balls that have little nubs on them, and when you throw them, you don’t know which way they’re going to go? That’s what’s happening in this show. It’s the same existential questions, just going in totally different directions.”
Of course, the big draw to the sitcom, which has already been picked up for a second season, is its star, who is on one of the hottest streaks in Hollywood. Her scene-stealing part in 2018’s monster hit “Crazy Rich Asians” led to her hosting “Saturday Night Live” and gracing the cover of Time magazine. She also has a part in “Jumanji: The Next Level,” which has already grossed more than $670 million worldwide.
One might assume she’d be frustrated being tied down to a basic cable series for two years, even one in which she has ultimate creative control. Constance Wu, her “Crazy Rich” co-star, went so far as to express her disappointment on social media after ABC picked up “Fresh Off the Boat” for one last season, preventing her from accepting more ambitious roles.
“At the end of the day, we’re all human. We all kind of negotiate this career in our own ways,” Awkwafina said Tuesday at the Television Critics Association press tour. “I haven’t been around as long as Constance Wu. And she, in my time, was a very important part of the Asian-American community of our generation. I kind of look up to her in that way. My career is very different and I’m very new to TV, kind of new to movies, too. So, for me, it’s more of an acid trip.”
BD Wong, who plays her unflappable father, is thrilled that the fast-rising star is committed to television — and that she invited him to come along for the ride.
“I think I said yes five minutes before she asked me,” said Wong, a Tony winner for his role in “M. Butterfly.” “I was tremendously into it and really happy. It was also really different from anything that I’d done before.”
The veteran actor is well aware that the Asian-American community might be braced for disappointment.
Trailers paint Nora as a party girl who creates havoc every time she bops into a room. And while the character does manage to burn down her friend’s apartment during a cam-girl session in the first episode, she also has more depth and dimension than many other Asian-American characters on TV, like the diner boss serving up stereotypes on “2 Broke Girls” or the much maligned Apu, still stuck behind the counter at Kwik-E-Mart on “The Simpsons.”
“There is this knee-jerk reaction we all have as members of a minority group when a new show is coming out. We’re white-knuckling, waiting to see what the show is going to be,” Wong said. “But I’ve never heard of an Asian-American character like this one. It’s completely refreshing and out of the box.”
While Awkwafina is looking forward to the response to her sitcom, which will feature guest appearances by Laverne Cox, Natasha Lyonne and Ming-Na Wen, she’s not quite done celebrating “The Farewell,” in which she plays a young woman who struggles to keep a family secret during a trip to her native China.
While the film was shut out of Oscar competition, it will vie for best feature at the Independent Spirit Awards on Feb. 8.
“We didn’t know if anyone would buy ‘The Farewell.’ That it would even be on screens,” she said. “There’s always more work to be done, of course. I think that I’ve had a pretty exciting ride, and I think that with this show and with the movies that we’ve seen this year, representation exists. I can’t be more grateful to do what I love to do. To be recognized, at least a little bit for that, is enough.”