After screening the seriously funny episode (that will actually air on ABC tonight at 8:00pm) and interviewing Nahnatchka “Natch” Khan and Kourtney Kang, it was time for the next group of talent to sit at our table. Here’s what Executive Producer Melvin Mar and Actor Randall Park (“Louis Huang”) had to say.
Fresh Off the Boat: Melvin Mar & Randall Park Interview
As a first generation American, did you have any of the experiences that the show is talking about?
RP: Yeah, for sure. I grew up in L.A. and in a very diverse community. So it wasn’t that kind of alienation in terms of all of them against me. But I did have those issues with identity and trying to understand where I fit in, such as bringing to school the lunch my mom made, opening it, and the kids just react very negatively. His love of rap music and hip hop was definitely a part of my upbringing. It lent a kind of source of identity and community for me, just embracing that music and my little of friends who loved it. There were definitely a lot of elements of the show and Eddie’s story that spoke to me.
MM: I grew up in L.A. as well, I was born in L.A. but I was in a predominantly Latin neighborhood and was the only Chinese kid. So I sort of did relate to it in that way but the details were slightly different. I did bring lunch to school, being the only Chinese food kid around. Being the only Chinese kid I was the smallest kid so I got picked on a lot and got beat up on.
How do you think the show will impact Asian Americans in elementary and high school kids?
RP: I think it’s subtle thing but it’s a big deal. I didn’t grow up with that until All-American Girl and by then I was in college or just leaving high school. I think there’s something very powerful seeing you represented up there and being able to identify with the portrayal of you on tv on in movies.
Not only that but having other people see that outside of your group to say, “Hey, they’re just like us in so many ways,” and at the same time different too and be like, “Cool!” It’s not just something to make fun of normal, human part of who they are. I think it does a great service to a lot of these kids, hopefully.
MM: To add to that, I think it’s a subtle but powerful thing. I remember as a child you would have International Day, with flags of the countries, and you would draw a representation of what the country is. I kept thinking, “Well, I live in America and I’m American,” and you see a little picture of a blonde kid for America. You don’t think about it until years later but I’m hoping that this show, as the beginning of many shows, will help shape that for the next group of Asian American kids. America isn’t just blonde hair and blue eyes.
RP: Jumping on that, I feel that one show and one family on tv and in the movies is definitely not enough. Then the entire burden of representing everybody falls on this one show. But you need that one show to create more shows and depictions. So, hopefully the success of our show will do that.
Did Randall feel he had any similarities with his character, Louis?
RP: Out of every character I’ve played, especially recently, in a weird way this one is most similar to me as far as how I’m at home, how I am with my daughter, and how much my family is my priority. The love that drives this family and my character is definitely who I am especially when it comes to family. Also at work, come onto set it’s so fun and I love my co-workers.
These two have very non-traditional careers for Asians so how did their parents react when learning of what they wanted to do?
MM: They still don’t know what I do. I keep on trying to explain it and I’ve given up over the years. They just know it has something to do with tv and movies and they’ll look for my name occasionally. That’s about it. When they did a story about the show and me in World Journal, they sort of understood it and had some idea. It sort of prompted a few questions. By and large I think they have kind of given up trying to understand it too. I just thought it was because they didn’t speak English very well but then another person said his parents had no idea either.
RP: My parents were NOT cool with me being an actor. And now they’re cool with it.
On the question of accents…
MM: That’s very subjective. Everybody’s accent is just so different. My parents have very heavy accents but my aunt and uncle, who came to America at the exactly the same time, have very slight accents. It’s not that they were brought up any differently. I think it’s just how you assimilate. We just have to go with it and no one’s going to be pleased with the accent.
RP: For me it was something that I wanted to get as right as possible but not make it strong because the real Louis doesn’t have that strong of an accent. It’s an ongoing thing. When I watched the pilot I thought, “I sound so weird.” When I watch later episodes I say, “Wow, I sounds completely different from the pilot.” You just get comfortable with the voice and the character.
MM: We used the actual Louis and Jessica as a jumping off point. We went to Orlando to visit them and see them in their natural habitat. The real Louis doesn’t have that much of an accent, Jessica’s is much heavier.
After feedback of the first few episodes, did the direction of the show change at all?
MM: We were finished shooting in December. We were a mid-season show so we started in August and were done by December. We just did what felt right and what we wanted to do. You feel the responsibility but this is something we were very passionate about, even in the pitch phase. It just came so naturally.
Did Randall have any reservations about playing a Taiwanese character?
RP: Completely. I had an anxiety attack when the show got picked up as a series. I literally went to Eddie and was like, “We’ve got to talk. I don’t think I can do this. I’m not Taiwanese…” I realized how important it was to the community and it just didn’t feel right. And I talked to this guy a few days later and told him about my reservations. Eddie, Melvin, everybody were just so supportive of me that I thought the must be a reason why I got put here. Maybe the fact that I had reservations about it was a good sign because that means I really care about doing this right.
How do you feel now?
RP: I feel great about it! I love playing the character, I love the show, I love the family, and I love the community. I feel like we’re really doing something very special. Gina Rodriguez made a statement about Latin actors being one to succeed as a community. I feel that it’s not as big of a deal in the community as I thought it would be.
What has surprised you about how it’s been received by the public?
RP: Everything. I love the show, even while we were shooting it. I was like, “Dude, Melvin. It’s getting better and better.” I had no idea people would embrace it that much. I honestly thought people weren’t ready for it.
MM: We’ve had unprecedented support at the studio and at the network. From the very beginning they’ve been really comfortable with the whole thing. Last week we found out we’re doing an Emmy campaign for this, which is huge because it’s a mid-season show and they don’t usually do it for mid-season shows. But people are loving it, they love it.
RP: I feel that it was really important that you guys liked it, specifically people with active voices out there representing the community. It’s because of that kind of approval and support. It’s like when White people go to Chinese restaurants and they see all Chinese people there and think, “Oh! This must be a good Chinese restaurant!” But the ones getting the awards are not P.F. Chang’s but the ones that are doing good stuff. So thank you all for liking the show.
No, thank you all for chatting with us making “doing good stuff” like bringing Fresh Off the Boat to life. In case you didn’t know, the show is now Certified Fresh by Rotten Tomatoes. So watch the newest episode tonight!
FRESH OFF THE BOAT OFFICIAL SOCIAL INFO:
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I was invited on an all-expense paid media trip as a guest of ABC to talk about Fresh Off the Boat. All opinions are my own.