In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
One of the breakout stars of the 2014-15 TV season, Constance Wu plays the hard-nosed mother of future celebrity chef Eddie Huang on ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat. The sitcom’s period setting involves some light time travel—back to 1990s Orlando—but that’s nothing compared to the treks between alternate realities that Wu takes in the new film Parallels. Fresh Off The Boat airs Tuesdays and 8 and 8:30 p.m., and Parallels is currently streaming on Netflix (it arrives on iTunes, Xbox, Amazon, and other VOD services on March 31).
Constance Wu: When I was a teenager, I worked at the Gap for a summer folding shirts. That was pretty mindless and soul-sucking.
The A.V. Club: Do you still have your shirt-folding game down from that?
CW: No. I defiantly crinkle them on purpose just to wave my fist toward that job I had when I was 16. [Laughs.] No, not really. I would say I had average folding skills at best. They had a plastic board that you fold the shirts around to make them all uniform. I don’t have that board. If I had the necessary tools, perhaps I could be a great shirt-folder, but no.
AVC: Was there anything beyond the mindlessness of the job that made it the worst?
CW: It was in a mall in Virginia that was one of those kind of malls that’s all-enclosed. There’s no windows or skylights or anything. You’d go in to your job, and then like six hours later, you’d leave and it was raining, or it was really windy, or it was suddenly dark outside, and you had no concept that any of that stuff had happened, because you were in this dungeon of retail. [Laughs.] It was kind of disconnected to everything in that kind of mall.
CW: Um… [Laughs.] Still waiting to feel successful. I’m always hungry for the next thing. I’m never resting on my laurels. I don’t think I’ve felt successful yet. That’s all right.
AVC: That’s a perfect mindset for an actor because the next gig doesn’t always come along naturally.
CW: Or ever! I’m constantly paranoid that I’ll be unemployed for the rest of my life… and have to go back folding shirts at the Gap, which you know… you gotta do what you gotta do. [Laughs].
CW: That’s a hard one, because you said supervillain, not superhero. I can only think of heroic things that I’d want to do. Even mean stuff… I feel like is just counterproductive. If I were to exterminate all the haters or something, even that, that’s not how you do it, you know?
I would eliminate smartphone usage whilst in the presence of other people. Like, waiting in line for something, or on a subway, or being bored. I think it’s become a crutch. I even had a friend who said, “I couldn’t live without it because, if I’m feeling awkward at a party, I can just pull out my phone and text my friend or check my Twitter instead of feeling uncomfortable.” And part of me is like, that discomfort is the very essence of being an alive, vulnerable human in this world. That’s all of us. We all want to be accepted at a party, or whatever. Or to talk to somebody we have a crush on, and we don’t know the right things to say. And while it’s uncomfortable to not have witty banter in a text and instead have awkward banter in a conversation—that’s the real stuff. All that wit and that cleverness that happens on these things like social media or text messaging is just kind of a mask. I’d rather just feel awkward and embarrassed and I would just force everybody else into that. I would force everybody else to actually interact with others and connect when they’re feeling awkward or bored in public spaces. Some people would think that’s very villainous and evil, so that would be what I’d do.
AVC: For those who feel awkward in those social situations and feel themselves reaching for the phone, do you have any advice on how to be in the moment and interact with other people?
CW: Yeah! Don’t be so hard on yourself for not being perfect. You are great just as you are without all your accoutrements, without your great job, your looks, or your wit. You don’t need to do anything to be allowed at that party or in that space. Your very presence is enough, and once you stop being hard on yourself for trying to be something cool or bigger and better than what you already are, then it’s great, because nobody can really take anything away from you, because you have your sense of self, which is great. Yeah, sure, people can take things away from you. Maybe your crush doesn’t like you back, and that’s painful, and you live through that, and you learn from that. If you have a strong sense of self in who you are, then you just weather that pain, but it doesn’t take away from your essential being. That’s my advice.
