Constance Wu on Healing From Trauma and Embracing Her EmotionsThe ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ star opens up about her new book, ‘Making a Scene.’
[Heads up: This article deals with suicide in case you want to skip it.]
In 2019, Constance Wu was riding the success of Crazy Rich Asians, looking toward her next box-office hit, Hustlers, and the longtime actor was primed for more. But when Fresh Off The Boat, a show she had starred in since 2015, was renewed, she was crushed.
“So upset right now that I’m literally crying. Ugh. Fuck,” she tweeted after learning of Fresh Off the Boat’s Season 6 renewal. Her reaction also included commenting (and deleting) “dislike” on the show’s Instagram page. It didn’t take long for Twitter users and fellow actors to try and put her in her place and accuse her of being ungrateful, inconsiderate of other actors and crew members, and sullying what the show meant for Asian American actors and fans.
Wu soon apologized, saying she was “temporarily upset” because it meant she could no longer take on another project she was passionate about, and she added that she’s proud of the show and sorry to those she hurt. But the backlash escalated to the point where Wu says another Asian actor sent her a series of DMs, berating her for her tweets. “It almost felt like I had to, in order for it to be enough suffering to satisfy her requirement for my penance, I had to die,” Wu tells Wondermind.
Wu stepped back from the spotlight, only returning to Twitter in July 2022 with an open letter revealing she almost died by suicide following the backlash and had spent the last couple of years focusing on her mental health. She also announced her memoir, Making a Scene. Described as raw and relatable, Making a Scene also details allegations of sexual harassment by a member of the Fresh Off the Boat production team who she describes as controlling and demanding.
This collection of essays isn’t all about Fresh Off The Boat or the aftermath, though. In fact, that was the very last one she wrote—and it almost didn’t make it in. But what started out as a writing exercise turned into something that helped her forgive herself and ultimately share with readers.
Below, Wu talks about the childhood moment that has stuck with her, why her book looks at more than her tweets, and working on embracing her emotions.
WM: How are you doing lately?
Constance Wu: Lately, I'm doing really good. It's an interesting time because my daughter just turned 2 a little bit ago, and she's starting pre-school and potty training. It's both difficult and wonderful at the same time.
WM: How does it feel to be back on social media and in the public eye now?
CW: It took, I think, maybe six months of therapy and thought to even broach the idea of going back on. I think the thing that finally made me change my mind was I decided that the message I was going to share was worth more to me than my fear of being back on social media.
I still have a fear and a traumatic reaction to it, and I still am trying to avoid it for the most part. But the message that I wanted to send and talk about with my book has a lot to do with social media. … The people I'm trying to reach and help might not ever read my book, but they might come across something I post on social media. And when they're in their darkest hour and feeling very much alone, it could save a life. It could really help someone. So I'm still definitely quite scared of it, and I'm not excited or glad to be back on, but it matters more to me than I'm afraid of it.
I made that decision, and I honestly spent months writing that statement where I returned to social media and preparing for it because I talk about my suicide attempts—and I didn't talk about that with anyone before. My family didn't even know 'cause I was embarrassed. I was ashamed of it, you know? It's also not the kind of thing you bring up over coffee, so I knew that I needed to let them know so that my family didn't find out via Twitter or whatever. It was a lot of preparation and a lot of deliberate thought that went into it.
WM: It might surprise some people that Fresh Off the Boat and your suicide attempt is not the primary focus of Making a Scene. You go through your whole life and detail different experiences that shaped you. What made you choose to go that route?
CW: As I'm doing interviews for the book, everybody wants to talk about Fresh Off the Boat and tweets and a lot of reviewers seem to say that's what my book's about. “It's about being Asian American, and it's about the drama that went on when Fresh Off the Boat was canceled or when it was renewed.” Actually, that's a very small part of the book. That essay was the last one I wrote, and I didn't even intend to put it in the book. My editor encouraged me to write it. And I was like, “You know what? I don't wanna talk about this. I'm too embarrassed. It's too hard.” You know? And I got through the sexual harassment and all the intimidation that I encountered my first two years of making that show and I got through it quietly and I was silent and I managed and I'm proud of myself and I wanna put that chapter behind me. So I'm not gonna write about it. Then, finally, I was like, “OK, I'll write about it as an exercise for myself.” As I was doing that, it actually helped me forgive myself for a lot of things. So then I finally decided to include it.
