Curtain Call

Constance Wu Brings Her “Big Feelings” To Little Shop Of Horrors

The actor chats through life backstage, whether she’s pumping at intermission or downing Emergen-C.

When Constance Wu signs on to our Zoom call on a Monday afternoon, she’s joined by a smiling guest. Nestled on her lap in a white onesie is her 6-month-old son. The duo — along with Wu’s boyfriend, Ryan Kattner, and their 2-year-old daughter — have relocated to New York from Los Angeles this season as Wu performs in the Off-Broadway run of Little Shop of Horrors.

“It’s really funny, but also really tragic and beautiful,” says the actor, who starred in Crazy Rich Asians and Hustlers. “The themes about corporate greed and the American dream are so perfectly baked into the shell, without being forced down your throat. Also, I love a puppet.”

And puppet there is: The story follows Audrey and Seymour, who care for a blood-hungry plant that grows bigger and scarier in every scene. (In hindsight, she’s not sure the plot’s kid-proof: “Are you kidding me? It’s frightening.”)

She plays Audrey opposite High School Musical alumnus Corbin Bleu as Seymour (but no, she’s never seen the Disney movie). And while she’s performed in New York and Los Angeles stage productions before, it’s been a while since she warmed up her vocal pipes. “It was like going to the gym again after 10 years,” she says.

Playing Audrey reminds her of her childhood in Richmond, Virginia, when she “had to be very scrappy to survive,” she says. “There’s a reason you've never seen me at a fashion show. I don’t feel excited by fancy things. I feel excited by watching my kids try a strawberry for the first time. And I think my whole journey in Hollywood has been about coming back to myself and recognizing that’s who I am.”

Below, she gets candid about her intermission routine, keeping sore throats at bay, and why she loves the theater.

On her dressing room staples:

I keep a vocal steamer. It’s a handheld steam device to steam your vocal cords, because it’s a very vocally rigorous show. And I’ve probably eaten my weight in Ricolas. I have oregano oil, because that’s really good at preventing you from becoming sick. It’s so gross. But I swear to God, my whole family’s sick right now, and I felt like I was getting the tickle in my throat the other day. I immediately took it and had an Emergen-C vitamin C drink, and I’ve been fine.

On big-time New York energy:

I share a dressing room with all the girls, and we’re always listening to different things, whether it's pop music or other musical theater shows. I really like singing with them. In LA, when I do stuff like that, people roll their eyes at me. But here, they sing along. I’m into that.

On her intermission reality:

I pump. Truly. I’ve never had to do that before because I’ve never had a breastfeeding baby while I’ve been doing a show. And you do all the things other people do during intermission. You change costumes. You hydrate. You go to the bathroom. But mostly it’s just pumping now.

On dealing with mid-show interruptions:

That’s the best part of theater. You just go with it. In 2:22 A Ghost Story, there was one performance where, spoiler alert, I tell my husband that I want a divorce. When I say that, somebody in the audience goes, “Aw, man!” Everybody started laughing, and then I broke the fourth wall and looked at the audience for a second. The whole audience just roared, because it was a moment we were sharing together.

On why she loves the theater:

I’ve always been a person with really big feelings. Sometimes in America, there’s a culture of worshiping “cool,” which is the opposite of big feelings. I ain’t never been cool, honey. That’s why I am a theater nerd, because big feelings and the things that make you unique are celebrated [there].

Where I grew up — in Richmond, Virginia, back in the ’90s — all the gay people did theater because that was a community in which being gay wasn’t anything to be ashamed of. Same thing with being Asian. That was something that made me cool and interesting in the theater community. It wasn’t [that way] in school, it wasn’t in Hollywood, but in the theater community, it was celebrated.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.