By Maureen Lee Lenker
January 24, 2020 at 10:00 AM EST
Illustration by EW; Photos courtesy of Netflix

Always Be My Maybe

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  • Movie

One of Netflix’s top ten films of 2019, rom-com sensation Always Be My Maybe is an unabashed love letter to the City by the Bay — not to mention food, family, and Keanu Reeves.

Co-written by San Francisco native Ali Wong, it follows childhood friends Sasha (Wong) and Marcus (Randall Park) as they reconnect and fall in love in their hometown. Wong wrote it as a a tribute to her city, celebrating many of the places that held personal significance to her and some of her favorite neighborhoods.

“[Ali] knew the city, she knew the people who lived in the city and felt really connected to it in terms of where the character Sasha would come from,” director Nahnatchka Khan explains to EW. “It just made sense to set it in the Bay Area, and then, once that was decided, we really wanted to get in there and capture the authenticity that those guys were trying to convey with where these characters came from.”

Randall Park, who co-stars as Marcus, is an L.A. native himself, but San Francisco still holds personal resonance for him. Always Be My Maybe was a chance to both honor that and discover a side of the city he’d never known before. “I grew up going to back and forth to San Francisco a lot,” he says. “My dad originally immigrated to San Francisco, before moving to L.A. so it’s very close to us physically and emotionally. I had seen so much of it during different parts of my life. It was really nice to visit all of these places that I probably overlooked — all the different nooks and crannies we got to dig into.”

The crew had seven days total to shoot in San Francisco — the remainder of the film was made in Vancouver, using some Canadian locations as S.F. stand-ins — but, they made the most of the city while they could. The scenic locations range from Marcus and Randall’s childhood homes, where they first meet and bond, to Marcus’s favorite restaurant Good Luck Dim Sum to Keanu Reeves’ penthouse at the Fairmont hotel. Here, Khan and Park break down all the places in San Francisco we left our hearts.

Their Childhood Homes

Illustration by EW; Photos courtesy of Netflix

Marcus is literally Sasha’s boy-next-door in the Outer Richmond District, which Khan chose due to its proximity to where Wong grew up. “I needed that side-by-side house,” Khan says. “I needed it to look a certain way. It’s set in the mid-’90s, so it couldn’t look too modern. Our production design team did a great job of distressing it even more.”

Not only that, but they needed two houses that could express the differences in Sasha and Marcus’ home life. “We wanted Marcus’ house to feel colorful and vibrant and joyous,” explains Khan. “His mother is there. That’s where Sasha learns her love of cooking, and we wanted [it] to feel warm. Conversely, she’s more of a latchkey kid, her parents aren’t home. So we wanted her side to feel more stark.”

She adds that it was really important to set the film in its neighborhood for authenticity’s sake: “When the two little kids run into the night, you can see the [Golden Gate Bridge] in the distance to remind us where we are.” Khan got the shot two blocks over from the house, racing against the sunset — and that signature San Francisco fog.

The Pier

Illustration by EW; Photos courtesy of Netflix

After a montage showcasing Marcus and Sasha’s friendship, the two get some terrible news while Marcus teaches Sasha to fish off a pier — Judy (Susan Park), Marcus’ mom, has died. They used some of their limited time in San Francisco to capture the feeling of being on the Bay, its wharfs, piers and bridges integral to its identity. This meant shooting this pivotal scene on Pier 7.

“We looked at a bunch of different piers,” explains Khan. “That pier was just people fishing, so it felt right, and it felt like that’s where they would go. When you turned around and looked back towards the land, I really liked the way that looked. I knew that that shot was going to be nice with his dad coming toward them. Marcus’s father (James Saito) [is] walking toward them right when all the lights turned on — I just thought that was nice. It felt emotional and authentic. We really wanted to make sure we set that in San Francisco to get the feel of the city.”

For Park, the location held an extra layer of significance. “I grew up going to that pier as a kid,” he reveals. “My folks would take me. Whenever we’d go up to San Francisco, we’d run around the whole area. I remember that pier. It was really fun.”

Ragga Nightclub

When Sasha returns to San Francisco, she discovers Marcus still has a lot of growing up to do — but one of the holdovers from his past she’s pleased to discover is that he still performs with his band, Hello Peril, rapping and writing songs. When she goes to see him do a gig at Ragga, the flame rekindles between them — until they’re interrupted by his current girlfriend Jenny (Vivian Bang).

Khan and Park have varying stories about the nightclub in question. Khan says they shot that in the Haight district, using a real club, but displaying their own sign. But Park remembers shooting at a still working club in Vancouver instead. A club that marked a full-circle moment for fellow castmate Lyrics Born, who plays fellow bandmate Quasar. “He actually had performed at that club not too long before,” explains Park. “He’s still a touring musician who plays throughout the country and the world. And he was very familiar with that spot.”

Marcus’ Dim Sum Spot

Illustration by EW; Photos courtesy of Netflix

Vancouver doubled for many locations in the film, but most notably, it had to believably pass as San Francisco’s iconic Chinatown. Marcus and Sasha go out for dim sum, forcing Sasha to reconsider her perceptions of her hometown. Then, the two walk and talk through the neighborhood.

Khan explains the script had the scene set in Clement Street, which is far less photographed than the photogenic Chinatown shops the area is known for. That helped, but it’s still some movie magic. “Ali grew up hanging around Chinatown, whereas I didn’t, but I was very familiar with San Francisco’s Chinatown,” Park says. “I was surprised at how, at least for me as an outsider, how similar it looked.”

