Awkwafina and Sandra Oh’s ‘Quiz Lady’ Was Never Meant to Have an R Rating

Awkwafina and Sandra Oh’s ‘Quiz Lady’ Was Never Meant to Have an R Rating

After Jen D’Angelo’s first feature (a script she describes as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead meets Titanic) made The Black List, she received industry attention but quickly realized the endeavor would be obscenely expensive — and a rights nightmare. She instead decided to write a film inspired by her brother, a longtime Jeopardy! whiz who has never made it on the show. From there, Quiz Lady — a sweet, slapstick story about two polar-opposite sisters looking to pay off their mother’s debts by scoring a spot on a game show — was born. D’Angelo details the casting and real-life dynamics of Sandra Oh and Awkwafina, as well as the movie’s R rating.

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Did you write this with Awkwafina and Sandra Oh in mind?

I wrote it with the understanding that it would be difficult to get made if I didn’t have incredible actors at the center. When I finished the draft, my manager thought of Awkwafina, who is also a client of hers. She immediately wanted to sign on and then mentioned that she and Sandra had always wanted to do something together. This pairing feels like a miracle. 

How did their casting help inform the final version of the movie?

They really wanted to make it feel authentically and specifically Asian American — especially in regard to the family dynamics. We talked a lot about battling the model minority myth, what that has done to the characters, and how they’ve internalized shame. The changes they made helped everything in the movie feel much more real and brought their performances to life.

They’re playing against type, with Awkwafina as the serious, responsible sister and Sandra as the wild sister, but do you see any similarities between the actors and their characters?

Their relationship in real life does feel very sister-y. Awkwafina really is a whiz. There was a scene where she lists all the best picture Oscar winners in order, and she legitimately did that in real life. Sandra has so much energy and is so interested in people and how things work — the second she walks into a room, everyone is like, “Oh, Sandra is here.” She has this special aura about her. 

Recent female-fronted comedies, like No Hard Feelings or Joy Ride, have really leaned into raunchiness. Were you aiming for a more mild R-rated comedy?

I was surprised that it got an R rating. We weren’t aiming for that because what we really liked about the movie is that it was heartfelt and silly, with some emotional heft to the storyline in the sisters’ relationship. Now that I know it’s R-rated, there’s probably more we could have left in there. (Laughs.)

The film has a top-secret celebrity cameo. Can you tease anything?

I’m so excited to be able to talk about that scene once the movie comes out. I’ll say that in the original script, we had a character who is obsessed with Ray Donovan run into Liev Schreiber, but Liev was unavailable. So I tried to think of a new, funny way to do a joke about celebrity doppelgangers. I had a whole list, like Jake Johnson and Oscar Isaac, or Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Javier Bardem. 

From left: Screenwriter Jen D’Angelo; and Sandra Oh as Jenny, Awkwafina’s fictional older sister who conjures a plan to get on Can’t Stop the Quiz.

From left: Screenwriter Jen D’Angelo; Sandra Oh as Jenny, Awkwafina’s fictional older sister who conjures a plan to get on Can’t Stop the Quiz.

Courtesy of Joanna DeGeneres; Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

This story first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.