July 17 (UPI) -- Awkwafina takes on a dramatic new role in the movie The Farewell.
The 31-year-old actress and rapper discussed the film in an interview with Savannah Guthrie during Wednesday's episode of Today.
Awkwafina is known for her comedic roles in Ocean's 8 and Crazy Rich Asians, but plays Billi, the granddaughter of a terminally ill woman in The Farewell. The movie follows a family who reunites in China after learning their grandmother is dying but decides not to tell her.
"I knew that I connected with the material -- that's the one thing that I knew," Awkwafina said. "I knew that I connected with the journey that Billi makes from America to China. I knew that I connected with the grandma aspect of it, and I felt her pain. I could feel that, but I didn't know if I could really, actor-wise, if that would come across."
"It really took going to China, understanding the weight of the material and knowing that that's how real it felt," she added.
Awkwafina said she learned that not telling an elderly family member they're dying sometimes happens in Chinese culture.
"Nobody tells, actually per the doctor's instructions a lot of the time. I didn't know about it either, so when I read the script I was like, 'What?'" the star said.
"I think it really took going over there to understand where that reasoning comes from," she added. "It's the founding of the saying 'what you don't know won't kill you.'"
The Farewell is directed by Lulu Wang and co-stars Tzi Ma, Diana Lin and Zhao Shuzhen. The film premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and opened in theaters Friday.
Awkwafina said in a tweet Friday that working with Zhao, who plays her grandmother, was a privilege.
"This amazing woman's name is Zhao Shuzhen, but I call her Teacher Zhao. Her performance in @thefarewell is beyond incredible, and working with her was a privilege and an honor. Our movie is out today, and go see it for our incredible ensemble, helmed by the GOAT @thumbelulu," she wrote.