SINGAPORE, May 31 — The success of the first season of Fresh Off The Boat, a sitcom about a Taiwanese-American family trying to fit in with their new surroundings, could be attributed to a few things: A genuinely engaging storyline, great chemistry among the cast, warm yet deftly subversive writing (sample: “You know what’s a white thing? Hanging up a Buddha picture”) and its greatest asset, actress Constance Wu.
Wu is undoubtedly the breakout star of the series. She plays Jessica Huang, mother of chef Eddie Huang (whose memoir the series is based on).
What could easily be an annoying stereotypical portrayal of a Chinese mum pushing her three sons and her goofy husband to excel turned out instead to be a razor-sharp, funny and winning performance by the 33-year-old actress.
Gifs of Jessica Huang zingers now populate the Internet and episode recaps point out weekly Constance Wu highlights.
She tells us more about how she feels about all this success.
Q: Jessica Huang is easily the most popular character on Fresh off the Boat. Why do you think everyone loves your portrayal of her?
A: Thank you for your kind words. I think Jessica is popular because it’s about celebrating how great mums are; audiences get to see how important they are in shaping our personalities and identities. What I did is to bring a lot of conflicting aspects to her character — I made her strong at times and weak at others because that’s what we’re all like. I wanted her to be as fully rounded and interesting as possible.
Q: How much of yourself or your mum did you put in this character?
A: I don’t know how much of myself I put into the role but she’s definitely not based on my mum at all. My own mum wasn’t strict nor a Tiger Mum. In fact, she was really whimsical and fun-loving.
Q: So there was no resistance to you choosing acting as a career? Like how Jessica tried to warn her sons about it in the series with her play Acting: A Cautionary Tale?
A: (Laughs) Becoming an actress professionally was a natural progression as I’d been singing and dancing, and taking part in plays since I was a child. My parents really liked that actually — I think it was because I was like a cute kid singing all day.
My parents are into musical theatre such as My Fair Lady and The Sound Of Music but they’re also really proud of what I’m doing on Fresh Off The Boat now. The journey has been difficult. I have supported myself since I was 18, as I’m too proud to ask for money from my parents. I worked as a waitress at a steakhouse at night and several other places while I went for auditions.
There were times I definitely wanted to quit as you have bills such as health insurance to pay, but you just keep working hard, you know, and hopefully things happen. And it did.
Q: Fresh Off The Boat just got renewed for a second season. How do you hope to see your character evolving?
A: I don’t have any say in what the writers write for my character, but I think what would be interesting is to see what happens to Eddie (played by Hudson Yang), like how he’s coming into his own, being a teenager and getting a girlfriend. It would be great to see how these great young actors evolve.
Q: We noticed a lot of bunny photos on your Instagram.
A: Oh, you did! Yes, I have a pet bunny (called Lida Rose) and I love her so much. I’ve always loved bunnies but I got mine only rather recently about two years ago as bunnies can be expensive to keep since you have to buy food and all. She’s really cute. — TODAY
* Catch back-to-back episodes of Fresh Off The Boat every Saturday at 4pm and Sundays at 9.50pm on FOX (Singtel TV Ch 330 and StarHub TV Ch 505)