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Interview: ‘Boogie’ Star Taylor Takahashi on Acting, Basketball and Being Asian in America

March 25, 2021Ben MK

Being Asian in America is something that films like Minari and television shows like Fresh Off the Boat have brought to the mainstream. And now, Fresh Off the Boat creator Eddie Huang is doing it again with Boogie. The story of a Taiwanese-Chinese high school basketball player named Alfred "Boogie" Chin (Taylor Takahashi, in his debut acting role) who must balance his sense of duty to his family and to his culture with the pressure of succeeding in his chosen sport, the movie is a coming-of-age story that everyone — not just those of Asian heritage — will be able to relate to. For its lead actor, however, the film holds a special meaning.

I caught up with Taylor Takahashi to chat about his experience making Boogie, as well as his basketball background and the ongoing wave of anti-Asian violence happening in the world today.

Boogie is your first film, but before that you were working as a personal trainer and a part-time chef. Can you talk a bit about how you ended up getting into acting and what it was like for you to play the title role in the movie?

Takahashi: I would say acting found me. I got very lucky. I was working as a yakitori chef and a personal trainer, and I happened to meet Eddie [Huang] through a mutual friend at a rec basketball league. He and I slowly and surely became friends, and after about six months of doing the league and playing the games and hanging out, he invited me to cook with him at a couple of his events. The first event I did with him was a DVD release party for Crazy Rich Asians, and then we did another event at Christmas time. And after that one, he asked me if I ever thought about working in the entertainment industry.

I answered, very honestly, "Not a day of my life." But he still offered me a position to work with him as his personal assistant. I was in Orange County at the time, so I moved to L.A. And three weeks before pre-production, he met me at the door of our production office in Astoria. He asked me for my phone and my laptop, and I thought that I was fired. But he was like, "Nope, I want you to remember this scene." And it was scene 44, which is myself and my dad sitting on the couch watching the Chang-Lendl tennis match and having that conversation. We sent it in, and after that three weeks [they were like], "You’re now Boogie." So it was a pretty crazy journey, but here we are.

You used to play basketball competitively as well. Did your familiarity with the sport help or hinder you in terms of getting into character? In other words, where does your character, Boogie, end and where do you, Taylor, begin?

Takahashi: I had a very similar experience with Boogie, where basketball was my life from about the age of 12 to 21. It was to get a college scholarship, it was to go play overseas, to go to the NBA. Basketball was first for me, school was second, and I think that was the ultimate problem for my soul. But basketball was my life for a long time, and as I’ve gotten older, it's become the best teacher that I've had. I've experienced some high highs and some low lows, but in between all of that, I've gained a lot of lessons — from the game, from my teammates, and from coaches.

So the game is much more that win or lose for me. And really, for those who were on that ride with me, it was to build bonds with them. That was exactly what I was able to do. And so this game has ironically [come] full circle. I never thought it would present me with an opportunity to play a lead role in a movie, but that's the beauty in life. You don't do things for the accolades or the adoration, you do things to learn a lesson, to understand it better, and to compete. And that's exactly what basketball has given right back to me.

You touched on it a bit earlier, but what was it like working with Eddie Huang, your director, as well as the rest of the cast?

Takahashi: Whether we're making a movie or not, Eddie's the most intelligent person I've ever been around. He wears a lot of hats for what he represents to me. As a friend, as a person, and as a voice in the Asian community, he's been my beacon — the person that I followed the closest — even before I had met him. And when we got to set, he's very much like a Phil Jackson. He understands people very, very well and just figures out what is going to work for us players. So he was able to crack that code very fast and understand [how it works] when there's two different people in front of him, but he needs the same outcome from both of them.

And the entire cast really felt like it was summer camp. Eddie was our camp director — creating the vibe and setting that tone — and we all just followed. When we first showed up, like any camp you go to, it was a little like, "Why did mom sign me up for this one? What am I here?" And then by the end of it, it was like, "Wow, that went by way too fast. I don’t wanna go home. I'm having too much fun." It's a credit to everyone on-set, we had all great people on this shoot. And I hope they're all like that. I don't think they will be, but it was a great first experience for me.

Was there a scene that was especially memorable for you to film?

Takahashi: I would say that scene 44 is pretty big for me, just the weight of that scene and what's happening there. The passing down of the two different generations and what they see in the most important Asian American sporting event in history. It's a pretty crazy, depth-filled scene. There's that, and I loved my interaction and talk with Uncle Jackie and Eddie in the car. And I love anything with [Taylour Paige's] Eleanor, sitting on the rock. That shot is probably one of my favorites.

Of course, there are a couple of Asian players in the NBA, such as Jeremy Lin and Yuta Watanabe. Are you a fan of those guys and what does it mean to you to see that kind of representation on the court?

Takahashi: I have mad respect for them. I hope Jeremy Lin can make it back into the league, but for me, I enjoy the game as a whole. I check up on Yuta every now and then, but I hope these guys all succeed. And hopefully it starts to become a little more normal and we see a little more representation there. Not just the NBA, but on all levels, whether it's high school, college or pro. I would love to see more representation there.

So, who is your favorite NBA player?

Takahashi: Steph Curry or LeBron [James]. I guess I'm supposed to hate LeBron, being a Warriors fan, but he does so much on the court. And Steph literally changed the game by himself, as a 6' 4" skinny shooter. So I love it. I'm very fortunate I got to see them play a lot of the [NBA] Finals games against each other, so I have a deep appreciation for both of them and what they bring to the game. Especially LeBron.

On a much more serious note, is there anything you want to share or say about the anti-Asian violence that has been going on in America?

Takahashi: I'm happy to see a lot of people speaking up and stepping up. Going back to Jeremy Lin, I always wanted him to be the voice and the beacon for Asian America. And I'm glad he's starting to speak up now. What I don't like is he's relating it to the basketball court. And if you've every been an athlete, stuff on the basketball court happens. I've been called every racial slur possible on a basketball court, but I know that I'm protected on that court. No one's gonna come behind and punch me in the face and run away.

So for me, it's so bad and it's hard to hear all the horror of what's happening in the world right now. But I'm happy to see that we're starting to move into the action phase of things. We're always gonna be spreading awareness, we're always gonna be spreading information. But now we're seeing that we're coming to a point of creating action and solidarity with all people of color. But I'm still learning, I'm still educating myself, I'm still watching. And I'm developing my voice for that as I move forward.

Last but not least, what do you want viewers to take away from the movie?

Takahashi: It doesn't have to be basketball, it doesn't have to be New York, but I think a lot of people relate to Boogie in the sense that they understand what that journey's like. Whether it's themselves or someone that they know who's been through something similar, it's really important that people start to recognize that although we look different and we might practice similar things in different ways, a lot of people that have similar life situations that they go through. We're actually a lot more similar than we are different, and I hope people can really understand that. Because it's what Boogie's struggle is in this movie. There's a relatability factor there, and so I hope people will take that away.

Boogie is now playing in select theaters and is available on demand March 26th.

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