It's been a whirlwind year for 36-year-old Constance Wu, star of the blockbuster "Crazy Rich Asians." The movie pulled in more than $230 million at the box office worldwide and made Hollywood history as the first mainstream film to feature an all-Asian cast and an Asian-American lead in 25 years.
Throughout her career, the best advice Wu ever received was to "speak to the process, not the product," she told CNBC Make It at American Express's Pay It Plan It event in New York City.
"Don't worry about booking jobs, don't worry about these ends goals," she said. "Just learn things from the journey. That's the best part of it."
For Wu, following that advice hasn't always been easy: "There was a time in my life when I would equate my personal value with employment."
That often meant paying more attention to other people's expectations than to her own ideas and instincts: "When I auditioned for a director, I would make an assumption about what he or she wanted in the character and then I would try to fulfill what I imagined he or she wanted."
But, Wu realized, a successful career isn't about simply booking the most jobs but about doing good work, work that she can be proud of. Instead of asking herself what the director might expect from an audition, she began to focus on how she would want to portray the character and the nuance and expression she would bring to the role.
"That way, if anything, you control your artistic integrity," she said. "Because what you imagine that director might have wanted might not be it at all.
"The one thing that you can control is your process and putting out work that is to your standards, even if it might not be to somebody else's," she continued. "That way you draw the people to you who have the same sort of values as you."
Wu's hard work and focus have paid off. Her breakout role came in 2015, when she began playing overbearing mother Jessica Huang in ABC's "Fresh Off The Boat." The show was the first network sitcom in more than 20 years to feature Asian-American leads. An immediate hit, it entered its fifth season this fall.
The release of "Crazy Rich Asians" in August further established Wu as a leading lady. Now, she's getting offered roles in other productions and has become an outspoken advocate for diversity and inclusion in Hollywood.
But when it comes to success, Wu isn't counting the number of great parts she's landed. Instead, she said, she turns to Maya Angelou's definition: "Success is liking what you do and how you do it."
"I think the second part of it is very important, because that's about your integrity," Wu said. "It doesn't matter if you like what you do if you have to sacrifice any of your integrity."
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