Interviewed by Jonathan Wong
You know Eddie Huang best because of many things: best-selling writer of Fresh Off the Boat, which became a popular ABC sitcom, owner of the popular Manhattan restaurant Baohaus, and his hilarious food-centric travels on Vice’s Huang’s World. But now he’s set the stage for his next skillset: making his filInmmaking debut with Boogie, a story Huang’s been waiting to tell for a long time.
Not only did Huang write and direct, but he also co-starred alongside Taylor Takahashi, who also made his feature-film debut as the lead character Alfred “Boogie” Chin, a high school student with dreams of playing in the NBA. Struggling with his pursuit of pro basketball dreams, Boogie must also deal with a blossoming romance with his classmate Eleanor (played by Taylour Paige) and an overbearing mother who has different plans for her son, all while preparing for a showdown with Monk (played by the late rapper, Pop Smoke), a local rival with skills on the court as great as his own.
AA Now had a chance to catch up with Taylor to speak about how meeting Huang on a basketball court in real life would eventually change his life forever in more ways than one.
TT: I grew up 4th generation Japanese American, in a house where I didn’t need to be a specific person…a doctor, be a dentist. There wasn’t any pressure. It was just respect what you do. Enjoy what you do and put everything you have into your career. And take those values and principals with you.
As for the basketball portion, the kid couldn’t have been as similar to me as ever. I love basketball, played since I was 2 years old with dreams of making it into the NBA and doing that whole route were definitely prevalent and relevant. It was the home life that was the big difference for me as a character.
AA: It’s interesting how you went from being a yakitori chef and being a basketball league teammate to being Eddie Huang’s assistant and personal trainer. What has that experience been like? Did you think in your wildest dreams that you would play one of his dream characters?
TT: Not at all. I think we joked about it at first. I got Boogie right before I signed on to work as his assistant. The script had about 125 pages, I read it, I enjoyed it fully. It was the first script I ever got. He joked with me “I think you should play it. I think you should do it” but never in my wildest dreams that I think that you know..basketball and a relationship with Eddie would lead to me playing a lead character.
AA: That’s cool man. How did you start working as a yakitori chef.
TT: I grew up in the kitchen. My dad was huge in restaurants and I grew up cooking at lot at home so part of my move from the bay area to down to southern Californa was to invest some time to getting into some of my culture, being distanced as a 4th generation. Working in a Japanese restaurant was kind of a way to get back into my culture. The staff was 90% Japanese, from Japan and so I learned culture. I did the same thing with Eddie and his family and Taiwanese food. I learned a lot through cooking and working with people that are authentic and that’s been my segway and introduction to culture.
AA: What’s your yakitori special? What’s your dish?
TT: I would go Tsukune (chicken meatball) I like it with just the salt but if you can go to a place with a good sauce, when that sauce hits the bintuchan charcoal and it sparks up that smoke, it makes a pretty crazy flavor
AA: And the raw egg too right?
TT: The raw egg. You need the raw egg.
AA: I have a good friend of mine, he’s been self-training himself how to make yakitori. Chinese American guy who has been flying back and forth to Japan. Last week he made this omakase dinner for me and my wife. That takes an extraordinary amount of skills. If you can master this, that takes some cooking skills man.
TT: I wouldn’t say mastered but I’d say I got it up my sleeve.
AA: How difficult was it to prepare for an acting gig in such a short amount of time. We know you go the skills to ball, but acting is a totally different game. Were there any tips that Eddie gave to give you confidence in front of the camera?
TT: Eddie was with me every step of the way. That was kind of like our behind the scenes deal commuting to this he said “I will be here to support you. I will be here to help you. I will be here to do anything that I can to make sure you are ready. But for yourself you have to want to do this for you. I can lead you to the lake, I could lead you to water but ultimately, I cannot drink the water for you. That’s going to be something you need to take on for yourself, you’re going to need to take that final step for yourself. Just know myself and the team is behind you, we’re all here to help you, we’re all here to support you. For me, it taught me kinda what the movie was about, the belief in someone. He believed in me more than I believed in myself, in order to accomplish this. He gave me the power and the confidence in order to get this done and I’m extremely grateful for it because it’s the most life changing experience I’ve ever had.
AA: So that means you believe in yourself now then?
TT: I 100% believe in myself as an actor. That’s something that pre-shooting this was something I would have thought twice about but going through it and you learn. The movie is a coming of age story and I dually came of age with it as well. I learned so much about myself. I am grateful for his support, I’m grateful for the studios support I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received along the way. It was not easy, I have put a lot of work into it. Probably the most work I’ve put into something in such a short amount of time.
AA: Growing up playing ball, what are your thoughts of Jeremy Lin making his NBA come back? What are your thoughts on the reference “if you play in China, you can’t come back to the NBA” but here he is, he’s doing it.
TT: I’m not a big Jeremy Lin fan to be honest. I don’t wish no success for anybody, I hope he makes it back into the NBA but imma leave it at that for Jeremy Lin.
AA: Who are you a fan of?
