'The Farewell's' Lulu Wang and Awkwafina want you to cry, then call your grandma

Jen Yamato, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

The film's title in Chinese, she says, translates to "Don't Tell Her." Wang shrugged. Yes, it's complicated. But that's life.

"I still think the same thing about the decision, which is that I can't make a moral judgment around it," she said. "But I do often think that none of this would have happened without the lie, right? The lie has enabled me to make this film, to tell this story, but more importantly it enabled me to spend time with my grandmother."

Wang's great-aunt, Lu Hong, connects by phone in the wee hours of the morning from Changchun, where she lives in the same building three floors above her sister, Wang's grandmother. In a few days she will fly to New York with her husband to see "The Farewell" -- which marks her film debut -- for the first time. (She'll sport crimson red shades on the red carpet.)

"I'm glad to report that my sister's health at this moment is still gradually going down but in general at this moment is stable," she said via Wang's father, Haiyan, her nephew, who translated.

Because Lu is Nai Nai's younger sister, Wang calls her "Lil Nai Nai." Wang remembers the challenge of casting the pivotal roles of both women. After much convincing she talked Lu into playing herself, and gave her singing dog Ellen a scene-stealing cameo.

"It was very difficult for me to go through this difficult period of time in my life again," Lu admitted, adding that she's grateful Wang talked her into it. "But what worried me most of all was that I could not play it well.


"If I did OK, it's because of Lulu's efforts," she added with pride. "Lulu spent a lot of time and explained to me line by line. It took a lot of effort. But the bottom line is, Lulu gave me a lot of courage."

Spilling the beans?

The casting was doubly meaningful since it was Lil Nai Nai who made the choice that her sister, 18 years her elder, should be spared the knowledge of her cancer diagnosis. She acknowledged that when the film comes out in China, her sister may learn the truth.

"It's a hard question to answer, because I don't know the answer at this moment," she said. "She's also been curious many times, asking, 'What's the name? What is the movie about?' But I had a good excuse to say, 'I don't know because I played my part, but the rest of it is in English! I could not understand it,'" she said with a laugh.


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