Constance Wu is one of Hollywood’s most in-demand leading actresses. You may have seen her in the hit TV show “Fresh Off the Boat,” in the wildly successful movie Crazy Rich Asians, or starring alongside Jennifer Lopez in the recent release Hustlers. In addition to acting, Wu has been named to Time’s 100 most influential people list for her work as an activist. Sitting down with Arianna Huffington for the Thrive Global Podcast, Wu shares how spirituality — and questioning the idea of spirituality — has shaped her beliefs, how she’s grown as an actor, and why we need to change the way we talk to young girls.
Early on in her life, Wu says she sought out ways to learn and grow in her spirituality — including spending a summer in a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. “I was in drama school, getting my B.F.A. I was going through one of those phases where you’re reading Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, or David Foster Wallace. I just thought that I wanted to go to the woods to live my life deliberately,” she explains to Huffington. “I had this whole fantasy of having that type of communication with life that didn’t have all the noise around it. A good friend of mine told me about a program that they were launching through BLIA, which is Buddhist Light International Association, where they were going to sponsor Western kids to live a monastic life for a summer at a mountain-top monastery in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. So I applied to it.”
When Huffington asks Wu how that summer changed her, her reaction isn’t what you might expect. “When people find out that I lived in a Buddhist monastery, they suddenly have this mystical look in their eyes, like, ‘Oh my God, that must have been so incredible, so life-changing.’ But… it’s just a romanticization.”
Now, Wu says her beliefs are constantly evolving, as is her practice of self-care. “I’m actually not that great at managing stress, but functionally, I’ve gotten better at it,” she tells Huffington. “I learned that if I want to conserve my energy to last through a 12-hour day, and give as good of a performance on my very last take of the day, then I need to conserve my energy. I need to be a little quiet. I need to take time for that. I realized I needed to eat better. I needed to make sure that I got to go running at least once a week. That was something that was new, because I had always just been a waitress and had that kind of schedule. So now I’m learning the functionality of how to physically have the stamina.”
Recently, Wu came under fire for her comments about the renewal of her show, Fresh Off the Boat. She tells Huffington that, as is often the case, social media doesn’t tell the entire story. “I was actually very glad Fresh Off the Boat was renewed, but I was really upset that I had to give up another job that I had been looking forward to, and had been chasing for a while,” Wu tells Huffington. “Everybody told me that it was going to be canceled, and so, I guess, the little kid in me came out. I felt like somebody had lied to me, and I felt like I had to give up this thing that I had been promised.” She explains that she behaved in a way that was not representative of her last six years of the show. “But suddenly, the perception of the possibility of a woman’s ingratitude became the conversation around me, when there are so many more important conversations to have that are actually more representative of who I am as a person,” she says.
Through it all, though, Wu has never doubted that acting was the right path for her. She speaks candidly with Huffington about the challenging beginning stages of her career. “I was really broke at the time, and I asked myself, ‘Are you okay doing this for the rest of your life?’ I realized it doesn’t matter if I never make any money doing it,” she recalls. “There are plenty of people in this world whose source of income doesn’t come from their passion. But they still pursue another passion. Why is it specifically in acting that one thinks that it’s failure if you don’t strike it rich? Making the choice is already a success.”
Still, no matter how much success she achieves, Wu continues striving to learn and grow. Lately she’s been focused on self-talk — trying to change how young women speak to themselves. “I feel like every single generation thinks they’ve got it right, but what they’re doing is just a reaction to the previous one. I would like us, for girls, to just not even talk about looks, but talk about actions and behaviors,” she explains. “When you meet a little girl today, don’t be like, ‘Oh, you’re so pretty.’ There are just so many other adjectives: talented, funny, caring, brave, smart, or inspiring. But if we pound into young girls’ heads from early on that the first compliment they’re going to get is, ‘Aren’t you a beautiful little girl,’ they inherently are going to think that that’s the first assessment and that’s where my value is.” If we shift the conversation, we can make a huge impact, Wu tells Huffington. “One thing is for certain: As we age, looks change, and if we are defined by our looks, it’s pretty miserable.”
Check out the rest of The Thrive Global Podcasts, sponsored by Crest 3D White and in partnership with iHeartRadio, here. To find out more, listen to the full conversation on iHeartRadio, here. You can also listen to the Thrive Global podcast internationally for free on iTunes.