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Rapper-Turned-Actress Awkwafina On ‘Ocean’s Eight’ And Staying Humble

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Photographed by Jonathan Grossi. Styled by Wendy McNett. Dromme, pants by Co.

Get to know her below

The following feature appears in the May issue of NYLON. Every year, we round up the brightest rising stars in film for our Young Hollywood Issue. Get to know the actors and actresses who are set to take over the industry. To read more, click here

Awkwafina’s mostly joking when she refers to Sandra Bullock as “Sandy,” comically flipping her hair back to drive home just how casual this all is to her. While it’s true that the 28-year-old New York-bred rapper-turned-actress, whose real name is Nora Lum, got the chance to pal around with some A-list stars as part of the ensemble cast of the upcoming Ocean’s Eight, which also includes the likes of Rihanna and Anne Hathaway, she still conducts herself with the self-awareness of someone allergic to Hollywood pretension. Even as she prepares to get bumped into the next echelon of on-screen fame (a word that she’s constantly redefining: “You can feel famous whenever you turn on your phone and have four notifications,” she says), she remains firmly tethered to music and the funny little indignities of everyday life in the city that raised her. In other words: Having Miss Congeniality’s digits in your contacts will not prevent you from getting smack-talked by bodega owners.

Award Caliber: Though the prospect of sharing a frame with Oscar winners was intimidating at first, Awkwafina was relieved to learn her co-stars were human: “I had waking nightmares before the shoot that I would say some weird shit. I could recite everyone’s filmography by heart, I loved each and every one of them, so I was having anxiety attacks about it. But when you’re on set with someone, it has a way of humanizing them. They become co-workers, then friends, and then maybe even a small family. There may have been a group text.”


Photographed by Jonathan Grossi. Styled by Wendy McNett. Jacket by Victoria Hayes, top by Brock Collection, skirt by Alina Liu.

Forever Humble: She may have a surefire blockbuster on the way, but Awkwafina can’t escape the feeling that everything could be yanked away at any moment: “I’m incredibly self-doubting, depressed, and unsure of everything that I’ve done for the past four years. Is that what people want to hear? Me, humanizing myself? I still feel like one day, someone’s gonna shake me awake and all of this will have been a dream.”

What is fame?: Awkwafina first made a splash with the viral YouTube earworm “My Vag,” and ever since, she’s been closely acquainted with the highly subjective nature of celebrity: “My whole time as Awkwafina, there was always a person there like, ‘Dude, you made it.’ And there would be another person like, ‘Dude, you’re gonna make it.’ And there’s another one like, ‘You’re famous!’ And this was when I had, like, 8,000 views on YouTube. So it’s all relative. If I’m famous, it’s only in a cluster of very exclusive Asian girls on the internet.”

Hustle vs. Art: Awkwafina enjoys acting and plans on riding the wave as long as she can, but music will always be home to her: “I’ll make music to the point where no one listens and everyone hates it, and then I’ll still do it. Even if hip-hop completely regurgitated me out and exiled me, I’d still do it, because that’s how I’ve been working since I was 16. Music will never fully go away for me. I don’t see it as a career. The movies are a career.”

She considers herself "one of the luckiest kids on the face of the earth"

Dani Okon, NYLON's associate creative director of video, sat down with her great-aunt, May Okon, to talk about their shared experiences—despite vastly different time frames—living as queer women in New York City. Prior to retirement, May was a journalist for the New York Daily News, having first entered the male-dominated workforce when "the boys were all at war." And, of course, she absolutely killed it. Her only regret? "Retiring at 55," she tells Dani, joking, "Who the hell knew I was gonna live to 100?"

Upon retiring, she moved out to the Hamptons with her partner and bought a home. If she had to do it all over, May says "there are a lot of things I wouldn't do," but she still considers herself "one of the luckiest kids on the face of the earth." Get to know May in the video, above.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

Rob Smith and Eddie Jarrel Jones
Lauren Morelli and Garcia
Marlene Colburn and Naima Green
Ashlee Marie Preston and Devan Diaz

Produced by: Alexandra Hsie
Camera: Gretta Wilson + Katie Sadler
Edited by: Madeline Stedman

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In the video above, get a sense of why Smith created a genderless store, and see how important it is for people like Jones to have a space where they don't feel criticized for dressing like they want.

Check out the other videos in our series where we placed queer people from different generations in conversation with one another:

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Produced by Alexandra Hsie
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