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Awkwafina Returns to Queens, and Nora Lum

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On the set of a new Comedy Central series in September, on a stage built to look like the cluttered bedroom of a young woman figuring out the next steps of her life, the show’s star and creator took a break from filming to introduce herself to visitors. “Hi, I’m Nora,” she said.

To the wider world, Nora Lum is better known as Awkwafina, the one-time viral video creator and rap M.C. turned breakout star of hit films like “Crazy Rich Asians,” “Ocean’s 8” and “Jumanji: The Next Level.”

At the start of January, this 31-year-old performer became the first Asian-American to win best actress at the Golden Globes. She received the award for her lead role in “The Farewell,” the writer-director Lulu Wang’s comedy-drama about a woman (Awkwafina) who travels to China for a gathering with her beloved grandmother (Zhao Shuzhen), whose family has vowed not to tell her that she is dying of cancer.

Despite the expectations of some forecasters, she was not nominated for an Oscar this week, but her other accomplishments would seem to be enough for an actress whose first film role (in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”) was in 2016. Still, Awkwafina has one more project on the way — namely, that TV show.

The development deal that led to “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens” was announced several years ago. Did the show change during that time?

The pilot changed a lot but there was always this one thread: Nora is where a lot of us find ourselves in our 20s. What’s next? Do you find success and suddenly it fixes everything? No, life is an open-ended question. That gave it room to grow into something that we didn’t imagine at that time. Also, when I first walked into that room I had never acted. I had just gotten cast in “Neighbors [2]” and I was on “Girl Code” but I was never in a movie. It was a gamble on their part.

Have you been secretly training as an actor on the side?

I wish the answer was yes, because I should. Something about my career in the past couple years that is very exciting but also that scares the [expletive] out of me is how fast it seems to have gone with the acting. I remember a period where it was always a question in directors’ minds: “I have not seen her in anything. Why would I hire her?” I have no idea how it’s quite ended up at this point.

Part of being an M.C. is carrying yourself with a certain amount of bravado. Was that a kind of acting?

In the beginning of my music career I was playing shows alone all over the country, venues where no one knew who I was and you’re just heckled to the 15th degree. I had to deal with, literally, tomatoes being thrown. Where do you even get tomatoes? What’s open at midnight that has tomatoes? Out of that you develop a tough skin. You’re not scared to go out there. That helped a lot for sure.

I definitely see that and it was something that I asked myself. Is my trajectory supposed to go like this? Then I realized that my trajectory doesn’t make any sense. I have no idea if this is literally going to end tomorrow. I’m definitely prepared for end times. I want to do this sitcom for that reason. It was something that was on the radar and that I wanted to finish. It was also like my second project as the lead and one of my first forays into executive producing. So it was learning all those duties. It was forming this amazing group of people and feeling togetherness with them. Those things were really special and I never had the ability to do them before.

If the show is picked up for further seasons, can you see yourself maintaining that same enthusiasm for it? Or is it going to be like, “I’m reading the script for ‘Crazy Rich Asians 3’ in my trailer. Come get me when you need me”?

I’m a firm believer in letting things run their natural course. We’re right on the precipice. I want to see how it does, how people like it. I hope the best for it. I hope it’ll run a nice course. It’s a been long time coming.

Could you foresee a time where you don’t use the stage name Awkwafina anymore and you’re just Nora Lum?

I don’t see it right now. That’s not to say that it’s not a possibility. I created Awkwafina when I was a kid. What she represents to me is more than a persona — in the very beginning, I did see her as the confident one, the side that comes out that gives Nora the panic attacks. The “Drop Dead Fred.” But as I’ve grown older I’ve come to really be grateful for that name and what I’ve seen it written on. To see her name on a chair back or on a call sheet, that means a lot to me. I don’t think that I could shed her right now.



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‘Saturday Night Live’ Spoofs Trump’s Impeachment Trial

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It’s been almost 22 years since “Saturday Night Live” last found itself satirizing a presidential impeachment proceeding, but as the show turned its attention to President Trump’s trial in the Senate, it quickly reverted to its tried-and-true formula: a smidgen of factual detail, a dollop of celebrity cameos and a whole bunch of cultural references that may or may not be germane to the topic.

This weekend’s broadcast, hosted by Adam Driver and featuring the musical guest Halsey, began with a sketch set on Capitol Hill, where Susan Collins (played by Cecily Strong) and Mitch McConnell (Beck Bennett) reflected on the trial to date.

“We all know this impeachment proceeding is a sham and a hoax,” Bennett said. “Republicans are simply requesting a fair trial — no witnesses, no evidence. That way we can acquit President Trump and focus on the real criminals in this country: teenagers who try marijuana.”

