Always Be My Maybe star Randall Park puts fresh spin as rom-com lead
Comedy stalwart champions talented friends, Keanu Reeves for film's success
There's a very simple reason for the easygoing, believable chemistry between cast members in Ali Wong and Randall Park's new comedy Always Be My Maybe: the longtime buddies hired their friends.
The buzzy romantic comedy, which debuted on Netflix a week ago, was a labour of love for the duo, whose friendship goes back to their college days at UCLA, when Wong joined the Asian American-centred LCC Theatre Company Park had co-founded.
"Ali and I love rom-coms and we always talked about doing our When Harry Met Sally ... one of my favourites," the Los Angeles-born Park said during a stop in Toronto Friday to promote his new film.
"It felt like something that was part of an American tradition that we wanted to put our spin on."
According to Park, the opportunity to create the rom-com of their dreams came courtesy of Wong's incredible success with her hilariously raunchy and unapologetically honest Netflix comedy specials Baby Cobra and Hard Knock Wife —but the prolific actor is no slouch himself.
Along with starring as the patriarch in the historic Asian-American family sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, Park has had memorable turns in a long list of comedy movies and TV shows: from "Asian Jim" in The Office to a regular stint on Veep as a political rival to Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Selina Meyer; from his multiple appearances alongside Seth Rogen (including in Long Shot and The Interview) to roles in both the Marvel and DC cinematic universe (in Ant-Man and the Wasp and Aquaman, respectively).
However, with Always Be My Maybe, Park and Wong (who also spent time in the Fresh Off the Boat writing room) have been vaulted into the central spotlight as romantic leads.
To accomplish that, they surrounded themselves with friends, including Fresh Off the Boat creator Nahnatchka Khan who directs the film, playwright and screenwriter Michael Golamco (also a UCLA and LCC alum) and actor Vivian Bang, another of Park's theatre group buddies.
"There was never a conscious decision to have a diverse team. I think the decision for us was to tell a great story and to do it in a way that felt authentic," Park explained.
"We hired a lot of our friends and people that we had worked with before. It wasn't by design, it was literally just being friends with people and respecting their work so much and knowing that they were the right ones for the job."
One major exception to that, however, was their decision to write a make-it-or-break-it part for action star Keanu Reeves, who plays a nemesis for Park's character.
The Toronto-raised Hollywood A-lister has been a linchpin for the rom-com's viral success, spawning a host of memes and bringing a boatload of his fans to the film.
And whether it was diving right into the over-the-top depiction (Reeves plays a ridiculous version of himself) or gamely sharing notes for an end-credits song called I Punched Keanu Reeves, the star of John Wick and the Matrix trilogy just "got" the project right away, Park noted.
The icing on the cake?
At the film's L.A. premiere, Park recalled, "we're just like sitting there looking at Keanu. And he was laughing, like the entire time, and was really thrilled by it. So that really made us happy."
Always Be My Maybe is currently available on Netflix.