‘Expats’ Showrunner Lulu Wang Created ‘A World of Women’ in Front of and Behind the Camera | How She Did It

“We feel like we’re ready to take on any challenge,” the writer, director and producer tells TheWrap of her experience making the Prime Video series

When showrunner and filmmaker Lulu Wang was putting together her Prime Video series “Expats,” she assembled a largely female team to bring this adaptation to life. She directed all six episodes of the drama series herself, every writer on the show was a woman, Anna Franquesa-Solano served as the series’ cinematographer and Janice Y.K. Lee — the author behind the source material — produced the series. And that’s to say nothing of the women onscreen, with a cast led by Nicole Kidman that includes Sarayu Blue and Ji-young Yoo.

“It really seemed like we were creating a world of women both behind the camera and in front of the camera to tell our stories,” Wang told TheWrap as part of our How She Did It series, presented by Prime Video.

Set against the vibrant and tumultuous tapestry of 2014 Hong Kong, “Expats” centers on three American women — Margaret (Nicole Kidman), Hilary (Sarayu Blue), and Mercy (Ji-young Yoo) — whose lives intersect after a sudden family tragedy.

Wang, who was coming off the success of her deeply personal indie film “The Farewell,” said it was Kidman who first brought the book to her attention.

“She had optioned the book ‘The Expatriates’ by Janice Y.K. Lee, and she had just seen ‘The Farewell’ and felt like I was the person to collaborate with on this,” Wang said. “Everything else I’d written was based on my own life and my own stories, so I felt a lot of responsibility to tell the story authentically, because the prose is so beautiful. And that’s always a challenge, how do you translate this beautiful prose and atmosphere in a novel into a visual medium?”

The showrunner was not only interested in telling a complex story about women, but in finding a way to include the city of Hong Kong so it was more than just a backdrop.

“I thought there was something really interesting in … how do we tie Hong Kong to the themes of these women so that it’s not just the backdrop setting, but that it in and of itself has its own arc and journey, then connecting this idea of resilience and how all of these women, no matter what they’ve gone through, we want it to show a range of experiences?”

One way Wang reflected the range of experiences in the characters was by shifting the point of view for Episode 5, titled “Central.” It’s a feature-length episode at over 90 minutes and follows the foreign domestic helpers and locals that populate Hong Kong.

“The rhythm of it is very different from the other episodes. It’s like a tapestry. You need to stay in the world to really feel the rain and storm coming and all of these people up in these fancy apartments and out on the street,” she said, revealing that she took inspiration from “Nashville” and “Gosford Park” filmmaker Robert Altman.

“I’ve always cited [Robert] Altman as a reference and inspiration for this episode, like I really wanted it to feel immersive. We can’t really look at the expat world as a bubble without breaking out of that bubble. If you see yourself as part of that whole, maybe then you don’t feel as alone in your suffering. That episode is the one that’s closest to my heart and reminds me so much of where I come from.”

After fighting imposter syndrome for never having gone to film school, Wang said the journey of making “Expats” has given her “a lot of confidence.”

“We feel like we’re really ready to take on any challenge,” she concluded.

All episodes of “Expats” are currently streaming on Prime Video.


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