Crazy Rich Asians Author Kevin Kwan Dreams of Being on Survivor One Day
Before the release of the Crazy Rich Asians big screen adaptation, the author talks his love for Juliette Binoche, Jason Mraz, and more.
The movie adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians, which is out on Wednesday, tells the story of Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu), a Chinese-American economics professor who discovers, on a trip to visit his family, that her boyfriend (Henry Golding) is the heir of one of Singapore’s richest families—or a Prince Harry, in the film’s parlance. This is, as you can imagine, quite a surprise to Rachel. The film is centered around her struggle to gain his family’s approval as she is thrust into their lavish lifestyle.
When Kevin Kwan wrote the 2013 bestselling novel that inspired the film, he had no idea it would become one of this summer’s highly anticipated blockbusters. The last time a film backed by a major Hollywood studio featured a mostly Asian cast was in 1993, when Amy Tan’s best-selling novel The Joy Luck Club was adapted for the screen. Crazy Rich Asians may initially seem like a standard “meet the parents” narrative, but its release marks a potentially large turning point for Hollywood, which has had a history of relegating Asian actors to offensive, stereotypical, or sidekick roles.
The weight of being at the helm of a history-making moment aside, Kwan has been appreciative of the long-awaited success of Crazy Rich Asians. Here, the author reveals his voracious magazine appetite, dreams of being cast on Survivor, and his all-around affinity for film, food, and French actresses.
How are you handling the potential massive international success of your film?
I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown, is how I’m handling it. [Laughs] No, it’s been amazing. It’s been exhausting. I was on a national tour, one city every day, and sleeping four hours a day, working 18 hours the rest of the time. But just to see the amount of excitement and enthusiasm for the movie is kind of unbelievable, you know? Audiences in Dallas, Philadelphia, Boston, who might or might not have read the book, who are just loving the movie—it’s pretty incredible. You can’t complain that you’re tired when people are out there and so eager to meet you and the stars of your movie.
For you, Crazy Rich Asians is a nostalgic story, based loosely on your real life. How has that affected the way you’ve handled the responses you’ve received from audiences?
You know, it’s enormously gratifying and surreal at the same time, because I took what was a story that I didn’t think anyone would want to read or care about, and to see the amount of support and interest out there…as a writer, it’s a very lonely life—there are very few chances to actually interact with people who will your books or see your movies, so to be in this space where I’m meeting all of these fans is very surreal. I still get a trip out of anyone who’s actually bought my book, spent money, and read it. I can’t quite believe it.
Getting into the Culture Diet questions, what is the first thing you read in the morning?
The first thing I read in the morning is The New York Times, believe it or not.
Digital or print?
I read it digitally. I had a subscription for years and years, but it took over my apartment so I migrated to reading it from my laptop. It’s the first thing I do; I look at the news, and it tells me what I need to know, what is happening in the world. I read it while making my breakfast and my morning tea.
I read that you’ve kept every issue of Vanity Fair since 1985. Are you a magazine collector?
Am I a collector or am I more of a hoarder? [Laughs] I’m not quite sure! I collect magazines. I’ve always loved magazines, and I wrote for magazines. I still have boxes and boxes of W magazine from when it was in newspaper format in my mom’s attic somewhere. I loved when W was a huge newspaper format. It was cool. I used to cut up W magazines and put them up on my wall—the Armani posters and stuff like that. That was, back in the day, very cool for me.
What books are currently on your bedside table?
I’m reading a biography of Queen Mary. It’s interesting because it’s kind of a new version of a biography. It’s really about the notes that were from her original, official biography, revealing the notes for the first time, which is giving you so much more of the inside story of her life than was in the biography. It’s very cool to peek behind the curtain of what this writer knew and what he was censoring out of the book. It’s a cool way to look at a biography of a subject, of a woman who really controlled her image very tightly.
You seem to be fascinated with the concepts of royalty and aristocracy.
Totally! I’ve always been a “royalty” follower. Any books about aristocracy, anything about class systems, things like that have always fascinated me. What else is on my nightstand right now? There’s Alan Hollinghurst’s book The Sparsholt Affair. I’ve had it now since December, but people have been telling me how much they love it, so I’m almost afraid to read it because he’s one of my favorite authors, so I’ve been waiting for the right moment. I’m waiting to go on vacation and I’ll bust it out.
What are some of your favorite social media accounts to follow?
I’m actually kind of a techno luddite. Until about four years ago, I didn’t even have a smartphone.
