August 15, 2018 12:39 PM

When Constance Wu read the best-selling novel Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan five years ago, she felt an instant connection to the lead character, Rachel Chu, a New York City economics professor who discovers her boyfriend is ultra-wealthy when she travels to Singapore to meet his family. But she never thought she would one day be starring in the movie adaptation.

“I loved the story and thought, ‘I could play this.’ But it seemed impossible,” says Wu, 36. “I had never seen an Asian-American woman be the leading role in a movie or saw a face that looked even close to mine that Hollywood deemed worthy of its own fairy-tale story.”

The film is the first major Hollywood production in 25 years to star an all-Asian cast (the last was 1993’s The Joy Luck Club).

For more on Wu, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.

Crazy Rich Asians
Sanja Bucko

“Asian Americans are so used to being the number two or number three in a movie that they don’t usually get to explore more than a few facets of themselves,” Wu says. “Rachel is interesting because I had the chance to explore the fun parts but also the vulnerable parts.”

Amanda Edwards/WireImage

Wu got her first big break in Hollywood in 2015 when she began playing protective mom Jessica Huang in ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat— the first network sitcom about an Asian-American family to air in 20 years. It’s now heading into its fifth season, and Wu says she is having a blast breaking down barriers and doing what she loves.

“Being an actor wasn’t a choice. It’s part of my identity,” she says. “It’s all I ever wanted.”

Crazy Rich Asians is now in theaters.

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