Awkwafina and Lori Tan Chinn in 'Nora From Queens'

INTERVIEW: Lori Tan Chinn and Teresa Hsiao on Season 2 of Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens

Lori Tan Chinn continues to kill it as World's Best Grandma.
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Finally, at long last, the Lady Slacker is having her moment. After decades of aimless stoner dudes populating the pop culture landscape, women are finally getting in on the fun. Series like Broad City, Fleabag, and This Way Up have introduced audiences to young millennial women who find themselves adrift, caught between who they’re expected to be and who they are.

And there’s no one that embodies this archetype quite like Awkwafina. The rapper-turned-actor, who has delivered scene-stealing performances in Ocean’s 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, stars in Comedy Central’s Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens, a family comedy based on Awkwafina’s own upbringing in Queens. The series sees Awkwafina as Nora, a weed-loving slacker who still lives at home with her father Wally (BD Wong) and her beloved Grandma (Lori Tan Chinn). Bowen Yang (SNL) also appears as Edmund, Nora’s ambitious tech entrepreneur cousin.

The quirky, often surreal series follows Nora’s attempts to move out of her family home, hold down a steady job, and find her way as an adult. With season two premiering this month, we sat down with Lori Tan Chinn (Orange is the New Black) and series co-creator and executive producer Teresa Hsiao to talk about what’s in store for the family in season 2 (this interview has been edited for length and clarity).

Teresa Hsiao, co-creator of 'Awkwafina is Nora From Queens'

(Teresa Hsiao, executive producer and co-creator of ‘Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens’. image: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Comedy Central)

THE MARY SUE: I love how the series plays with magical realism. How do you choose when to take those leaps and when to keep the story more grounded?

TERESA HSIAO: I think we sort of played around with that in season one, and realized that there are elements we want to lean into. For instance, the time travel episode in S2, it’s crazy and wild, but it’s still grounded in that idea of wondering, if you went back in time and had the opportunity to talk to your younger self, what would you say? Would you want to be able to change your life? And that was kind of the genesis of the idea and we thought that this way was kind of the best way in which we could tell that story and the lucky thing is, because the show is for the most part very real and very grounded, I think there are times where we can take those leaps and maybe make it a little more irreverent or wacky, but at the core is the family, and the love of the family.

TMS: Lori, your relationship with Nora is the emotional cornerstone of the series, and you two have such a strong connection. What was it like building that with Awkwafina/Nora?

LORI TAN CHINN: Yeah, she is of a younger generation and I am in between, older than BD Wong and younger than her own grandmothers. I was conceived in China, then 3 months on the boat to America, and then 3 months later I was born here. I like to think that I was 1.5 generations, because I do think a lot in Chinese although I don’t speak the language, very few words, but I grew up knowing the herbal things, and all the things her grandmother applied to her you know, … so she remembered those things that her grandmother used to make for her, so we just hit it off because maybe I do remind her of the older generation. And I’m kinky and I do naughty things, so she enjoys that!

TH: The great thing is, Lori is such a grandma to all of us, she’s amazing. Like when Nora/Awkwafina got sick on set last season, Lori came in and actually made her soup she brought from home, so we were like, ‘oh we gotta put that in the show now too’ so when Nora gets sick grandma makes her soup, so it’s very much inspired by real life.

TMS: Grandma has such youthful energy and she’s so pop culture savvy. Do you think that living with Nora keeps her young?

LTC: I’m young myself! I don’t need no granddaughter to keep me young! Senior citizens, we have a lot to offer yet. I don’t see myself as old, although sometimes I’ll take advantage of the senior discounts! That’s the only thing! Most of my friends around my age, we’re just as wild, we’re just as naughty, so it makes Nora blush every once in a while, you know? So we might be teaching her instead.

Lori Tan Chinn and Awkwafina in Nora From Queens

(Lori Tan Chinn and Awkwafina in ‘Nora From Queens’. image: Comedy Central)

TH: I agree with that! And your outfits are really on point Lori, from season one and two.

TMS: Lori, I understand you bring a lot of clothes from home that are used on the show, and you bring props as well to keep everything authentic.

TH: I think Lori makes it very easy for the costume designer because she brings in a ton of clothes and also our pro pmaster, she just brings stuff from her house and we’re like, great, we’re gonna use all of this.

LTC: The prop people you know, you can’t expect them to know what is ancient Chinese or whatever you know. Growing up in the house, the camera might pan and you see a little bottle of something, packets of something that we all grew up with, or that you’ve seen at your grandparent’s house. And with a bare kitchen, without those props its not authentic, so let’s sprinkle some things in. Even things like oranges: don’t have 4 oranges in a thing, have 3 or 8 oranges because 8 is a very lucky number. So you know, you incorporate those things. Don’t wear shoes in the house, you know? Rule number one! I to sprinkle a little traditional stuff and what the kids grew up with, what the grandchildren and Wally, my son grew up with.

TMS: So in the first episode of season 2, Nora is working at a CBD store where she shows a talent for sales. Do you think that this is her true passion or is she still figuring out what she wants to do with her life?

TH: She’s definitely still figuring it out, and part of the messaging of the show is, she’s a classic millennial. She just doesn’t know exactly what she wants to do yet, doesn’t even know what path it is that she wants to do, and that’s okay, so she’s kind of doing this job just to get by, but at least she has her family and they support her. But I think it is kind of classic millennial question of, you don’t have to have it all figured out right away, and that stuff doesn’t come so easily. You might have big dreams of moving out of your house, but that doesn’t just happen the next day. And I think she’s so relatable as a character just, you know, she’s figuring it out, she has grand ambitions, but she’s not necessarily acting on them or making them happen.

TMS: Where would you like to see Grandma go in the future? Do you have strong feelings about what you would like to see for your character?

LTC: Well you know, I’d like to dance, I’d like to choreograph something for my posse, the Grandmas. I have to mention, the 4 grandmas, they are actresses who have been in the business for over 10 years, 20 years, and I feel for them because we all have struggled. In an arena where maybe only one job was for us, and the older we get, only one job, so it hasn’t really grown for the seniors. I made a phone call to one of the actresses and I said, ‘I’m really sorry I wish there was more we could do,’ and she says ‘that’s fine. Of all the ca-ca we are asked to do at auditions, this is a pleasure.’ So that’s what made me feel very good, that they got to do something instead of just shuffling around in the background, which in their 20 year careers they have been forced to do background work. I’m happy that there’s something for them to do that’s fun. Not serious, fun!

Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens premieres its second season on August 18 on Comedy Central. You can watch season one on the Comedy Central app and on HBO Max.

(image: Comedy Central)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.