‘Joy Ride’: How a Letter Helped Land Cardi B’s ‘WAP’ for Film’s Needle Drop

SPOILER ALERTThis article contains major spoilers for Lionsgate’s “Joy Ride,” now playing in theaters.

Lionsgate’s latest release, “Joy Ride,” is messy, fun, flirtatious and bold. It’s exactly the type of film writers Teresa Hsiao (“Family Guy”), Cherry Chevapravatdumrong (“Family Guy”) and Adele Lim (“Crazy Rich Asians”) wanted to see when they were kids growing up.

The comedy revolves around Stephanie Hsu, Sherry Cola, and Sabrina Wu, who follow Ashley Park’s Audrey across the world on a business trip to Asia, where she has to track down her birth mother to close a huge business deal. From a drug-induced train ride to orgies to impersonating a K-Pop group, Brownie Tuesday, to a genital tattoo reveal, the film pushes the limits in the R-rated comedy space with Lionsgate and Point Gray’s blessing.

And yes, that is Sabrina Wu beatboxing, and the other actors really sing along to a K-Pop tune with deep Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion riffs from “WAP.”

Hsiao and Chevapravatdumrong sat down with Variety to explain how Lim penned a letter to the rappers that made them say yes to the song’s use, and why writing the screenplay was born from girls just wanting to have some fun while seeing themselves on screen.

I’ve spoken with Adele Lim about this, but where did this journey begin for you?

Cherry Chevapravatdumrong: T, Adele and I have been friends for years. We started thinking about this movie for fun. At that point, Teresa and I had worked mainly on TV. We thought about what it would be like to start breaking this story, and so we were doing it over dinners. We would go to Adele’s house and start talking. There was no real goal at that point except to make each other laugh and come up with something that we would have wanted to see when we were kids.

Teresa Hsiao: It was almost like taking our normal social life and adding a little bit of work to it. Suddenly, we birthed this disgusting movie script.

And the big set pieces came from those initial conversations over dinner and ended up staying in the movie.

Point Grey came on board as producers, and we decided we wanted to go with them because they knew what they were doing in the R-rated comedy space. They were okay with us also being producers on the project. And once Lionsgate came on board, that really shepherded us through the process.

Despite the belly laughs, serious emotional storylines center around adoption and friendship. How did you balance that out amid the comedy?

Hsiao: We come from hard comedy backgrounds, but this was always going to be a story about friendship. At the heart of any friendship story is wanting to make sure the characters are real, feel grounded and are people you care about. That was something we always talked about when we were writing this material.

The jokes were easy, but getting the heart and emotional stuff feel real was always going to be a challenge. It was about making sure that the characters felt like people you wanted to hang out with from the beginning to the end. So that was something that we kept in mind. Also, because the movie comes from such a real friendship place of us saying, ‘Hey, we want to make a movie about friendship, and all this crazy shit happens around it,’ I think that was something we always had to harken back to.

Chevapravatdumrong: The challenge continued when we were in the editing process and when you are seeing the movie cut together and decided how much time to spend on which scenes. There was a lot of tweaking and stuff that we did along the way to make sure that those things felt balanced and perfectly paced the entire time.

What about the K-Pop group Brownie Tuesday, who take Cardi B’s ‘WAP’ and put a spin on it — how did you land the song and did you have a backup choice just in case?

Chevapravatdumrong: It was a process because we had a placeholder song for a very long time, and it didn’t come together until the last minute. But we did have a backup.

Hsiao: I remember writing lyrics for a different song. But we were trying to find this perfect song that really encapsulated the movie at this pivotal moment. We thought “WAP” was a great song, but there was no way we were going to be able to get it.

On a lark, and for fun we wrote some lyrics for this song because maybe we can get it. It was an afternoon and we threw some lyrics together. Then we were told, ‘Okay, that’s been sent to Cardi B.’

Chevapravatdumrong: With clearance, you have to clear the song, and with alternate lyrics, whatever is sent is locked in. So, when you change it after, they have to get them reapproved.But once it was sent over, it was approved, and they said yes.

Adele had written a letter to Cardi and Megan Thee Stallion asking for permission on behalf of us, the actors, and what the song meant to the movie, the message of the song, and what the characters were going through. She was explaining it to make sure we had their blessing whether we could use the song. Luckily they read that and said go for it.

Hsiao: It was quite a tribute to them in that sense that we could write these lyrics in an afternoon to their song because it’s already so perfect.

What was it like seeing the cast in action for the first time?

Chevapravatdumrong: They had met for the first time the day before. They put on a full performance and did WAP at that first table read. They decided to hit it for real. Sabrina stood up. It was a performance.

Up until then, it had been going well because the four of them have amazing chemistry, and then, we saw that and it was awesome. It was as if we were at a concert.

Hsiao: They bring so much and the chemistry between them is great. They brought so much individuality to their characters and they have their sort of individual talents. They’re also funny in their different ways. We were like, ‘We need to find all of this for the script and the movie. So much of the movie did change after we cast the film because we know what each of them can do and we’re going to run with that.

What does the representation mean for you?

Chevapravatdumrong: It’s amazing and it means everything, but at the same time, we wrote what we wrote. We cast and we hired as an offshoot automatically of who we are and what the story was. It ended up being a nice representation example. But it was more inherent.

It happened naturally. Moving forward, if the actual storytellers, the people in charge are diverse representation, the rest of those will flow from the top that way, and I think that’s what happened with us, and it was really nice.

There was a water buffalo scene that got deleted, what happened?

Hsiao: When you are writing on a lark, sometimes you’d have scenes in which you do not care at all about budget or production or any sort of things. When we were starting to prep, people were giving us prices for water buffalo and how expensive they were in Canada. We’d have to fly them in and look at locations where there was a river. We had to look at how the actors would be safe, and we realized pretty quickly that it was going to be a very difficult scene to shoot. So, we had to pivot away from the water buffalo scene.

Chevapravatdumrong: There were water buffalo logistics that we learned about. It never occurred to us in a million years. Apparently, some of them are more professional than others. Some had horns, so we’d have to attach fake horns to them.

Hsiao: We also learned a lot about water buffalo anatomy in the process.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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