Published in 2013 and becoming an international bestseller, Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians was optioned by Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson, with Kwan on board as an Executive Producer. Inspiring a bidding war between the studios, the winner was ultimately Warner Bros., which is currently reaping the rewards of its success. Since the original, Kwan has written two more books in the same universe, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems, which will inevitably be made into movies. We spoke with Kwan at the junket for Crazy Rich Asians, before the film went gangbusters around the world.
You have mentioned that you were in a dark space when writing the book…
My father had just died. He had a horrendous battle with cancer for 16 months, but it was a very special time I got to spend with him. I was able to talk about my childhood, our family, and I got a lot of ideas rumbling around in my head, and so after he passed, I started writing.
This was my first attempt at a novel. I’d written non-fiction before and I’ve done journalistic pieces but never a 500 page novel. I think my dad is proud, I think he’s in some way been involved in spreading the joy and all of the amazing things that have happened. I never imagined it would even be published, so I think that it took some work from another realm to get it to where we are today.
You have spoken about not wanting to be involved in the script writing process. How were you able to let you baby get away?
I wanted to be pragmatic first of all. I’m a huge fan of film and it inspires my work. And I know that a book and a film are two completely different things; they have to be. I would do the film a disservice if I inserted myself and insisted that we do a scene by scene recreation of the book. I just felt that it would be a much better movie, and more interesting for me, if we let a group of brilliant people, starting with the screenwriter, and then the director and then all of these actors to interpret the book and bring some freshness to it. I feel that the book and the film are companion pieces. The movie has the DNA of the book but it’s not the book, and I’m fine with that.
Were you born and raised in Singapore?
Yes. My whole family immigrated when I was 11 years old to Houston. At the time, I had no choice, I had to go where my parents told me to go. I’ve lived in New York 22 years now. I still know the people in the book. Once a Singaporean, always a Singaporean. You can’t get away from them…
Does Singapore feel foreign to you if you go back?
Sure. It’s a different country to the country I left 30 something years ago. It was interesting to write the book and to tell a story about a place through a foreigner’s eyes. Which in a way Rachel does. I’m not pretending to be an expert about Singapore at all. I know a certain group of people that I can create characters out of, I know certain places, but this was not meant to be a perfect facsimile of what Singapore is. There are many Singapores and as a writer you make it your own.
But you must have been as some of those extravagant parties?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I always say, I have no imagination, I’m really just an observer. Everything in the book, places, people, I have seen through my own very eyes. I have to breathe the air in the room to be able to write about it.
Were you there every day of the filming?
I wasn’t, I was only there for 2 weeks. I was really intentional in visiting far into the production first of all. I came in for a little visit and I left. I also had to start my own book tour. The last thing these actors or even the director needs is for the author to be there breathing down their necks. I waited until I was invited, until Jon [M. Chu, director] felt comfortable enough and had control of everything. So, I hung out for a couple of weeks and I left. I really had a respect for what they were trying to do, and I didn’t want to get in the way. I think it does put pressure on the actors to have the author there. You’re like a parent or a school principal watching. I wanted them to be themselves.
Crazy Rich Asians is in cinemas now.