Strong said, “The evidence against Trump is pretty damning so I’m still on the fence,” then made an exaggerated wink.

Jost:

The impeachment trial started this week, and am I crazy or was Adam Schiff on my TV for 100 hours straight? Even when I turned the TV off, there was still an outline of him burned into the screen. What happened was, Democrats spent three days laying out in great detail how they believe President Trump has been the most egregious abuser of power in American history. And then Republicans laid out their defense, the shrug emoji. Mitch McConnell, seen here calmly watching an orphanage burn, defended his plan for the trial, saying, “The country is waiting to see if we can rise to the occasion.” I would maybe say you’re not rising to the occasion, considering one senator fell asleep, Rand Paul was doing a crossword puzzle and some Republican senators even brought fidget spinners to play with. I assume this symbolized how the Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves.

Che:

You’re better than me, Colin. I didn’t watch one minute of that trial. It was like a four-day long PowerPoint. This is supposed to be Trump’s punishment, not mine. This whole impeachment is like a bad episode of “Maury.” There’s all this evidence that Trump clearly cheated and Republicans are still like, “But Maury, he loves me.” Trump is so confident he’s going to win, he’s using Jeffrey Epstein’s lawyer to represent him. Talk about credibility — who’s his character witness, R. Kelly?

Melissa Villaseñor appeared as herself in a segment where she sang a series of songs about this year’s crop of Academy Award nominees. Each tune was set to the same bouncy bossa nova beat, like this catchy ditty about “The Irishman”:

This movie has a lot to offer

Al Pacino as Jimmy Hoffa

Gangster life gets kinda messy

Robert De Niro and lil’ Joe Pesci

It’s three hours long

They’re old and they’re young

And it’s white male rage

White male rage

White male rage

If you listen to Villaseñor’s other songs, which also address “Joker,” “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” “1917” and Greta Gerwig’s snub for directing “Little Women,” we think you’ll see a pattern emerge! (Hint: It’s white male rage.)

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Directors Guild Picks Sam Mendes, Handing ‘1917’ Another Big Win

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The Oscars won’t be held for another two weeks, but it looks increasingly likely that “1917” has won the war for best picture.

The World War I drama picked up yet another major prize Saturday night in Los Angeles when the Directors Guild of America gave Sam Mendes its top prize for direction of a feature film. Shot and stitched together to appear as though it were filmed in just two long takes, the technically audacious “1917” has come on strong this month, also claiming top honors from the Producers Guild of America as well as the drama and director trophies at the Golden Globes.

Mendes faced strong competition for the DGA Award, edging out Quentin Tarantino (“Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood”), Martin Scorsese (“The Irishman”), Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”) and Bong Joon Ho (“Parasite”).

Do any of those films still stand a chance against “1917” at the Academy Awards? Yes, though it’s a slim one. Only twice over the last decade has a film won the best-picture Oscar without first taking either the DGA or PGA prizes: In 2015, when the Oscars favored “Spotlight” over the DGA winner “The Revenant” and PGA winner “The Big Short,” and in 2016, when “La La Land” won both major guild prizes but still fell to “Moonlight” at the Oscars.

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What’s on TV Sunday: ‘The L Word: Generation Q’ and the Grammys

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THE L WORD: GENERATION Q 10 p.m. on Showtime. This reboot of the “The L Word,” the pioneering series about lesbian life in Los Angeles, wraps up its first season. The mayoral candidate Bette (Jennifer Beals) is on the edge of her seat, waiting for the results on election night. While Shane (Katherine Moennig) and Quiara (Lex Scott Davis) face another bump in the road, Alice (Leisha Hailey) takes a risk with her show after a devastating drop in ratings. In her review for The New York Times, Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote that while “The L Word” “now better reflects Los Angeles’s ethnic and gender diversity,” it still needs some fine tuning. The original series “always stood on shaky, uncritical ground when it came to money and class, and ‘Generation Q’ offers little progress in that regard.” Fans who welcomed this sequel can breathe a sigh of relief: Showtime recently renewed it for a second season.

THE 62ND ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS 8 p.m. on CBS. A dark cloud hangs over Sunday night’s ceremony: Deborah Dugan, the suspended chief executive of the Recording Academy, was recently placed on leave over accusations of bullying behavior and a request for a multimillion-dollar payout. Dugan has denied the charges and responded with her own allegations, saying the academy was punishing her for unveiling misconduct. As the intense showdown plays out behind-the-scenes, several of this year’s nominees will take the stage for performances. Among them are Lizzo (with eight nominations), Billie Eilish (six) and Lil Nas X (also six).

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