While growing up in Queens, N.Y., Awkwafina says she never knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.
“I really think a big source of my anxiety, which is one of the first things I ever remember feeling, is that I didn’t know,” she says on the latest episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s movie podcast. “I really didn’t know. I never really thought I was smart enough to be an astronaut or whatever kids usually [want to be]…I think I just wanted to be OK.”
But then she realized she was funny in the years following her mom’s death when she was four. “I really liked to make people laugh,” said Awkwafina, whose real name is Nora Lum. “It was just something that I loved doing. I was always the class clown. I was unembarrassable. I would do anything for a laugh.”
She first gained notice as a rapper when her music video for “My Vag” went viral in 2012. She has since appeared in “Ocean’s 8,” “Crazy Rich Asians” and, of course, “The Farewell.” If she receives an Oscar nomination for her work in the Lulu Wang dramedy, Awkwafina will become the first Asian-American nominated for a best actress Oscar. Her new series, “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens,” premieres Jan. 22 on Comedy Central and she’ll also appear in Marvel’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”
Awkwafina doesn’t take her success for granted. In fact, she’s still pinching herself. “I didn’t know what I was feeling and I started to feel it a little bit when I first got cast in ‘Ocean’s 8,’” she said. “Because of the scope of my career, I didn’t understand how that happened and I think with that comes, ‘Oh, my God — what am I doing here? Will I live up to what they expect of me?’ Things like that.
“And then I was talking with a friend who’s a standup comedian and she was like, ‘You’re describing imposter syndrome…It’s a thing. My therapist talks about it all the time.’”
Now, Awkwafina explained, “I’ve come to accept a degree of it. I think I’ll always have it.”
“I’ll always have imposter syndrome. I’ll always hate myself a little bit, maybe a little bit more every day,” she said with a laugh. “But I think a good amount of it is good to keep you on the ground, because you don’t want to just be like, ‘I’m winning!’”
And speaking of winning, what does she think about being a part of this year’s Oscar conversation? “I think at the end of the day that’s really awesome, but I think the validation is that it resonated. You know what I mean? Not just my performance, but the movie and I think that’s cool.”
Find out what Awkwafina had to say about Margaret Cho, Bowen Yang and “A League of Their Own” by listening to the entire interview below. You can also find “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.