CW: I was emotional. I wanted to be taken seriously. I was pretty emo. I was reciting Shakespeare monologues when I was 10. I still know the whole “To be, or not to be…” monologue, because I knew it when I was 10.
AVC: So you got interested in acting early on?
CW: Yeah, I was that annoying girl who was reading Stanislavski and Boleslawski and Uta Hagen and ranting about the confines of suburban life in the South, thinking I was going to be the cooler person who lived the deep, meaningful urban life, which now I actually flipped. Now I appreciate the sort of suburban life and—what’s that word that my friend Will used the other day? I forgot. He was describing that play Our Town. He called it “beautifully plain.” [Laughs.] I don’t want to say “plain” in a bad way. He meant it doesn’t need to do much with itself to have its own beauty. I was definitely rebelling when I was a kid, as suburban kids are wont to do.
AVC: But from one suburban kid to another, it can be tough to recognize that beauty at that age. You lack a certain perspective.
CW: Yeah, and I think it’s normal to rebel against your surrounding, because it’s the only way you break out and seek other things. And you know, some people ultimately return to [the suburbs] with a more informed understanding of why they love them, or they find their tribe in Bushwick or something and feel more at home there. While it’s not the easiest thing to go through, it’s healthy and perfectly acceptable and good.
CW: Peter Gallagher.
AVC: Oh yeah?
CW: Yeah. His eyebrows.
AVC: Was this The O.C.-era Peter Gallagher?
CW: Peter Gallagher through the ages. I worked for him actually a couple years ago. He’s great, super great. So, still to this day: Peter Gallagher. [Laughs.] He’s a thespian like me. He had these great stories about being in the theatre and all that kind of stuff. So full of life. This was when I worked with him on Covert Affairs a couple years ago. He’s just so handsome.
AVC: Was there any point where you felt you could tell him, “When I was younger, I had a crush on you”?
CW: Oh, completely. You know that thing I said earlier about being okay with being awkward? Oh, I was completely okay with being awkward, and just let it out like I was a total schoolgirl. He was completely gracious with it. Just super funny and told me stories of… there’s this one movie he did that I really like called While You Were Sleeping. He told me stories about making that movie. I was embarrassed, and I was red-faced the whole time, but I just sort of went with it and enjoyed it. He is amazing.
CW: “Clair De Lune.”
CW: It’s really pretty. It’s simple. Its simplicity is evocative for people. I like phrases in songs, and ideas where the interpretation of the phrase, song, or idea is more a reflection of the interpreter than it is of the person saying it. Not ambiguous, if you think that that person said it in a snarky way, that reveals something about your own character. If you think that person said it in a really funny way, or a really self-important way, I think that’s very interesting. That’s why my Twitter headline is “silence makes me comfortable.” Some people could think that’s really funny, some people could think that’s really snobby, some people could think it’s cheeky, but I think your interpretation reveals more about you that it does about the phrase, which is interesting. It’s like this poem by E.E. Cummings called “Maggie And Milly And Molly And May,” and it’s kind of like that poem, about your interpretation of the objects you find in the sea says a lot about how you feel about your life and your world, which is cool.
CW: I don’t know what coast you’re on or where you are, but it’s 8 a.m. So I haven’t done much. I’ve made some coffee, and I’m drinking it now. That’s it. Oh, and I fed my bunny. I have a pet bunny.
CW: Patrick Swayze every day. Kidding. I don’t think I’ve ever been mistaken for a celebrity.
AVC: Do you think being on Fresh Off The Boat raises more potential to be mistaken for other people? That more people might recognize you now that you’re on a weekly TV show?
CW: I’ve gotten recognized for that sometimes, but that’s not a mistake. Yeah, it sure does. But then there are sometimes where people are at a party, and then people are like, “What do you do?” And I’m like, “I’m an actor.” And they’re like, “Oh, are you on anything?” And I’m like, “Oh, I’m on Fresh Off The Boat, and they’re like, “I love that show! Who do you play?” And I’m like, “I play the mom.” And they’re like “What?!” Because the character—obviously I’m not a reality star, I’m an actor, and I look rather different when I’m [out of character]. My physicality is different, my wardrobe, my hair. Even people who watch the show and are openly talking to me, sometimes it takes a minute to wrap their head around the fact that I’m the mom.