TT: As far as Asian basketball players or in general?
AA: In general.
TT: I’m a Warriors fan. I’ve been a Warriors fan my entire life so, Steph Curry and LeBron James…those are my 2 guys.
AA: How about Asian ball?
TT: Man, I have no choice. My automatic choice would be Jeremy Lin.
AA: Ok, so Eddie talked to you about film making and the many creative processes that drive film creation. Do you feel like eventually you’d like to direct or make content of your own?
TT: Part of my track being his assistant was to become a producer. For me going into the experience before I was actually Boogie was really looking forward to seeing how the script was going to play out, how Eddie’s creative vision was going to come alive and to really observe and be behind the camera, to see how things slowly come together. So directing might be a long shot for me but being a part of the creative process or being a part of the creative team, whether that means its producing, acting, anything I can do to help and gain some more knowledge of the industry, I am all about.
AA: He (Eddie Huang) also says Boogie is an intersectional story about immigrants. One that he has always been telling. Whether it is selling baos, making mainstream America laugh with “Fresh off the Boat”, how much of his life story resonates with you?
TT: We’re a generation apart. We’re 10 years apart. He grew up in Florida, and he grew up kinda as the only Asian kid. Me growing up in the Bay Area in a pretty diverse area. If anything, maybe predominantly Asian in the area where I grew up. It was a parallel to a point. What we found that was interesting was that we grew up in opposite sectors and opposite situations but we have so much parallel in our life. We found basketball, we found hip hop, we found streetwear culture, we found the same things but to us the most interesting thing is we couldn’t be further apart in our experience growing up but we got to the same place.
AA: What are some fun or really significant moments that happened during filming that you could share with us?
TT: There’s a lot. I think my favorite moment, one of my favorite moments was being with Pop. Pop Smoke was one of the most talented person I have been around. We filmed in the basketball court, outside of the cage. We were out there in the wee hours of the morning for darkness but there were kids on the walk ways, along the freeway, kids climbing up fences, any way to get a peek at him. To be around that energy was amazing. I think after the 2nd day of filming basketball, we took a break for lunch and we walk over the overpass going back to our trailers and this kid walks up to me and says
“Hey is that Pop Smoke”
“Absolutely, it is”
“Can I say hi”
“I don’t see why not” and I yell to Pop’s best friend Mike, “Mike is it cool if the kid says what’s up” and Mike says “yea of course” he runs up to Pop, takes a pic, gives him a dap. I’m sure he gets that 1000x times day but you couldn’t tell. It’s like he was doing it for the first time. It was like the pure joy and talent. Just being around him, it was the best time for me.
AA: Given the current social climate, what do you hope viewers take away from watching boogie.
TT: I hope it’s the normalization of the Asian American experience. I think for us as a group, to take away from the stereotypical things we see Asians in. Whether that’s extremely rich people, we’re not all rich, that’s not the case. Or being a doctor, kung fu guy, being the nerd. We just want to normalize that experience and understand like, hey, we play basketball, we play sports, we do other things just like everybody else in the world.
I hope that normalization can begin to happen and it won’t be so bright-eyed every time you see an Asian person in a venue or sector that you normally don’t see and I hope that starts to begin.
AA: The ending was a little open ended. How do you interpret it? Do you think we’re going to see Boogie and Juicy in Boogie 2?
TT: I hope we see boogie in China. We’ll see what happens. That’s how I feel. I’m ready to go.
AA: And last, what are the upcoming projects you’re working on? Have you caught the acting bug? Are you going back to Eddie’s personal assistant? What’s next for you?
TT: We tried to go back to personal assistant. Not it. For me, it’s trying to continue auditioning for roles. There are opportunities that are out there. Working with my team and figuring out what’s the best way to launchpad myself forward. There’s opportunity is there and I recognize it and its just about what would be best, next.
AA: If you can remember this scene..the BOSS sweat shirt scene. Who came up with that? That was really hilarious. Super 90’s. You’re probably 2 generations below me, so for me, I thought that was the most hilarious thing of all time.
TT: That’s a pure Eddie. 150% all Eddie’s vision coming to life. I asked for that sweater.
AA: Did you get it?
TT: No, I didn’t get it. Focus Pictures, I need that sweater!
AA: Can you actually point out all his lifestyle, musical, fashion influences in this movie? There’s a ton if you’re a 90’s kid.
TT: There’s a ton and the funniest thing that Eddie and I go through sometimes is that our music references. He forgets that I was born in the 90’s and he’ll go “Do you remember in ‘85 when this album dropped” and I’ll be like “no, Eddie, I don’t. I wasn’t alive yet” and so what I love about him is that he introduces so much music and culture to me that I know the person that sampled the song but I don’t know the original song. So he’s been my beacon to be like “look guy, Wiz Khalifa wasn’t the first guy who did this song. This is the guy who did it” That’s how we get along. That’s our relationship in a nutshell. He’ll introduce stuff to me because he’s a generation older. It’s 100% his influence and 100% him in the movie.