Despite currently starring in two monster superhero franchises, Randall Park still vividly remembers everything about his first official acting credit: Octopus Man. “Sounds like a superhero, right?” says the WandaVision and Aquaman actor.
Not quite! In 2003, a few years after his graduation from UCLA, the Los Angeles native appeared on Fox’s stylish cop drama Fastlane, which starred Bill Bellamy and Peter Facinelli as a pair of flashy undercover cops and lasted just one season. Park played a server who spoke a total of three words—but those three words that changed his life forever. “The scene took place at a party in a mansion, and I still remember my one line because it was such a big deal to me at the time: ‘Fresh calamari, gentlemen?’” Park recites with a laugh. “I offer them calamari, which isn’t even octopus by the way! But for some reason they named me ‘Octopus Man’ in the script. I was just so amazed by it all, and feeling so lucky to get to say this one line on this show. And then seeing Bill Bellamy and being like, ‘Oh my god, that's Bill Bellamy!’"
Man, if Octopus Man could see Park now. In the two decades since that game-changing calamari, the 48-year-old actor’s career has been rolling. Among his ever-growing list of credits are The Office, Fresh Off the Boat, The Interview, Always Be My Maybe, Aquaman, Ant-Man and The Wasp, WandaVision, and Netflix's Blockbuster, streaming now. Try to find another person who could play Kim Jong-un and Jim Halpert! “Asian Jim is still a big thing,” Park jokes of often being most recognized for his two-minute Office guest appearance, which sees Jim (John Krasinski) pull an elaborate prank on Dwight (Rainn Wilson) with the help of his actor friend, Steve (Park). “It's one scene in a cold open in the last season of The Office, and, for some reason, it had a major impact. Well, I mean, that reason was the Internet!”
Still, it was another three years before Park’s true breakthrough on the groundbreaking ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, which made history as the first series with an all Asian-American cast to reach 100 episodes. Inspired by the life of chef and author Eddie Huang, Park stars as family patriarch Louis Huang, a lovable dreamer who fully embraces everything about American culture, moving his wife and children to Orlando to open a Western-themed steakhouse. “I grew up watching family sitcoms. They were probably my favorite type of television show, and so I grew up with a lot of sitcom dads in my life,” Park told me in 2020 when speaking about Fresh Off the Boat’s series finale, which he directed. “And to say I’m a part of that tradition is really special, because none of them I saw growing up looked like me.” In the midst of FOTB’s six-season run, Park began playing what he says is the third character he’s most identified with: FBI agent—and amateur magician—Jimmy Woo. Originally thinking his run in the MCU would be a one-off with 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, Park returned with a prominent role in Disney+’s debut Marvel series, WandaVision, sealing Woo’s status as a fan-favorite. Turns out, Park's blockbuster success was just getting started.
When discussing Blockbuster, which debuted last week, you can hear the excitement in Park’s voice—or in how he’s constantly summarizing the entire experience up in two words: “joy” and “fun.” Created by Brooklyn Nine-Nine alum Vanessa Ramos, Blockbuster begins with Timmy Yoon, a dedicated Blockbuster employee since the seventh grade who has risen to manager, learning that his store in a fictional Michigan town is the last Blockbuster standing. Yes, Netflix is banking on nostalgia helping them profit on the very thing that they helped kill. It’s fair to be skeptical, because so was Park. “I was like, ‘That's cool, and I do have a lot of memories of Blockbuster, but I don't know if that's something I want to do,’” he recalls of being presented with the series, where he plays the undisputed lead. (Even if Park himself would dispute that Blockbuster is anything but an ensemble outing.) “I had come off of six seasons of Fresh Off the Boat and I was looking to do other things, but then I saw the people involved and read the script by Vanessa, and I felt like it just seemed like it was going to be really fun—and it was.”
Ramos has said that she was initially told that there was no way they could get Park to play Timmy, so she instead wrote the character as a “Randall Park-type.” Park wishes he knew what such a type was, joking, “maybe I’d have less anxiety in general.” He also laughs at the idea that he’s so unattainable. “She told me that story and it tripped me out because I was like, ‘Um, I'm available,’” he says. “But it was very nice that they thought of me; I was deeply touched.”
As he said, Park stepped into Blockbuster not long after wrapping Fresh Off the Boat, and he was still feeling the influence of Louis, who both helped prepare him for fatherhood and to see the brighter side of things. But in Timmy, Park instantly saw something more recognizable. “This is probably the closest I've ever gotten to playing a version of myself on TV—even with Young Rock where I actually play myself,” says Park, referencing the future, fictionalized version of himself on Dwayne Johnson’s sitcom. “Here, it’s me in so many ways. I guess there's similarities to Louis in that he really cares for his family, and in this case being his workplace family, but I think with Timmy there's more pathos to him that comes out in the show. There's a lot more issues to work through than with Louis. Louis was very happy-go-lucky and positive, and Timmy's very positive as well, but there are these underlying things that make him more complicated and more identifiable."
