Director Jessica Yu talks working with Sandra Oh, Awkwafina on new comedy film 'Quiz Lady'


When Oscar and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Jessica Yu was approached by actor, comedian and producer Will Ferell about directing a comedy film starring Sandra Oh and Awkwafina, Yu was immediately all in.

Ferell, who came on board to produce and at the same time play the role of Terry McTeer, the bowtie-wearing host of the movie’s television game show “Can’t Stop the Quiz,” believed that it was “super important” to have a female director like Yu to bring a unique perspective to the project and connect with the material in meaningful ways.

“When I saw that Awkwafina and Sandra were attached as sisters, I was already in,” Yu tells NextShark. “That was already a huge hook. The script was funny and had that heartfelt part of it, so I was attracted to all of that. But also, you don’t see a lot of films about sisters, especially comedies about sisters and especially Asian American sisters, so all of that felt like an opportunity that I just didn’t want to pass up.”

The comedy film in question is “Quiz Lady,” which follows a brilliant, game show-obsessed young woman, Anne (Awkwafina) and her estranged, train-wreck of a sister Jenny (Sandra Oh), who must work together to help cover their mother’s gambling debts. When Anne’s dog is kidnapped, they set out on a cross-country trek to earn cash by entering Anne into a game show.

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The movie, which was written by Jen D’Angelo, also stars Jason Schwartzman, Holland Taylor and Tony Hale. The anticipated film was produced by Ferrell, Jessica Elbaum, Maggie Haskins, Itay Reiss, D’Angelo, Awkwafina and Oh, with Alex Brown and Erika Hampson serving as executive producers.

Yu, who won an Oscar in 1996 for her documentary "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien,” was drawn to the narrative due to the script's combination of humor and heartfelt moments. She also appreciated the opportunity to work on a comedy film with Oh and Awkwafina, who she says respected each other's work and shared a genuine connection.

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“They were just attuned to each other in a very real sibling kind of way, so that was really fun,” Yu shares, noting that they often improvised during filming, making for memorable moments.

One particularly funny scene involved Oh's character getting a leg cramp while sharing a bed with Awkwafina’s character, leading to hilarious ad-libbed interactions.

“Sandra’s character Jenny is trying to calm Anne because she’s all nervous about having to be on this [game show] audition,” Yu recalls. “Sandra just started this whole thing where she gets a leg cramp and starts waving her leg around and her sister has to massage her leg. And then Sandra just started using her leg to point it at her sister and shut her computer. It just went on and on. We were just dying laughing. In the end, 99% of that was not in the final film, but it was that kind of level of creativity, play and freedom where there’s a moment you go, ‘This is actually a job?’”

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While Yu does not portray a character in the film, she created her own fun on set. She adopted the idea of wearing a different bowtie in her hair every day during the film’s production, mirroring Ferrell's character in the movie, who never wears the same bowtie twice and has a “Bowtie Hallway” featuring over 6,000 bowties on his fictional game show soundstage.

“I just said, ‘I’m gonna do the same thing on set. I’m not gonna wear the same bowtie twice,’” Yu says. “One of our producers, Alex Brown, was like, ‘I’m gonna hold you to that.’ And I was like, [sighs] ‘Gotta get some bowties.’ I just got a bunch of bowties and everyday I would velcro another one onto my hairclip. I had my own little wall of bowties. I’m hoping it’s going to catch on, but I don’t know, it’s a pretty specific fashion choice.”

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Yu’s creative decision added a fun and unique element to the already brilliant and hilarious set. Awkwafina and Oh described Yu’s set as a warm, accepting and safe environment that encouraged improvisation.

“All I can say is that we had the best time shooting this movie,” Oh said in a statement. “In fact, it was one of the best experiences of my career. It was so much fun. I can’t wait to see all the outtakes, because Awkwafina was terrible … she burst out laughing all the time.”

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“Quiz Lady” will premiere exclusively on Hulu in the U.S., Star+ in Latin America and on Disney+ in all other territories on Friday.

Watch NextShark’s full interview with Jessica Yu below: