Stage & Screen

Randall Park: Hollywood's Wholesome Leading Man

From The Office to Ant-Man, Aquaman to Fresh Off The Boat, Randall Park has cut his teeth on some of the most impressive and loved properties around. Now helming Netflix' newest workplace comedy, he delves deep into childhood memories of Blockbuster, the Hallyu Wave and where he ends and his new character begins.
Randall Park (Timmy) in Netflix' Blockbuster. Photo: Netflix.
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Randall Park: Hollywood's Wholesome Leading Man

Loving. Impulsive. Dedicated. Three words filled with heart: and the ones that Randall Park would choose to describe Timmy Yoon, his newest lead role in Netflix's workplace comedy, Blockbuster.

"I think those three words [also] fit me pretty well," reflects Randall, and it can be argued that some of those aspects fit many other characters in Park's illustrious career that has spanned over two decades. He's one of the few actors to feature in both the Marvel and DC Universes, playing Agent Jimmy Woo in the former and Dr. Stephen Shin in the latter, and is set to reprise both roles again next year on the big screen. Many American households have also known and love his comedic chops when in 2015 he played Louis, the beloved patriarch of the Huang family, in ABC sitcom Fresh Off The Boat, which ran for six seasons.

Randall Park (Timmy). Photo: Netflix.

Even amongst such interesting and loveable roles, Timmy Yoon is perhaps one of the actor's most endearing yet. Timmy joins the ranks of some of TV's famous bosses as the man who unwittingly finds himself in charge of the very last Blockbuster left in the world. With this new responsibility on his shoulders, he tasks himself with keeping the store - and the small community that gathers within in it - alive. The irony that a show about Blockbuster is being streamed on Netflix will not be lost to most, and this piqued Park's interest when the pilot script came in through his representatives.

"But I also thought... I don't know if I want to do another sitcom," he also confesses. "They were like, "Just read the script." I just loved it so much... I felt like it was... like I really needed it, you know? When I read it, maybe I was a little bit down - I don't remember exactly how I felt - but I was definitely uplifted by reading it.

The thought of playing the character and having this little workplace family, but also having this will-they-won't-they kind of rom com element to it... it felt like such a rich world to play in."

Younger generations may not have memories of stepping into a Blockbuster, walking amongst its many shelves of videos and DVDs as you breathe in that precise odour kaleidoscope of microwave popcorn, sugar and plastic wrapping... until you finally make your pick for that evening's viewing. Yet for Park, who is very much of the generations that got to experience Blockbuster in its prime, he has clear physical and emotional memories of what the store means to him.

Much like his character Timmy, he also worked in a video store during his teenage years, a job that features in many a happy summer memory. After all, for any film or TV buff, the prospect of going to a job where you can be surrounded by movies and games 24/7 is surely the next best thing to actually working in the entertainment industry. This passion is reflected in the show, where the character of Carlos (Tyler Alvarez) embodies many people's complete and utter love of cinema, which serves as a motivation that helps him get so much enjoyment out of his job.

"Just going to Blockbuster, and that ritual of choosing a movie and making sure that I always return things on time... that whole ritual was was very, very special,"  Park recalls. "Especially now that it's not a regular thing to me, I do long for that to a degree and I feel like a lot of people might feel the same way. This show definitely scratches that itch."

Randall Park (Timmy) and J.B. Smoove (Percy). Photo: Netflix.

As conversations around technology, privacy and mental health continue to be debated between businesses, governments and consumers, the beauty of Blockbuster can be found in the personal customer interactions and bonding that hold together the cast throughout all ten episodes of the show's inaugural season. Many of the characters - Park's Timmy included - crave or thrive on human connection and self-care in a way that means smartphones and tablets can, but don't always, save the day. For all the ease that technology offers us, Blockbuster's writers seem to consistently remind the viewer that there is still much joy to be found in sometimes taking time to touch grass and smell the roses, a sentiment that both Timmy and Park seem to appreciate deeply.

