The 36-year-old Crazy Rich Asians star became the first Asian woman to be nominated for Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical in decades, since Miyoshi Umeki was recognized for Flower Drum Song in 1962 and Yvonne Elliman for Jesus Christ Superstar in 1974. Wu, who plays New York native Rachel Chu in Crazy Rich Asians, is only the fourth Asian woman to be nominated in the category ever. None have ever won; Wu could be the first.
The night before the Golden Globe nominations were revealed Thursday morning, Wu had put her phone on "Do Not Disturb" mode, something she often did when she was trying to get some sleep before a long day's work on Fresh Off the Boat. When she woke up around 7 a.m. and checked her phone for the first time, she was shocked to find "a large amount" of missed calls and text messages telling her to wake up.
The historical context of her nomination was not lost on Wu, who confessed she didn't believe this was even in the realm of possibility because it hadn't happened in years.
"I didn't [think this would happen] because I'd never seen it happen to an Asian American woman before. I saw it happen to Zhang Ziyi [in 2005 for Memoirs of a Geisha], but she's not American, you know? It wasn't modern. I didn't see it happen, so I didn't think so," Wu exclusively told ET on Thursday, acknowledging the awards chatter in the lead-up to the nominations. "Yeah, there was a lot of talk... but when I [started] Fresh Off the Boat five seasons ago, there was a lot of talk too and a lot of anticipation. I think because it was all so new to me back then, I sort of bought into it a little too much."
"I learned from that experience that yeah, recognition is great but the thing that matters the most is doing work that you're proud of and you're proud of the way you do it. So, I didn't expect it to happen because what had happened with Fresh Off the Boat," she said with a chuckle. "But I also try not to focus on it because of the things I learned going through that experience. That being said, it's super f**king cool!"
What a morning to have had my phone on Do Not Disturb Mode till now... I’m ecstatic but also in shock! Thank you @goldenglobes !!!
Wu reflected on her whirlwind Crazy Rich Asians journey over the past year, expressing optimism that the box office success of the film means Hollywood is taking stock in Asian-centric stories, and investing resources in pushing more of them through.
"I feel lucky to even be in this career, to have these opportunities, let alone be recognized for them. But, I think, talking about the historical significance of something like that... that is meaningful to me because people don't know something is or isn't happening unless you talk about it," she said. "The fact that it started the greater conversation about the difference between having an actor in a supporting role just to have some diversity versus having an actor in a leading role rather than supporting another culture's story, Hollywood is telling our culture's story, is centering that experience. It says that our culture and identity isn't defined by how we look, it's defined by how and where we grow up."
Constance Wu Dishes on Waiting Tables for Famous Customers Before Her Big Break (Exclusive)
"For many of us in [Crazy Rich Asians], we grew up in places where Asians weren't the dominant culture. We grew up as minorities. We're all very proud of that experience. We're proud of our parents for the journey that immigration takes, for their belief in us. The fact that we got to tell that story and that people are now talking about the historical significance of it, I hope [it] will open up the door for more opportunities for other Asian Americans who didn't feel represented by this movie," Wu added. "There are plenty of people who don't feel recognized by this movie and hopefully, this will open up more opportunities for those stories to feel the spotlight a little bit."
Wu said she feels "encouraged" by the progress being made in the industry.
"I feel very encouraged by not only the investment of visionary productions like [Crazy Rich Asians producers] Nina [Jacobson], Brad [Simpson] and John [Penotti], but also by the turnout for the general American population to see these stories. It does feel like it's starting to inspire more stuff like this. I don't think there's one right path to do it. Everyone has their own path and their own way, and you have to find that for yourself," she said. "I'm an activist; activism is fighting for humanity, in a sense. I think that's the best of what acting and moviemaking can do. It can lift up our stories to really value the humanity in us. It's definitely happening and I'm grateful that it's happening."
Wu's co-star, Michelle Yeoh, who plays the regal and powerful Eleanor Young, told ET on Thursday that she was extremely "proud" of Wu for her Golden Globe accomplishment. Wu, in turn, credited Yeoh for being one of the main reasons she even found herself with the opportunity to be included this year as a nominee.
It's a Mini 'Crazy Rich Asians' Reunion in This 'Fresh Off the Boat' Sneak Peek (Exclusive)
"I wouldn't have this recognition without her and without everybody else in the movie that made it great. In acting class, you're only as good as your scene partner and she is an actress for whom recognition is long overdue," Wu said. "It was an extraordinary privilege to work with her and to work with this talented cast and I look forward to seeing what everyone's going to do in the future."
But does Wu find herself looking ahead to the Oscars after Crazy Rich Asians landed a Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical Golden Globe nomination? "I try not to think about it," Wu admitted. "If something like that were to happen, that'd be awesome, but the thing that is paramount to me is just making great work that means something to someone."
She did advocate for one Oscar nominee she would like to see: "I really do hope that Michelle gets nominated though because I think she's [amazing]... and I think she will actually, so I definitely have my fingers crossed for that."
The 76th annual Golden Globe Awards, hosted by Sandra Oh and Andy Samberg, will air live coast-to-coast on Sunday, Jan. 6, at 5 p.m. PT/8 p.m. ET on NBC.