Arts & Culture

Filipino-American Nico Santos Is the Funniest Actor in Crazy Rich Asians

Scene stealing is no easy feat in a movie like this and Santos, who plays Oliver, does just that.
IMAGE SANJA BUCKO / WARNER BROS. PICTURES
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In the world of Crazy Rich Asians, Oliver T'sien isn’t among the most extravagantly affluent characters, but he still manages to be one of the most exciting in the film, which opens August 22. That could be because Oliver, a cousin of the legendary and loaded Young family, finds himself at the center of some of the film’s most dramatic moments (and there are plenty), but it also has something to do with the humor and heart brought to the character by actor Nico Santos.

For anyone who hasn’t read the bestselling novel (or either of its two hit sequels), the story follows a young couple—Nick Young (Henry Golding) and Rachel Chu (Constance Wu)—who travel from the United States to Singapore, where it’s revealed that his family is among the most important and affluent in the country. Rachel then attempts to win them over, despite having none of their power or resources herself.


Henry Golding, Constance Wu, and Nico Santos in Crazy Rich Asians

Here, Santos (who you know from his role on the comedy series Superstore) explains what drew him to Oliver, what happened off-camera, and how some of the story’s high-rolling habits might have rubbed off on him.

Were you a fan of the Crazy Rich Asians books before you landed the part?

I had a friend who had a meeting with the director, and after the meeting she asked if I had read the book. I had not, but there was a part in the movie, Oliver, that she thought I’d be perfect for. So, I bought a copy of the book and read it, and when it got to the page where it described Oliver, I was like, “Oh, my God, I need to play this part.”

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And how did that end up happening?

I bugged my agents to get me an audition, and they weren’t sure they could—but finally they did. So, when they called me for the audition, I was like, great, I’ve been waiting for this for months, but could you hold off a week because I’m going into surgery tomorrow? I was having eye surgery that week, so when I did walk in to try out for the part a week later, I had to take off my eye patch. Finally, I got a phone call saying, “we hope your passport’s in order, because you’re going to Malaysia.”


Awkwafina, Nico Santos, and Constance Wu

Kevin Kwan, who wrote the novel the movie is based on, was inspired in part by his actual family. How much about this world did you know going into the film?

I was born in the Philippines, so I wasn’t familiar with any of the other famous Asian dynasties but I knew similar things from the Philippines. There were families like this in Manilla, and I figured it was a similar thing.

This is an entirely different level of wealth. It’s not like “I can go shopping at Whole Foods every week.” It’s like “I can buy Whole Foods.”

These aren’t normal rich people, they’re members of huge and powerful dynasties. What sort of things had to happen over the course of the film to differentiate them from the sorts of families we might have seen before?

It hit me when we finally filmed a scene at [the estate] Tyersall Park, where we staged a party. I was like, oh, this is an entirely different level of wealth. It’s not like “I can go shopping at Whole Foods every week,” it’s like “I can buy Whole Foods.”

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Your character has the good luck of being part of all the big family scenes—he’s involved in all of the drama—was there one that was most exciting to film?

Having scenes with Michelle Yeoh [who plays matriarch Eleanor Young.] I love her so much, so any time I got to work with her was amazing. She was so wonderful and gracious, and could tell I was anxious. A few times she’d whisper to me, “relax, it’s fine,” but I was like, “it’s you making me nervous!”


Nico Santos and Michelle Yeoh in Crazy Rich Asians

Were your characters any guide for how you and your co-stars spent your downtime in Singapore?

At the end of each day filming, we went out for dim sum and karaoke, so there were a lot of opportunities to unplug. In Singapore, we went on a night safari in their zoo. But it’s a small place, so really you can see a lot in three or four days. There was a lot of eating and a lot of shopping; I feel like there are more Louis Vuitton stores there than anywhere else

What’s the most on-character thing you bought?

Valentino sneakers.

This movie is making waves for being a widely released romantic comedy with Asian stars. What are your hopes for it?

I hope this movie does really well, I want everyone to see it. It’s a fantastic, fun movie—and you don’t always get to see people of color in these situations. But I also hope it’s just the first of movies like that starring Asian people. There should be 100 of these already.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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Adam Rathe
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