"There are a lot of great things that come with [technology]," says Park thoughtfully. "But there is something to something to be said about working a little bit for your content, you know? About going to the store and, and making a decision that you can't turn back from and whatever you choose, you watch. I feel like there is some value to that. Also the human connection: the thing that Timmy cares about most... talking to the clerk at the store, getting recommendations, learning about the person through their recommendations."

Melissa Fumero (Eliza), Randall Park (Timmy). Photo: Netflix.

Park's top billing amongst the show's ensemble reflects not just his standing as one of the leading Asian-American actors of his generation, but also the commitment of the show to display the diversity of people that can exist within the small community the store cultivates. The message is clear: film and TV can bring together people from all walks of life, and Timmy revels in the uniqueness of every person he can help with a movie rental.

The interesting relationship that also develops and grows between Timmy and Melissa Fumero's Eliza is also another shift in the mainstream towards showing more love and romance not just between characters from a variety of backgrounds, but who have also gone and lived whole lives and had unique experiences. All these elements help to make Blockbuster feel like a show that is very lived-in, that the audience themselves can step into at a moments' notice. Park himself found his own life and friendships mirroring the world of the show.

"The friends I grew up with, [they're] still my friends to this day," he recounted. "I mean, we are all so diverse! We're almost, like... perfectly diverse! It's like a Benetton ad, you know!? I feel like the fact that this show reflects that... to me, it doesn't feel forced. It just feels so natural and real. I haven't thought about it much because it just feels so normal to me."

(L to R) Randall Park (Timmy), Tyler Alvarez (Carlos), Kamaia Fairburn (Kayla), Melissa Fumero (Eliza), Madeleine Arthur (Hannah). Photo: Netflix.

That normalism is extended even further into the specific details that surround Timmy and the way he sees the world and interacts with his family. Park's own Korean-American heritage is not dampened in the show, but little moments and comments serve to inform the viewer that his experiences are enriched by the Korean heritage that has also shaped his life. Talking to Park about this further uncovers the layers of respect and collaboration between the show and its cast. While certain storylines and familial depictions for Timmy originated from the writers and creators themselves, the casting of James Saito as Timmy's father was instigated directly by Park.

"He played my dad in this movie Always Be My Maybe, and I just loved him so much," Park reveals. "I was like, "Can we cast him as my dad in the show?" And luckily, he was down to do it. So it's just an extremely collaborative group."

Jae Suh Park and Randall Park at the premiere for Blockbuster. Photo: Netflix.

While the streaming age has pushed aside bricks-and-mortar video stores around the world, such open media access has made this a golden age for cultural accessibility. It has never been easier for someone in Manchester to be able to wake up, watch a show filmed in Seoul, call their cousin in Detroit about it, who can then make a gifset that ends up reposted by likeminded fans in Mumbai, Lagos, Santiago and more. All within hours.

As a result the Hallyu Wave has never been stronger, with Korean popular culture consumed globally by millions around the world. Conversely, Park and many of his other famous compatriots in the media that come from the Korean diaspora, do much to represent the lives of Koreans who have spent much, if not all, of their lives growing up in other countries.

Timmy is a joyful embodiment of all this intersectionality, and hearing Park speak about his own childhood experiences only further highlights the beauty to be found in such rich heritage and experiences.

Randall Park (Timmy). Photo: Netflix.

"When I was growing up, I didn't have a lot of examples of Asian-Americans telling their stories on screen. In particular Korean-Americans; but I also didn't have access to Koreans in Korea telling their stories," he muses. "It never reached me as a kid because it wasn't popular. It wasn't available. Now I feel like we're in this very unique time where, in a lot of ways, Korean pop culture is pop culture, you know? Throughout the world. I watch K-Dramas now, and we listen to BTS, and it's like... it's so cool.

I think the reverse: being able to tell these Asian-American stories is really cool for Asian-Americans here, but also for people in, say, Korea to get a glimpse of the Korean-American experience. I think that's just so cool. I feel like it's really opening people up to others and ourselves, which is amazing."

Blockbuster is streaming on Netflix now.
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