Did they force you to join Instagram for the movie?
They did! Well, not for the movie. Just in publishing, after book one became a huge hit, they were like, ‘You’ve got to be on Instagram doing stuff.’ So I follow a few of the actors. I’m not very active on this. I’m really into vintage watches, so I follow a few different watch Instagram people, like Eric Wind. He’s one of the top watch experts in the world. I’m following Timothée Chalamet, because he’s an amazing actor, and John M. Chu, the director. I’m following Henry Golding. I’m following Cheryl Strayed, because I think she’s an amazing author! Town & Country, Giambattista Valli. There’s a gallery in London called the Unit, and I love their artists, so I follow them too. There’s a lovely site called Beautiful Destinations, and they post an amazing travel shot every day.
What’s the last thing you googled?
What was the last thing I googled? How do I find that out? Hm. Hold on, let me look. Oh, the last thing I googled was Sara Foster.
Oh, did you search for Erin Foster, too?
Are they related?
Yeah, Erin is Sara’s sister. They’re David Foster’s daughters.
Oh, is that who she is? I knew her from 90210, personally. My makeup artist today, who is helping me out with this press junket, she is, like, a dead ringer for Sara Foster, so I had to show her photographs of Sara Foster [Laughs].
Speaking of 90210, what television shows have been keeping you up at night?
I love Billions. I just finished watching this season. I love The OA! I can’t wait for the new season to start. I’m actually a huge, huge Survivor fan. My bucket list dream is to be on Survivor. I’ve never been camping in a tent, ever, in my life. I’m truly a city person, you know what I mean? I was never a Boy Scout, I don’t know how to make a fire, and I’m extremely physically unfit, but my dream is to have the time to work out with a trainer for like six months, get in shape, and do a lot of obstacle courses. For me, it’s all about the social game. I need to actually be able to survive on a basic physical level first, so my dream is to, at some point in my life—soon, hopefully, knock on wood—be able to take six months off and do lots of jumping jacks, and then maybe I can apply for Survivor and get in. But that’s a dream [Laughs]. It’s like the only reality show that I watch.
What’s the last movie you saw in theaters?
The last movie I saw in theaters was Claire Denis’s movie Let the Sunshine In, starring Juliette Binoche. It was so, so brilliant. Juliette Binoche gave the performance of her life, I thought. It was so amazing, so idiosyncratic. And a week later, I was in Paris at the couture shows, and she’s right there in the courtyard waiting to go in. As a New Yorker, I learned never to talk to people. Like, if you meet Brad Pitt at a bar, you just pretend you don’t know who the hell he is! [Laughs] But with her, I actually could not resist. I had to go up to her and gush and say, “I just saw your movie, it’s my favorite movie of the year! I love you!” And she looked at me like I was a stalker and smiled, and then she walked away. [Laughs]
Have you been listening to any podcasts lately?
You know, I really don’t do podcasts. I’ve been on a podcast! I just recently did Will Schwalbe’s podcast, but I have so little time, quite frankly, to actually consume media! I’m still playing catch-up with all of the TV shows I need to be watching, and there’s just so much great content out there now. The ironic thing is, I’m working on my movie and working on my TV show, but I have even less time to watch movies and see TV. I used to see a lot of live theater, especially experimental downtown theater, and a lot of modern dance. I love modern dance. I used to love going to the Kitchen and BAM [Brooklyn Academy of Music], all that stuff. I’ve not had a life in five years! I’m just writing and working.
What’s the last concert you went to?
Jason Mraz. Last year, he was on tour. I love his music, and he’s really got such a true, original voice with what he does. It’s transcendent. Although, when I was in Paris, I was invited to see Justin Timberlake. I was given a seat onstage, like, right next to him, and I couldn’t go because I was at the Armani Privé show, sitting across from Juliette Binoche!
Are you into astrology at all?
I am! I totally am. I’m a Scorpio. It’s dead on. I have a friend who is an amazing chartist. She looks at my chart—because, you know, it’s not just your birth sign, it’s your rising and all this stuff—she looks at my chart based on when I was born and tells me stuff that’s just so cool and so interesting. It’s fascinating, what the stars can tell you.
What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?
Read! I always read before I go to bed. So, whatever is on my nightstand, I read a few chapters, and it kind of lulls me to sleep. I try not to look at my phone or read the news, because that usually just upsets me, so I turn to a book and get lost in another world for a while.