Awkwafina Reveals What Her Real-Life Family Thinks About 'Nora From Queens' (Exclusive)

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After breakout films in 2018 and a Golden Globe-winning role in 2019, Awkwafina is ready to keep things rolling in 2020 -- starting with her very own TV show!

The 31-year-old comedian is headed next to Comedy Central, executive producing and starring in Awkwafina is Nora From Queens, a "semi-autobiographical" comedy series that draws on her real-life family and experiences.

"I think I wouldn't know what else to make a show about, you know?" Awkwafina told ET during the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, California, earlier this month. "I've never seen anything quite like this. Not even with the Asian-American angle or things like that, I really have never seen characters like this.

"I've never seen them come to life in such a way, yet they're so real to me. So I think there has to be some kind of truth there. I hope people find some truth there."

The show -- which has already scored a season 2 renewal ahead of its premiere -- stars Awkwafina as Nora Lum, a fictionalized version of herself (using her real name), and the supporting cast includes heavy-hitters like BD Wong playing her father, Lori Tan Chinn as her grandmother and Bowen Yang as her cousin.

"We are all kind of elevated versions of the real people that we play," Wong explained. "It spins out from her personal energy and there's a lot of creativity to it, but the germ of truth of her life in Queens and her living with her grandma and her dad is the kind of basic kind of nut of it."

So, how do her real family members feel about their on-screen portrayals? "They love it," Awkwafina revealed. "My dad and grandma, I only wanted them to watch like, one or two episodes, and then they were like, 'We want to watch more!' and I was like, 'You guys got to get out of my house. It's getting late. It's too much.'"

"They can't get enough," she marveled. "My dad still can't believe that BD is playing him. He's very starstruck."

Wong and Chinn "go way back" to their early Broadway days -- both starred in the Tony-winning play M. Butterfly in the late '80s -- so cultivating the chemistry on set was easy. That was crucial to finding the comedy in the show's improvisational style.

"There was a real teamwork kind of feeling," Wong explained. "There's a spirit of improv and kind of working off the cuff and revising and changing and following things when you have an impulse that I haven't experienced on all shows. You certainly don't experience something like this on a procedural show or anything like that, and so that's really fun. When everybody's playing that game together, it's really bonding."

"Acting with them is intimidating for me, 'cause I know how powerful they are," Awkwafina added, "but they're so funny. When [they were] told just say whatever you want, I think at first, especially Lori, was like, what? Not that she couldn't do it, but it was like, what do you mean?... But that's really what the show runs on. It runs off that feeling that there is no limits."

And the actress certainly isn't putting any limits on her career. Despite being snubbed by the Oscars, she made history at the Golden Globes, becoming the first Asian-American actress to win the award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture -- Musical or Comedy for her starring role in Lulu Wang's The Farewell.

In her acceptance speech, she thanked Wang for giving her "the chance of a lifetime," as well as her father, Wally -- "I told you I'd get a job, Dad" -- before sending a special message to her own grandmother, who raised her, and her mother, Tia, who died when she was just four. "I always hoped [she] was watching from somewhere above, and I hope she's watching now." 

Backstage with ET, Awkwafina reflected on her "insanely crazy" win. "It means a lot," she said of making history. "When we were making The Farewell, we had no idea, I had no idea. I didn't know if I could do drama... To see Lulu's story, her vision come this far, is very incredible." 

"I think more than ever, it shows that real stories [are] all connected by love and loss and especially the love that we have for our grandparents, you know?" she added. "I think at the core of that it shows that no matter where the story comes from, close or far, we will still find a way to relate to them and that's the beauty about some of these things."

See more on her win in the video below. Awkwafina is Nora From Queens premieres Wednesday, Jan. 22 at 10:30 pm PT/ET on Comedy Central.


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