Awkwafina says she has shattered stereotypes her entire life simply by existing. On Thursday, she spoke with TIME’s Charlotte Alter at the TIME Next 100 event in front of a room of fellow honorees.
The Asian-American actor and rapper has advocated for greater inclusiveness in Hollywood, and Alter asked her what it was like growing up with stereotypes.
“The only way I can describe growing up with stereotypes is walking into a room full of strangers… [and] they think that they know what you’re going to sound like, how you’re going to act… things like that,” she explained.
“So I’ve spent a lot of my life absolutely shattering them, not actively, but literally just by existing,” she said. “When I walk into those rooms they hear my voice, and are like ‘what kind of voice is that?’”
The 30-year-old native New Yorker — born Nora Lum — has had a whirlwind two years. She broke-out in comedic roles in 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians and Oceans 8, and won critical acclaim for her dramatic role in 2019’s The Farewell.
She also addressed what fame has been like for her. While she’s now known around the world, Awkwafina says she feels like the same person she’s always been. “That’s the thing about fame, it doesn’t change you, it just happens,” she says. “I still have a lot of anxiety, I still have a lot of self doubt, and I’m still always striving for more.”
“I still definitely hate myself all the time,” she laughed.
She spoke about the anxiety she felt before staring in Oceans 8 alongside other movie stars, adding she faces imposter syndrome a lot, but sometimes that can be healthy in small doses.
Alter also asked about diversity in Hollywood, and Awkwafina spoke about working with Asian American director Lulu Wong in The Farewell. “I was very lucky to experience that in my life,” she said.
Awkwafina has stared in comedies, heist movies, dramas and, soon, a television show. “What’s next?” asked Alter.
“I don’t know, I feel like there’s a train that I’m on, and I’m along for the ride, so I hope that good things happen,” Awkwafina said. “What I really want to see… I want to help inspire the next generation.”
The crowd cheered in response.
The TIME Next 100 event focused on optimism and the future, and Alter asked the actor what was making her optimistic. “Take a look at that list,” she responded. “I think that, you know, we are going through a lot right now as a society, but what I think I’ve seen is incredibly brave and bold voices that I think come out and speak up.”
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