She may not be a household name (yet) like her Ocean’s Eight costars Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson and Rihanna. But Awkwafina — born Nora Lum — carved out her own place to earn a spot among the elite eight.
Here are a few things you should know about the 28-year-old New York native before the girl power heist comedy comes out June 8, 2018.
1. She Started Out as a Rapper — Kind of!
Awkwafina began playing the trumpet when she was 11 and later studied classical and jazz music while attending New York’s LaGuardia High School. But it was her time at State University of New York Albany (SUNY) that most shaped her career. She turned her “awkward” personality into her moniker and began writing songs on Garage Band. A year after she graduated with a journalism degree, her comedy rap track “My Vag” became a viral sensation. She went on to release a solo album in February 2014 called Yellow Ranger. But she’s careful not to box herself into any one category: “You can’t really label me as a musician, a comedian or a rapper — you know, it’s different. I think the people get that I’m just kind of an anomaly in a certain way,” she told NBC News.
2. She Comes From a Line of Restaurateurs
The Forest Hills, Queens, native’s great-grandfather was a Chinese immigrant in the 1940s and opened the Cantonese restaurant Lum’s in the borough’s Flushing neighborhood. Her grandmother also ran a restaurant in Port Jefferson, New York. But those genes weren’t passed down to her. Her mother — who was a painter from South Korea — died when Awkwafina was 4, so she says her grandma spoiled her. “She overcoddled me — she never let me do the dishes.” But in 2014, she celebrated a big rite of passage in the kitchen. “I recently celebrated learning how to cook a chicken breast in a pan,” she told Mochi Magazine. “I feel like I’m invincible now.”
3. She Wrote a Travel Book
Even though she’s just learning her way around the kitchen, she definitely knows her way around New York City, and she pays it forward in a 2015 travel guide highlighting the “hidden gems” of the city. Awkwafina’s NYC (Amazon, $12.99) features typical tour-book fare, like walking tour adventures and foldout maps, but also includes essential tips, like “10 Places to Pee,” and a “Practical Guide to Underground Etiquette.”
4. She Was on MTV’s Girl Code and Has Her Own Tawk Show
Telling it like it is! Awkwafina’s frank and honest lyrics scored her a role on MTV’s Girl Code starting in season 3. She also has a talk show on Verizon’s Go90 video service called Tawk, which she calls a “ratchet talk show.” Among the stars she’s interviewed: Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson, actor Josh Peck and YouTube star Lilly Singh.
5. She’s Partied With Zac Efron
The performer made her movie acting debut alongside Zac Efron in the 2016 comedy Neighbors 2, in which she played sorority girl Christine. When the trailer came out, she marveled on Facebook: “Can’t believe I was in this goddamn movie.” Later, on the red carpet of the sequel, she told Screen Slam: “The first one was great, but this one is definitely coming back with a vengeance to see girls do their thing. Not just girls, but real girls — stoners, misfits, wallflowers. That’s what it’s about, a celebration of that.”
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