AVC: Do you feel like that’s sort of a stamp of approval for your performance? You’re able to transform into Jessica Huang so fully that people might not necessarily recognize you?
CW: Approval… that’s an interesting word.
AVC: Or maybe “a mark of success” is a more accurate way of putting it—taking it back to the success question.
CW: I think it’s more an indicator of this culture’s idea that actors are who they are. Sometimes, they’re like, “Aw, why is she just using a fake accent?” I’m like, it’s not fake. That’s just part of character work and actor training. Does Meryl Streep use a “fake” accent in Sophie’s Choice for a Polish accent? No, it’s just part of the actor’s work. I think some people are disappointed because characters they love so much, they want [the actor] to be like that in real life. I think it’s an indicator of how acting and celebrity culture—the line has been blurred on what we allow.
AVC: How do you think that line got blurred? How do you think people could better understand what it is that an actor does?
CW: I don’t think the line getting blurred is necessarily a terrible thing. I think the reason this line has been blurred is because I think some actors do use their visibility to expand their platforms with people. Whether it be on social media, or charity work, or political stuff, they do that, because that’s what they dig, and that’s what they want to do, and that is fantastic if you’re doing it for good. At the same time, I think there are probably reality stars or people who are not actors who are bringing their personalities to acting work. Even in Fresh Off The Boat, we had Scottie Pippen coming on our show playing Scottie Pippen. I think it’s been blurred intentionally, because it’s the prerogative of whoever the person is who is doing their work.
Sometimes for an audience, we like to compartmentalize things, and we like to put people in their little box just because it’s easier to understand. When you see a lot of actors who are also personalities and not just actors, and they’re using those, and they’re really excited about it, and that’s great, but then that blurred line makes it hard for when there is an actor who isn’t interested in necessarily being a personality. At the end of the day, you obviously can’t control anyone’s perception. [Laughs.] You sort of do what you dig, and the people who have a similar mindset will follow. Be true to yourself.
CW: Doesn’t quit at anything.
AVC: So you’re tenacious?
CW: I don’t get discouraged. If something doesn’t work, then I try something else. I’m interested in learning how to do different things, and it doesn’t hurt my feelings or make me put my tail between my legs if something doesn’t go swimmingly on the first try. I’m very open to trying new things and learning new things until I get it.
CW: I collect bunny rabbit memorabilia, because I love bunny rabbits, and people know I love bunny rabbits, so they give me bunny rabbit stuff.
AVC: What’s your most prized bunny-rabbit-related possession?
CW: I have a watercolor painting of a bunny rabbit that I got several years ago that now looks like my actual bunny, a little brown bunny. I really like it.
CW: I had to answer this for something else, and that’s a very dramatic question. I would say potato chips, but I eat those every day, so that’s not even that special. Probably some kind of chicken curry.
AVC: Is there a specific chip that you’d want?
CW: I really like Kettle [brand potato] chips. Every flavor they have, I love Kettle [brand potato] chips.
Bonus question from John Flansburgh: Who is the most unlikely person who has recognized you or praised you?
CW: I was at The Bunny Museum a couple of weeks ago, which is a museum in Pasadena that has the most bunny memorabilia in the world. My boyfriend took me there for Valentine’s Day. There was this couple that also came in and they recognized me from the show, which is cool, because they were a white girl and a Latino guy, and usually the people who have recognized me so far have been Asian people. That was probably the first time I was recognized by someone who wasn’t Asian.
AVC: What would you like to ask the next person?
CW: Oh, I got this one. When did you first fall in love, and what did it feel like?
I hope you get a dude for your next thing.
AVC: Make him open up.
CW: Yeah, it’s harder for a dude to answer that kind of thing. There’s my evil supervillain: Make everybody talk about love.