ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” is about a family that moves to Orlando from Washington D.C. to pursue the dad’s (Louis) American dreams of opening a steakhouse. The series is inspired by chef Eddie Haung’s memoirs “Fresh Off The Boat” and is the first television program to feature an Asian-American family (since Margaret Cho’s All American Girl.) Randall Park, Constance Wu, Ian Chen, Hudson Yang, and Forrest Wheeler star in the series. They do a great job convincingly playing a Taiwanese family assimilating to their new Floridan, largely white environment in the 1990’s.
I like the parents in this show, Louis (Park) and Jessica (Wu) are my favorites. They have great chemistry as a couple. Their tender moments are subtle, yet touching and Jessica is hysterical. Plus, you gotta love a guy who can wear a perm (Randall thinks that he looked like he was wearing terrier on his head in the Success Perm episode) or has no shame in sitting under a dryer-chair to achieve flat hair. The show is funny and delivers universally relateable moments. Many kids can relate to the humorous situations that arise from overbearing moms or feeling misunderstood by everyone – no matter your country of origin.
A small group of Asian-American bloggers met with actor Randall Park and talked to him about Fresh Off The Boat. He chatted about growing up in Los Angeles, his accent on the show and having reservations about playing a Taiwanese character.
He can relate. He grew up in a very diverse community so there wasn’t any alienation in terms of everyone being against him. But, he did have those issues with identity and trying to understand where he fit in. Randall shares that he did have to deal with kids having a negative reaction to the lunches his mom made for him just like the episode where Eddie winds up throwing away his lunches to avoid being picked on by his classmates. “That was right out of my life.” Also Eddie’s love of rap music and hip hop was a part Randall’s upbringing and was a source of identity and community for Randall. These are elements of the show and Eddies’ story that truly spoke to Randall.
Being different is cool. “I think it’s a subtle thing, but it’s a big deal. There is something really powerful about seeing yourself represented out there…being able to identify with the portrayal of someone on TV or in the movies.” Randall continues, “the differences are cool. It’s not something we can make fun of, it’s human, a normal part of who they are.”
Opening doors for Asian-Americans. “One show and one family on TV is definitely not enough because then the entire burden of representing everybody falls on this one show. But you need that one show to create more shows and more depictions, so hopefully our show does that.”
He is a lot like Louis. “Of all the characters I’ve played, I’d say in a weird way this one is the most similar to me. This is how I am at home and how I am with my daughter. My family is my priority and the love that drives this family and my character is definitely similar to who I am. Also, I come on set and get to work with these guys. I love my co-workers and that’s something you see with Louis. He loves his employees.”
To accent or not to accent. Randall’s goal was to get the accent right, but not make it strong because the real Louis didn’t have an a strong accent. “When I watched the pilot I thought ‘Gosh I sound so weird’, now when I watch later episodes off “Fresh Of The Boat”, I sounded completely different from the pilot.” He says that he had to get comfortable with the voice and the character which evolved over time.
He almost had an anxiety attack. Randall who is a Korean-American, admits to having reservations about playing a Taiwanese character, “I had an anxiety attack about it when the show was picked up.” He even went to Eddie to talk to him about his concerns. He said, “I don’t think I can do this.” He realized how important the show was to the Asian community and “it didn’t feel right.” He also met with Melvin Mar (Executive Producer) and shared his reservations. But everybody was extremely support of Randall. He couldn’t help to think that maybe there was a reason why he was put there. He explains, “Maybe having reservations about this was a good sign because that I really care about doing this right.” Randall now feels great about his role, “I love playing the character and I love the show and the family and the community. We’re doing something special.” He brings up a comment that actress Gina Rodriguez made about Latin actors being one. Becoming one is the best way to succeed as a community.
A message to kids: Be yourself. Randall hopes that kids can enjoy the show, not think about it too much and to have it be a regular thing in their lives. “Have this be normal. Kids growing up in a time when all they know is that they have a black president, then the next president is going to be white and they’ll think that’s weird (jokingly)”. He continues, “I hope that our show ushers in a way of thinking for kids, as opposed to our childhood where we were always deprived. The great thing the show tells you, regardless of your race, it really emphasizes to be yourself because every character is different, every character is unapologetic and every character comes from a place of love. That’s a good message for kids. Be yourself.”
Randall also shared that his parents were not cool with him being an actor, but are supportive now. I also learned that Randall played in a band out of college. But he warned us about possible video evidence, “do not look for it and you don’t want to play it around the kids.” I think I’ll have to find that footage!
Watch Randall and the rest of the cast on Fresh off the Boat on Tuesdays at 8 ET/PT!