The duo also filmed at Vancouver’s New Town Bakery, doubling as Wong’s real-life fave Good Luck Dim Sum. Many of the New Town Bakery staff actually appear in the film, cameoing as the waitstaff that serve Marcus and Sasha. “We got the real the real workers, and they were all so sweet and so excited,” Park remembers.

But it wasn’t exactly a great business proposition for the restaurant. “They were like, ‘We make so much money at lunch, we’re losing money closing down. But we love Ali so we’ll do it,'” says Khan. The real Good Luck was less starstruck: Wong recently posted on Instagram that they “DGAF” about the movie and she still has to wait in line.

The Farmers Market

Sasha disappoints Marcus with news of her new love interest while browsing organic vegetables, and Khan actually shot the scene at an active market near the Civic Center. “Everyone there was actual people [shopping],” Park remembers. “Ali is looking at produce and two women just push her aside to get their [vegetables] — they don’t care about the camera. A lot of people recognized us, and there was a crowd forming. It was fun and exciting, but you gotta really look at every take to make sure that these extras aren’t in the background just staring at the camera. Because they’re not extras. They’re actually just people on the street.”

Maximal Restaurant

Illustration by EW; Photos courtesy of Netflix

“I really wanted it to feel like the craziest version of super expensive restaurants,” Khan says of the fictional high-end eatery where Keanu Reeves makes his surprise debut as Sasha’s new beau. They opted for a stark utility room with concrete floors at the city’s Contemporary Jewish Museum, transforming it with added tables, neon lights, various artworks — and venison sous vide served with a soundtrack of nature’s life-to-death cycle. “I just wanted to be unsettled a little bit,” Khan adds.

Park’s memories of the utilitarian space are overshadowed by it marking their first day shooting with Reeves. “Our first interactions with Keanu, at least on screen during production, were in that restaurant and it was just magical — just to be in the same room with that guy, let alone to talk to him and get to know him and to see how professional and collaborative he is,” Park reflects.

Keanu’s Penthouse

Illustration by EW; Photos courtesy of Netflix

The John Wick star takes the gang for a wild game night in his room at the Fairmont hotel. The cast and crew wrapped up their final two nights of shooting at the historic Nob Hill landmark, filming in only a small portion of the sprawling, extravagant suite that’s hosted the likes of President Kennedy.

“I’ve never seen a room like that before,” Khan marvels. “That is all original to the space — the floor, the fountain. We just put a little light in the fountain so you can see the water.” Khan shot with three cameras for coverage for the only time on the shoot, determined to capture every detail in the two nights they were there.

“When Randall and Keanu get into that fight, that was the first and the only time in the movie that we go handheld because we wanted it to feel a little chaotic like you’re right in there with them,” Khan says of the infamous scene that inspired Park’s credits track “I Punched Keanu Reeves.” “The Fairmont was amazing. They were very accommodating, and it couldn’t have been a better location. I totally believe that Keanu would be staying there.”

In fact, the movie’s other star Park has stayed at the Fairmont before while filming in the city, but this was his first time inside the penthouse. “We saw the back secret entrance where [Kennedy] sneaked Marilyn Monroe up. [There were these] secret nook, and we were fascinated by that place,” he remembers. “It was a bittersweet, but a lovely place to end our production.”

Judy’s Way

Illustration by EW; Photos courtesy of Netflix

All of the film’s ending New York City scenes were shot in Vancouver. The Vancouver Art Gallery stood in for NYC’s famous Metropolitan Museum of Art, where Marcus makes the grand romantic gesture of being willing to hold Sasha’s purse. That was their last night of shooting in Vancouver, and they went big. “We wanted it to be romantic and feel big and theatrical,” Khan explains. “So they had that long red carpet, and we had lights all in the trees. We had spotlights everywhere.”

Then, there’s Judy’s Way, the eatery Sasha opens dedicated to Marcus’ mother’s cooking. They shot at Vancouver’s Italian restaurant Cinara, which has since been converted to a sibling restaurant named Autostrada. “It’s got to feel way warmer than her other restaurants that we’ve seen in the movie up to this point,” Khan says. “We found this little restaurant in Vancouver that was a tight space for shooting, especially in the end sequence because everyone’s there for opening night. There was that big long line. So there was a lot a lot of people in there, but I liked the openness of the space — like how the kitchen was right off of the dining area. When she brings Marcus to taste the soup, it’s right there. The layout worked for what I wanted to do.”

Behind-the-Scenes

Park describes the set as a fun, familial atmosphere where the cast and crew were always up for a good time. Though their days in San Francisco were limited, they still took time to play tourist, jumping on the iconic cable cars one night to ride them around the city. The team also regularly dined out together, even having their own, far more enjoyable take on the Maximal experience at San Francisco’s Atelier Crenn on Fillmore Street, “It’s a really fancy French restaurant that that we had heard of,” Park remembers. “We made reservations there. They give you a poem at the beginning of the meal, and it was just course after course, all different kinds of wines. It was very fancy. Usually super fancy things aren’t my speed. But it was just so different and so fun because [of] the company. It was a special evening.”

“San Francisco is not the easiest to shoot, but it’s totally worth it if you can get it because it’s just it’s such a scenic place,” Park adds. Filming in San Francisco may have been as much a labor of love as Marcus and Sasha’s relationship, but it’s one that paid off for the entire team.

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Always Be My Maybe

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