Constance Wu on celebrating ethnic differences, her favourite restaurants and loving Michelle Kwan

By Ashley Jude Collie

Actress Constance Wu is reaping the rewards of pushing small-screen boundaries as star of the sitcom Fresh Off the Boat (ABC, Tuesdays). The series, which focuses on the Asian immigrant experience in America, spent the summer as a top-watched selection on streaming service shomi before premiering a second season on Sept. 22. Constance delights as immigrant Jessica Huang, the hilariously wound-up “tough mom" who worries that Florida’s humidity is spoiling her hair as she and husband Louis (Randall Park) try to attain the American Dream for their young Asian family.

Constance, on the other hand, has perfect hair and a self-assured spirit. The Virginia-born actress, 33, is enjoying her breakout role, saying it's “really special playing in the big leagues” – but it's the meaning behind the show's popularity that excites her most. Based on chef Eddie Huang's memoir, Fresh Off the Boat is “breaking down barriers with all the series regulars being Asian," and Constance is thrilled to see this type of representative casting become the norm. Here, the brunette beauty talks her favourite places to eat, getting her start as a waitress and pushing the envelope.

Constance Wu is tired of shows neutralizing the Asian-American experience. Photo: © Getty Images

Who were some of your inspirations growing up as a child of immigrants?
I was raised in a Taiwanese family in Richmond. As a little girl, I remember being inspired by watching Olympic ice skater Michelle Kwan perform, and I thought she was just so beautiful and expressive in what she did. It was like art. Then there was cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who always moved me and still does with his music.

Nabbing the Jessica role in 2014 was a career breakthrough, how was it dealing with rejection early on?
I got a BFA in classical theatre and lived in New York City. I waitressed at this great restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West side called Ouest, which recently closed, but I loved the whole experience. Yeah, I was on the rough road of rejection, going out for theatre and other auditions. And, I used to equate my personal worth with getting work. But I learned you have to detach yourself from the result. That’s not where the real work lies, and I kept at it, even though my acting career was about paying my bills and surviving.

The actors who play your children are hilariously talented, especially Hudson Yang as Eddie. What’s it like working with them?
Let me tell you, those three young actors have got it together. They are more like colleagues [laughs]. In ways, they teach us life lessons. And they’re so fun to work with.

It’s been 20 years since Margaret Cho’s All-American Girl featured a mostly Asian-American cast. W hy does your series resonate?
You know, in the past, there’s been a sort of neutralizing of the Asian experience. Fresh Off the Boat is different and special because we don’t try to make it super politically correct. It’s like a fresh perspective that celebrates our differences as opposed to neutralizing them to be as cool as other people. I feel we’re cool in our own way, the way we are. Along with fans of chef Huang’s book, we’ve been getting a lot of support and feedback, as we have a very specific story to tell.

Since the series is based on a chef’s book, tell us about your own favourite eateries in Los Angeles.
I prefer places that are kind of neighborhoody. I really like a lot of restaurants in the Silver Lake-Los Feliz areas. I love this little place in Silver Lake called Speranza, really great food, very low key. And it’s mostly just locals which is why I like it. It’s not a place where tourists would go to. I also go to Alcove in Los Feliz for lunch meetings. Just up the street is Little Dom's, which is always really good. I really like their rice balls, delicious, and their wood-burning-stove pizzas are excellent... Their bartenders mix up some great cocktails. And they have a little deli in the back if you’re into that.

What Asian eateries do you frequent?
Pine & Crane in Silver Lake has very good Taiwanese food, and I have a Taiwanese background, so hopefully I should know. I really like one particular dish, their minced pork on rice. It sounds kind of boring but it’s pretty tasty. I haven’t lived in New York for five years but I really like Blue Ribbon Sushi in the city.

Speaking of New York, do you have any must-try cheap places you still go to when you visit?
What I really love in New York is Mamoun’s Falafel, and that’ll be there forever, it’s got a two-dollar falafel sandwich. They’re all over the city, but I usually go to the one in Astor Place. A hole in the wall, you can sit in a small booth or take your food out with you. One of those almost greasy places but it’s wonderful!

Constance with co-star Randall Park on Fresh Off the Boat. Photo: © ABC

What general advice would you give to guys on a dinner date?
Be yourself but the best version of yourself. Kindness is always good, so be the kindest version of yourself. Humour is good, as is being on time. And be whatever the opposite is of being anxious... Because sometimes guys can be so eager to please that it’s like their anxiety just spreads, it becomes contagious, and it just doesn’t feel good. Oh, I don’t need to have doors opened for me but it’s a nice gesture if it’s sincere.

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