Currently playing at the Newport Beach Film Festival in Los Angeles, In a New York Minutegives a glimpse into the lives of three strangers who inadvertently discover that their problems may be solved by a single pregnancy test. Amy (Amy Chen) is haunted by a past breakup that has manifested into an eating disorder. Angel (Yi Liu) is torn between an unhappy marriage to an American businessman and a passionate affair with a Chinese writer. Meanwhile, Nina (Celia Au) works as an escort in order to support herself.
Based on a Chinese short story, In a New York Minute focuses its lens on the journeys of three young Asian women in New York City. However, according to star Celia Au, while it’s exciting to have an almost entirely Asian cast, the film itself is accessible to anyone.
“I think it’s cool to have a full Asian cast,” she begins, “but I think that, for the story, it doesn’t matter if you are a Caucasian, black version, or Hispanic. It relates to everyone. These are circumstances that we all experience. Maybe you know someone that owns a flower shop or someone that owns a diner. It’s just a different setting, but it’s the same story that I feel like everyone can relate to.”
For Celia, what was most exciting about bringing Nina to life onscreen was that it provided a chance to play someone so outside of her everyday personality and persona.
“I remember when I first walked in, the director said, ‘Oh, you’re not as girly as I envisioned you to be,’” she recalls. “I said, ‘You can dress me girly, but I’m not really that girly.’ Every time [my friends who have known me for years] see a clip of the film or a picture, they ask ‘Who is that person? I don’t know you anymore!’ I just said that, ‘It’s called acting.’ [laughs]”
“It’s something that I’ve never had the chance to play. I have a kind of a tomboyish kind of personality. I always get like the hipster, the punk kid, the cool one, or the one that’s more rough and tough. [Nina] is a girly [character]. [When] I [was] reading the script, [I saw that] she had a lot of layers and depth. I would call her [story] almost like a Cinderella story in modern times. There’s her struggle of trying to make due of her current situation and make the best out of it. So, I thought that it was great to put myself in a different situation where I’m not most comfortable. That’s not me, which I liked that because people could see me in a different light and that’s what acting is all about.”
Though all three storylines follow separate arcs, the cast appears to genuinely connect with one another when they do share moments onscreen. Celia thinks that much of the harmony of the cast stems from their desire to build relationships on and off screen which allowed them to trust one another.
“The other women are all actually my friends,” she beams. “We’re all from New York so we’ve known each other for a while. We’ve never worked together until this job… On set, we all had time to hang out to get to know each other and built a relationship. And the great thing is that Mandy [director Ximan Li] created an environment on set where everybody got to be good friends… Once you have that, you can trust each other. You know? And that’s important.”
What’s more, this chemistry is also palpable between Celia and her co-star Roger Yeh, who plays her boyfriend Ian in the film. As the two worked together on set, Celia says that her connection with Roger was genuine, continuing after the cameras stopped rolling.
“When we were shooting, each couple [got] a nickname and we [said that] we should be the weird Disney couple,” Celia muses. “Every time they called cut, Roger and I would just belt out Disney songs. Our boom operators kept saying, ‘oh my God, I can’t do this anymore.’ [laughs] And then, when they called action, we’d get really serious. That was a lot of fun. Just to see everyone’s reactions, the two of us would look over and they’d be shaking her heads.”
As Nina, Celia brings that same enthusiasm to her role as the young woman trapped between two worlds. Asked what she believes her character is looking for, Celia believes that Nina simply wants the opportunity to find herself.
“She’s looking for simply freedom,” she claims. “[Nina] doesn’t want to abandon her family per se. It’s just she wants to find her own self and her own life, without being trapped. Her stepmom is basically like the queen of this flower shop and their family. She understands that her half-brother is the one that’s more loved and she’s okay with that. It’s just that her problem is that she wants to be able to do what she wants to do as well. She’s not relying on the family. So, she’s going out and using her way to find her own freedom and her own world, maybe not in the most common way. She’s trying to make money in the short amount of time to reach her goals and start a new life.”
In the midst of this, Nina finds that her life is gradually transformed by Roger’s deep unconditional love for her. According to Celia, love has the tremendous ability to offer someone hope in the midst of darkness.
“Everyone [within her home] just wanted something [from her], [whether it’s] give me money for this or that,” Celia explains. “But, for someone to actually stop and ask, ‘how’s your day? Is everything okay? I’m thinking about starting a future with you. I see something else with you, other than just answering to her family or trying to help support [you] in that way.’ So, this gives her a light at the end of the tunnel, basically. With Ian, there’s a new life ahead of them that she doesn’t need to be stuck. I think it’s really nice when you are feeling like no one cares about you at all and someone’s says, ‘Hey, how’s your day? I’m here for you. I’m just a phone call away. You can text me and I’ll show up.’ It’s a sense of security and support”
Living under the thumb of her family, Nina’s character remains stuck in a cycle of shame throughout much of the film. However, Celia also believes that someone can break free from the devastating effects of such an environment if they’re willing to take risks and step outside their comfort zone.
“[It takes] bravery and trust,” she argues. “It doesn’t matter if its Nina’s character or just life in general, sometimes we feel stuck in our own circle. It takes the person to take a leap of faith to get out and to explore the possibility of ‘x’ outside of our own circle and stop being too comfortable where you are. Everyone has a past, right? It’s just who they’re striving to be”
In a New York Minuteis currently playing at the Newport Beach Film Festival.
For full audio of our interview with Celia Au, click here.