While Randall Park was attending UCLA, he started a theatre company on campus. His parents originally approved of this because they believed it was “for fun.” However, when Park formed another theatre group after he graduated, his parents were not as open to the idea of him pursuing acting.
“My mom actually worked at UCLA … and she would hear first-hand stories about how hard it was,” Park said. “And she would tell me, especially as an Asian person, how impossible it would be. And she was right, it was really hard. I say my parents didn’t support my career, but with the perspective I have now, they really supported me during my pursuit of this career because they housed me, they fed me sometimes and maybe did my laundry here and there.”
Nearly 500 people attended the “Fresh Off the Boat” actor’s conversation on Asian American identity and the film industry in the Tutor Campus Center Ballroom Tuesday. Park, who also starred in the 2019 Netflix film “Always Be My Maybe,” is the final speaker to come to campus as a part of the International Student Assembly’s Global Cultural Month. USC Speakers Committee co-hosted the event.
“We went six seasons — it’s very hard for a show to go six seasons,” Park said. “To have an Asian family on TV on a show that lasts that long … it shows the industry that there’s good business in telling these stories… The success of our show proves to the industry, and not just our show — and a lot of shows with people of color as leads — shows the industry that these shows can be watched by everybody and celebrated by everybody.”
Shwetha Ganesh, assistant director of the Speakers Committee, and Nathan Cho, an intern at ISA, moderated the event.
“I volunteered myself … [because] this is such a cool opportunity to talk to someone who’s so well-known and established in this field,” said Ganesh, a sophomore majoring in international relations and the global economy. “Why wouldn’t you take this opportunity to get to know someone like that and be the one to facilitate the conversation to your peers?”
Park discussed meeting comedian and actress Ali Wong, who co-wrote and starred alongside Park in “Always Be My Maybe,” over cranberry-fried rice during one of the theater company parties. The two became immediate friends and remained in touch throughout each other’s careers.
“Ali and I are old friends, we’ve known each other for a very long time, I used to do standup, and we used to do it together,” he said. “We would talk about projects we wanted to work on and collaborate on little things and we’d always said we would want to maybe one day make a movie together; we both loved Rom-Coms… We were like, ‘why don’t we just write? We know there’s a demand for this story.’ So we just sat down, met every week and banged out a script.”
Though Park has found commercial success, he said he started his career making his own web series before working with the independent digital production company Wong Fu Productions in its web shorts on YouTube.
“It was a great period for me because I got to write, I got to act, I got to play really anything I wanted to,” Park said. “And that really informed [about] what I wanted to make out of this career. I want to be able to play the romantic lead, I want to play the villain, I want to play everything. And I got to do that while we were making these shorts.”
Park earned his masters in Asian American studies at UCLA, and during his time in college, he co-foundedLapu the Coyote that Cares, a theatre company that was carried on post-graduation.
Park said that with more shows and movies, the presence of Asian Americans in the media will continue to become normalized.
“The roles he has played was a big part of [why ISA chose him],” said Jinah Hur, director of the International Student Assembly and a junior majoring in philosophy and psychology. “One of the main roles he’s known for is ‘Fresh Off The Boat,’ where he plays the immigrant father, so we definitely felt that he kind of has an understanding of the immigrant experience, or he had to in order to take over that role.”
Despite criticisms of “Fresh Off the Boat” being a show that enforces Asian American stereotypes, Park said the show has been able to add complexity to the seemingly archetypal characters.
“Personally, I don’t look at a show like ‘Fresh Off The Boat’ as being stereotypical; and I know that there are aspects, you can argue that there are aspects that are stereotypical but … we show so much more than that, like yeah [Jessica] is a strict mom, but she also loves her kids so much,” Park said. “So I think what’s most important is that whatever projects we continue to create, we just show people as human beings, like the whole scope of it, and not think too much of ‘oh is this going to be seen as stereotypical’ — if it’s truthful, put it in.”
Steven Mach, a sophomore majoring in business administration, said that Park’s success motivates him to disprove the Asian stereotype.
“[The talk] definitely makes me feel like I shouldn’t be afraid to step out of my boundaries,” Mach said. “I feel like I know him through his films a little bit, but seeing what he’s done really impacts the way we see ourselves as Asians. We can do more than what other people perceive us as.”