Director of Crazy Rich Asians movie looking beyond Chinese Singaporean actors

Director Jon M. Chu says he hopes to shoot as much of the film as he can in Singapore.
Director Jon M. Chu says he hopes to shoot as much of the film as he can in Singapore.

Director Jon M. Chu, who is helming the Hollywood film adaptation of Singapore-born writer Kevin Kwan's best-selling novel Crazy Rich Asians, says he wants as few restrictions as possible on who can try out for the roles.

The casting is ongoing. Those keen to try out for a role may submit an audition video to the website crazyrichasiansmovie.net.

With a few exceptions, the book's main characters are a family of extremely wealthy Chinese Singaporeans.

But Chu is open to actors who are neither fully Chinese, Singaporean nor have any idea how rich people are supposed to behave.

"We need actors who can bring that character to life," he tells The Straits Times on the telephone from his home in Los Angeles.

That principle implies that everything is "open to discussion".

We at the studio know the importance of casting it right and telling the story right. We want a sophisticated story, instead of relying on stereotypes.

DIRECTOR JON M. CHU

"If you have someone who is half-Chinese, can you cast them as full Chinese? If they don't look Eurasian, can we get away with it? These are questions we debate every day. I, of course, would like to have everything as genuine and real as possible," he says.

Look at the number of British actors playing American superheroes and one should get an idea of how casting in Crazy Rich Asians will work, says Chu, 37.

"Can a Malaysian actor play only Malaysians? Is that what we are really saying? I'm not sure that is the right way," says the ChineseAmerican director, who was behind the crime thriller Now You See Me 2 (2016) and the superhero movie G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013).

He and the production team have been in Singapore and around the region, scouting locations. A few actors are close to being "locked in" for key parts in the movie, but he says announcements will be made later.

Key roles - such as rich Singaporean man Nick Young; his fiancee, Chinese-American Rachel; and Nick's beautiful and impossibly chic cousin Astrid - are yet to be cast. Casting directors around the world are viewing actors.

Chu hopes to shoot as much of the film as he can in Singapore, but as with casting, he will keep his options open.

The mansion in the fictional area of Tyersall Park (there is a Tyersall Avenue and Tyersall Road here, but no Park) is where key scenes take place and Chu says he has some "interesting leads" as to where a place like this can be found.

"It's a tentpole location and it's a difficult place to find."

He says he is relishing the opportunity to make that rare thing - a major Hollywood movie featuring Asians in the lead roles, immersed in their own culture. The only other movie he has watched that comes close is the drama Joy Luck Club (1993), based on the Amy Tan novel.

He is aware that he has an enormous responsibility.

"We at the studio know the importance of casting it right and telling the story right. We want a sophisticated story, instead of relying on stereotypes."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2017, with the headline 'Anyone can act in Crazy Rich Asians, says director'. Print Edition | Subscribe