But the real approach of the book was actually a bit more plain. I know there are actor memoirs that are full of extraordinary stories—especially Asian actors—of overcoming the odds 'cause Asians aren't typically encouraged to pursue performing arts. But my story is not that story, and it's not extraordinary. I think it's a pretty normal story. I think that is what we need in terms of social media and the people we think of as our representatives. We need people who aren't the greatest heroes who overcame the greatest odds, which are great to have, but it's also good to find normal people who have normal problems: heartbreak, bullying in school, feeling self-conscious because [of your body], dealing with your first job, your first breakup.
These are the kinds of things that I wanted to write about, which I thought were universal and some might think are not worthy of story. My goal was to say that your story doesn't need to be some huge story to be worthy of having a voice. That's why a lot of my stories are more plain. It's about having a little sister and the way your relationship with your sibling changes over time. And what's beautiful about it is that it has continued to change my relationship with my little sister. That's why a lot of the essays don't really have a tidy ending 'cause we're ever-evolving.
WM: What's something you learned about healing through this process of writing the book and over time?
CW: In the chapter where I talked about my teacher who accused me of plagiarism in eighth grade, that's a trauma that is objectively not as bad as other things I've gone through, but it's the one that has stuck with me. I learned that even though I talked about it a lot in therapy, which was cathartic, I thought I understood it. But writing it down, putting words on a piece of paper or on a screen, was so helpful for me getting over the pain of it and understanding how it helped me rather than just dwelling on the trauma of it.
When you have a physical trauma, you have a wound to show for it. You bleed, and then you get to see the wound heal over, whether it's a cut or a bruise or a scar or whatever. It almost feels like it's a witness to this event that happened to you. But with emotional pain, you don't have a wound to show for it. In an interesting way, I felt like writing down that event was almost like proof that it happened to me the way a scar is proof that a physical event happened to you. Physical proof or words on a page helped me finally be able to start healing that wound, making it a physical thing that you're able to see. I encourage anybody who's going through something, even if it's only for yourself, just to write it down as if it's a story.
WM: Your book also talks a lot about shame, embarrassment, and feeling like you're a bad person for various reasons. What's something that's helped you unlearn all those messages that you've internalized over the years?
CW: Honestly, there's a book by Brene Brown called The Gifts of Imperfection. The whole mantra of it was like, you're worthy now, not when you lose 10 pounds, not when you finally get that job, not when you're finally out of debt. I used to feel ashamed of who I was and thought that I would only be worthy once I achieved these certain goals. [It] honestly felt like putting your life on hold, [like] you're waiting for your life to begin rather than feeling like, No. Your life is right now. I think focusing on the present is what helps me get through feelings of shame rather than this past idea of yourself or this future idea of yourself. As you are is fine. Showing up as you are is great, even.
WM: Your book also covers feeling lonely and wanting to fit in. Is that loneliness something that you're still working on today?
CW: I think that's something that I've dealt with in that it's not about fitting in everywhere you go. It's about finding the people who your natural self fits in with. That could be something as simple as, gosh, you read the same books, you have the same political views, you like the same activities. For me, theater kids are sort of who I always fit in with.
Then the loneliness aspect, I think I talked about that more in my chapter on the Buddhist monastery, how I thought I was trying to be super special and arty when really maybe I was seeking a community rather than seeking to individualize myself from the community. That's sort of an open-ended essay too, because I think that's a continuing dialogue I'm having with myself. I don't often feel lonely. I can't remember the last time I felt lonely. The last time I actually felt lonely was probably when I tried to kill myself. So in that sense, I do feel really proud of myself in that I have a community of very close, long-term friendships where I feel seen and where I see my friends for who they are. That's how I get through it: friendships.
WM: Are you working toward any mental health goals right now?
CW: I've spent a lot of my life trying to repress my very emotional and bold nature. Like my book says, [what] causes people to make scenes is repression. You know, when the reaction is larger in proportion to the stimulus that triggered it, that means energy has been repressed [and is] finally being released.
I've gotten to the point where I've recognized that I cannot repress my emotions, 'cause you can't just will your emotions away just 'cause you want them to be gone. They'll inevitably come out somewhere. I've gotten to the point where I can allow my emotions [to exist] and recognize that I need to allow them [to exist] because if I don't, they'll come out in ugly ways other places [laughs], so better to just have them and be yourself.
So I've got to the acceptance part of that, but I haven't gotten to the part where it's something that I love about myself [or] something that I value about myself. That's like, oh, not only is this something that you can tolerate, but this is a gift for you. This is one of your strengths, 'cause people don't often equate emotionality with strength. But in a way, it could be. I know that intellectually, but it's not something that's entirely sunk in for me, like deep in my gut yet. I think my next goal is rather than merely tolerating it, embracing it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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