UAlbany graduate Awkwafina continues a marvel-ous acting run with her role in the latest Marvel superhero movie “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”. It will easily hit No. 1 over Labor Day weekend. The question is: how high can it go?
Awkwafina’s breakthrough summer was 2018, with memorable comedic work in “Ocean’s 8” and “Crazy Rich Asians”. She followed them up with an excellent, more dramatic performance in “The Farewell”, which earned her a Golden Globe win and a Critics Choice Award nomination. During that awards season, she was also featured on big screens in blockbuster sequel “Jumanji: The Next Level”, alongside Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart.
Voice acting is another of Awkwafina’s specialties, with two 2019 vocal appearances on “The Simpsons” and roles in WB’s “Storks”, Sony’s “The Angry Birds Movie 2”, Paramount’s “The SpongeBob: Movie Sponge On the Run” and most recently Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon” as Sisu.
Back in January, “Raya” co-director Carlos Lopez Estrada talked with me about working with Awkwafina: “She’s been attached to the project for years now. One of the incredible benefits that you get from an animated movie taking so long to develop is that you are able to take the contributions from the voice actors and incorporate it into the story and into the character designs and the animation. It’s really a collaborative process. We would record a few scenes with Awkwafina. Obviously we would get to see all of her gestures – the way she uses certain words. Qui [Nguyen] would put them into the script. The animators would see it. Their animators’ vocabulary would start to add things they would see and capture from Awkwafina’s performance that would also affect the way the model is being worked on.”
“And we would bring that back to Awkwafina and be like, “Look, here’s a scene. Here’s a model. Here’s how your character is looking.” And then she would get super excited and obviously start building off of that. She would come up with new ideas. It allows you for a period of building and character development that nothing else would just because we have a year to workshop scenes with her – see what works, see the humor that’s landing the most, play for test audiences. And that relationship we have with the voice talent is really invaluable in shaping these characters.”
She’ll also be heard in upcoming DreamWorks film “The Bad Guys” and as Scuttle in the Mouse House’s new take on “The Little Mermaid”. Season 2 of series “Awkwafina Is Nora from Queens” is currently airing on Comedy Central.
I’ve met-up with Awkwafina twice at the Critics Choice Awards, and she’s told me how much she loves Upstate NY and hopes to return to visit the Capital Region sometime soon.