Timmy’s issues include, but aren't limited to: never getting over his parents divorcing when he was a child, harboring a longtime crush on his most dependable employee Eliza (Melissa Fumero), and now attempting to learn how to keep a small business afloat. But the one thing he never struggles with are movies. If you think Netflix has nailed the algorithm to know what you want to watch, there’s nothing like the personal Timmy touch. We see it in Episode One, when a formerly loyal customer finally returns, looking for an antidote for his recent heartbreak, and Timmy has just what the love doctor ordered: the Diane Lane romantic dramedy Under the Tuscan Sun.
Park can relate to working at a video store, having spent a few summers in high school at a non-chain establishment, which seemed to be staying afloat solely due to the “huge” adult section in the back. And we all have a rental memory that stands out above the rest. For me, it was walking the aisles of Blockbuster as a preteen and making a discovery that rocked my world: Will Smith and Martin Lawrence were in a movie together?! While Park’s earth-shattering video wasn’t Bad Boys, it was very, very bad. “I rented the Tommy Wiseau movie, The Room, because I had heard about it through people, and I remember watching it and just being so amazed at how perfect a bad movie it is,” recalls Park of the 2003 cult classic that has been widely deemed the worst film ever made. He’d later attend one of the famous Room screenings in L.A., where he met the mysterious and colorful Wiseau (“He was just as interesting as you’d think,” cracks Park), before eventually having a small role in 2017’s The Disaster Artist, which chronicled the making of The Room.
Speaking of bad at movies, Park was, admittedly, very worried about embarking on the Blockbuster press tour. “Timmy is such a cinephile, and I would not categorize myself as a cinephile,” he says, knowing that starring in a show called Blockbuster is just daring people to quiz you about movies. Now on the other side of it, Park is pleasantly surprised with how he performed, remarking, “Maybe I have seen more movies than I thought.” Well, Timmy didn’t just serve as the movie sommelier for his customers, he did the same for Park, helping him fill in some big blind spots.
“This is going to be embarrassing: I had not seen Independence Day,” Park sheepishly shares. “Timmy has a big Independence Day speech in the pilot, and I was like, ‘I have to see this.’ And then being like, ‘OK, I get why this is a classic and made its way into our script.’ Under the Tuscan Sun, that's another one I hadn't seen. And so I watched that, and I was like, ‘That was incredible and very much up my alley in terms of the types of movies that I love—why didn't I ever see this? This is my jam.’ I'm hoping we get another season, at the very least, so that I get more recommendations from Timmy.”
Luckily, Park has a couple blockbusters to hold him over until Blockbuster’s potential return. After pulling double superhero movie duty in 2018 with Ant-Man and the Wasp and Aquaman, he’s running it back in 2023 with the two highly-anticipated sequels, Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. “It just timed out perfectly, and I still don’t know how it all happened,” he says. “I read recently that my Aquaman costar Yahya [Abdul-Mateen II] is going to be in a Marvel show, and I think it's becoming more common as these universes expand. It's so fun that people aren't just locked into one and that they can play different characters in both.”
As someone who grew up collecting comic books, Park says he’s living out his childhood dream. “Getting to play Dr. Stephen Shin, it’s crazy, like, ‘Oh my god, I’m in an Aquaman movie working with these literal but also figurative giants,” he giddily shares. “And every time Jimmy Woo comes up, it’s such a warm reception; the fans are so devoted.” Just don’t try and get any scoop from him, whether it’s about how Woo factors into the Quantum Realm and Kang’s quest to conquer, or if Black Manta (Abdul-Mateen II) helps Shin reach Atlantis, as teased in Aquaman’s mid-credits scene. “I’m pretty good,” Park says of keeping the MCU and DC secrets. “And if really up against the wall, I'll just lie. I mean, sometimes you have no other choice.”
Park is much more open when discussing his upcoming anti-blockbuster feature directorial feature debut. Based on a graphic novel from Adrian Tomine, the indie Shortcomings is described as a “hilariously irreverent examination of racial politics, sexual mores and pop culture,” and follows two young Bay Area residents as they navigate dating and their attempts to grow. “It was a revelatory experience for me, because, again, just talking about having fun and pursuing joy, that was such a fun, joyful, and fulfilling experience for me,” he shares. “We're currently editing, so hopefully it'll get out into the world. It's an independent feature but something that I've been very passionate about for a long time now, so the opportunity to direct it was such a big deal for me.”
As he just demonstrated, Park is conscious of his repeated use of the gratuitous use of the word "fun," but, even as more and more high-profile options come his way, he’s going to keep prioritizing what he cares about most. “I'm really just trying to have fun and work with talented people, but also just good, kind people,” he says. “If I could be on a project and the people are talented and kind and fun to work with, then that’s what it's all about. To me, that’s the win."
Just call him "Fun Man." Anyone?
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