Randall Park says goodbye to Fresh Off the Boat: 'The thing I'm most proud of are those kids'
Fresh Off the Boat just went to the future to say goodbye.
The ’90s-set ABC sitcom signed off for good on Friday night with an hourlong series finale that included a Huang family rendition of “Hakuna Matata,” a trip to Disney World, a visit from Andy Richter as Andy Richter, and a Harvard graduation. The second half-hour, which was directed by star Randall Park, focused on Jessica (Constance Wu) struggling with Eddie’s (Hudson Yang) decision to pursue a culinary career (following in the footsteps of the show’s real-life inspiration, chef Eddie Huang). In the end, she’d accept his future, as we’d see in the ending flash-forward, which was set at Evan’s (Ian Chen) graduation from Harvard, and revealed that Emery (Forrest Wheeler) stars in cell phone commercials and Eddie has a restaurant — and a goatee.
To reflect on the barrier-breaking series, EW chatted with Park (who stars as patriarch Louis) about the pressure of directing the finale, helping start a change in the industry, and how proud he is of the people that his TV sons have become.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We’re only days away from the finale airing, so how are you feeling? Has it sunk in yet that this is it?
RANDALL PARK: It’s definitely bittersweet. The show means so much to me on so many levels, and to know it’s officially coming to an end this week is sad — but also really celebratory, because of what the show represents, not just to our history or TV history or Asian-American history, but just to what it represents in my life. It’s been such a great ride. I’m just real thankful more than anything.
Were you surprised that this was the end, or did it feel like the right time?
I wasn’t surprised. I would say that it feels like the right time. We got a lot of stories out during those six seasons and the kids have grown and turned into these amazing people.
Speaking of the kids, we see a lot of flashbacks in these episodes, and I kind of forgot how young they were when this started, especially Hudson. What’s the experience been like watching these three kids grow up in front of you as you play their father? That’s a life-long bond, like, you’ll always be their TV dad.
It’s been surreal. Because I see them every day it’s kind of like my own daughter; I see her all the time and I’m not really clocking how fast she’s growing until I just stop and think about it, and then I look at old photos and go, “Oh my gosh, she’s grown so much.” And it’s the same with the kids, like the only times I’d really get to track their growth would be at the beginning of every season after a hiatus; I’d see the kids after months have past and they’ve just grown so much, and that happening over the course of six seasons, it’s just really amazing how fast kids grow in such a relatively short period of time.
You directed the finale, which was your first time doing an episode on the series. Did that add an extra level of pressure knowing it was end? You don’t want to be the guy who messed up the finale!
It was really amazing that I got to do that. There was definitely a lot of pressure. I didn’t feel a lot of pressure from my coworkers but I put a lot of pressure on my self, because I wanted to make sure that the final episode was a strong one and representative of the entire series, and also one for the fans. So I definitely put in a lot of work on that final episode, almost to the point where I couldn’t fully absorb what was happening during that week of shooting. It was all moving so fast and there were so many emotions and people and hugging and saying goodbye and tears and laughs and reminiscing. And that whole time I was just focusing on the next scene, making sure that we had all the pieces and really making sure we had a great finale. But I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I really, really enjoyed directing the episode, and I still definitely got to feel all the feelings that everybody was going through.
With not being able to focus on the feelings during the shooting, what was it like when you called cut for the final time?
There were a lot of tears. As soon as that final cut was called, it was a lot of tears, a lot of hugs. All of the writers came, even writers from previous seasons who had moved on but wanted to be there for that final moment. [Creator] Nahnatchka Khan came by and all these old friends and faces and everyone from every department, and we all just celebrated and hugged and took a huge group photo. It was lovely, really lovely — and sad. But there was a lot of pride there for what we had accomplished.
When you found out how the show was ending, was there anything that surprised you? Maybe a character direction you didn’t see coming or anything else?
I got to see it early on because the preparation for the episode started well before we actually dove in, and I just thought it was really nice and a really great way to end the show. I loved the flash-forward into the future and seeing a little bit of how things turned out down the road for the family. I felt like every season we had the greatest writing team and they knocked it out of the park.
What will you personally miss most about playing Louis?
I think just his worldview. It definitely became a part of mine, in terms of his positivity, his love of life and the people around him. He’s just such a loving soul, and I really think throughout the course of the series it kind of became a part of me. Louis is an infectious character, and the fact that I got to play him really made me a more positive person in general…not that I was ever a really negative person, but I definitely see things on the brighter side more than I ever have these past six seasons. And I think I’m going to hold on to that, in the sense that playing this guy has really — and it sounds corny — made me a better person in a way.
Being a TV sitcom dad is such an iconic thing in pop culture, so how does it feel to go down as a memorable member of that impressive list?
Oh my gosh, I know, just to be in that tradition. It is a tradition that I’m real proud to say I’m a part of now. I grew up watching family sitcoms, they were probably my favorite type of television show growing up, and so I grew up with a lot of sitcom dads in my life. And yes, to say I’m a part of that tradition is really special, because none of them I saw growing up looked like me. So to be a part of that tradition, but to also stand apart of that tradition, being one of the few Asian-Americans to be a sitcom dad on network television, it’s pretty amazing.
As you alluded to earlier, the show made history by being a network sitcom following an Asian-American family, which is something that hadn’t been done in a long time. It’s one thing to make history but then sustaining it is another thing. The show would go on to run for six years and become known for more than just the race of the family at the center of it. Do you almost take as much pride in that as the original barrier-breaking?
For sure. Ultimately the show wouldn’t have kept going if it wasn’t a good show. Good, meaning if it didn’t have compelling characters and really funny jokes and a lot of heart and humanity. I mean, we had all those things, and that’s what made the show so impactful and important. This was just a really funny and heartfelt show featuring a family that we all can identify with, and even though there were things about them that were different, we all could understand and connect to them. I think that is what made this show so special.
Do you feel like the window has been opened for other shows like this to follow? There’s even a possible Fresh spin-off in the works on an Indian-American family. So some progress has been made, even if, unfortunately, that window is not as open as it should be.
I wouldn’t say our show takes all the credit, but we definitely played a part in disrupting the landscape and starting a change. You are seeing it in popular culture, just more faces like ours and more stories from perspectives that haven’t been traditionally recognized. But, like you said, there is a lot more work to be done, because, as of now, there are still only a handful of shows featuring Asian-Americans, and then there’s so many other groups that don’t even have representation out there. So hopefully the change will continue, but I do think our show played its part in starting the conversation.
Any final thoughts as you reflect back on the show?
The show means so much to me and has done so much for me, but I think the most amazing thing and the thing I’m most proud of are those kids. When they started out, they were tiny, just like you said, and our lead kid Hudson had hardly any experience acting. It was all so new to him, and it was a lot of pressure put on him and he could feel the pressure and you could see him feeling that pressure, and you cut to six seasons later and this kid has just grown into this really impressive human. Not only talented but also just a really kind, considerate, humble, great kid. And that goes for all the boys. They’ve just blossomed into these great people, and so that’s the thing that maybe a lot of people won’t be able to see from just watching the show, but it’s something that I’m definitely really proud of and hold close to me as one of the great achievements of our show.
Eddie Huang’s memoir adaptation tells the comical adjustments of a Taiwanese-American family settling into the wild ways of ’90s Orlando, Florida.