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story.lead_photo.caption Randall Park (right) stars with Constance Wu on the ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. The actor paid his dues, some of them very uncomfortable, through years before finding a home on the series. Photo by Mitch Haaseth via ABC

For the past five seasons, Randall Park has played the endearingly optimistic, consistently upbeat husband, father and Florida steakhouse restaurant proprietor Louis Huang on the ABC comedy Fresh Off the Boat.

One reality of working on a family sitcom: The once-small child actors are little no more. "It's crazy, seeing how fast kids grow," said Park. "And all of us adults just stay the same. It's surreal. And the kids on our show, they're at an age where they're hitting these growth spurts at a very rapid rate. The oldest kid, Hudson Yang, when we started the show he was so tiny I could hold him in my arms — and now he's taller than me."

Park has also had a long-running recurring role on HBO's Veep as Danny Chung, and he co-stars in the forthcoming Netflix romantic comedy Always Be My Maybe with comedian Ali Wong.

Headlining a broadcast network sitcom has been one of Park's career highs. When asked to share a worst moment, he replied: "There's one that definitely stands out for me, and I've told it to friends before — hopefully I can tell you the story without acting it out and still convey the horror."

"When I first started acting, I was doing a lot of these network showcases. Like ABC, NBC and Fox, they all had these diversity showcases where basically they were looking for talent and trying to help us get seen. There have been a lot of changes in the past few years — and our show is a testament to that — but when I first started, things weren't very diverse. And I think a lot of the networks were getting called out for that, so they formed these diversity groups, which put on these showcases.

"I didn't have any representation at the time, I was fairly new. So I did a lot of these showcases for all the different networks and one of these showcases went particularly well — so well that the network brought me in to meet all the casting people and some of the executives. I didn't have an agent at the time but they said, 'We're going to send you out to audition for some of our pilots this season.'

"This is huge for me at the time because I had no agent and my dream was to be on a show. So they started sending me out to these auditions. I'd done a lot of sketch and theater, and I was doing stand-up at the time, but I didn't know how to audition. And I didn't realize that it's a different set of skills that are related to acting, but different.

"So they sent me out to this one audition and it was a renowned casting director. Still renowned to this day, I won't say his name. But he's a great casting director and I was just so thrilled that I was seeing him. All I remember about the pilot was that Nathan Lane was one of the stars. In the scene, I was an assistant at this company and the idea is that I come in, having run up the stairs, and I'm out of breath, drenched in sweat and I deliver my lines.

"The show was never picked up. Most pilots don't get picked up. But I didn't know this at the time, I thought I was going to be a multi-billionaire after I wowed this casting director. And next would come movies! This was the opportunity of a lifetime in my head.

"I remember being in the waiting room and getting really nervous. I'm this new actor and I'm seeing all the other actors and thinking: Gosh, all these guys probably have so much more experience than I do — I might have even recognized some of them from TV. I was psyching myself out and I was thinking, I really need to find a way to stand out in my audition.

"And I notice that there's a water cooler in the waiting room with these little cups. And I thought: Oh, wait a minute — I know how I can stand out. What if I get a little cup of water and bring it into the audition, and when the scene starts I just kind of douse myself with the water? (Laughs) So I'll literally be sweaty, like I've just run up a flight of stairs. I really wanted to put on a show for this guy and the competition looked very fierce!

"So they call my name and I have my plan, I have my little cup of water, and I go into the office and it's just me and the casting director and he's sitting behind his desk. And the office is tiny. And I'm thinking: Oh man, this is a tight space for an audition, but all the better, he'll really get to see the nuances that I'm about to bring.

"There's some chat at first, he's very nice. And I'm very nervous. And then he said, 'Are you ready?' And I said, 'Yeah, give me one second' — and I took a deep breath and I pick up my little cup of water and I pour it on my face (laughs) and then I'm ready to go.

"But I look at him and I see that there's also water on his face. And I look down at his tie and I see these little speckles of water on his tie. And then I look down at his desk and the papers have these little droplets of water all over.

"And he is silent. Just staring at me. And I start the scene. And I could tell he is not happy. I fumble half the words because I'm so in my head about what I just did to him. When I finished my last line of the scene, he doesn't say anything. He just looks at me. And I'm like, 'All right. Well. Thank you.' He doesn't say a word. And I walk out.

"And I never went back in that office for another, like, seven years and I remember seeing his name — and at this point, my career had progressed somewhat — and I remember thinking, I wonder if he remembers? So I went to the office and I was even more nervous than the first time. When he saw me, would it all come rushing back to him? But there was no flash of recognition! I don't think he remembered that it was me.

"And the crazy thing is, I booked the role."

"Avoid gimmicks. At the time I didn't think it was a gimmick, for some reason I thought water on my face would wow him. But really, what they want is just a sense of who you are and to see you perform the part. And the irony is, I did give him a sense of who I was at the time: I was a desperate, scared, really nervous and anxious new actor who wanted to make an impression.

"For years, that experience haunted me. With most careers there are ups and downs and especially at the beginning there is struggle — and that was my beginning. And there was a lot of struggle, a lot of times when I was broke and not working and not even auditioning, and I would always think about that one audition and wonder if there was any connection. Like, did word get around about me? Was I the Guy Who Drenched the Office? I was so paranoid.

"I'm sure casting directors see a ton of horrible, nervous first-timers. Or actors that just aren't prepared. And I'm sure that casting director has seen it all and has worse stories. I mean, splashing a little water on his desk, not so bad. But it was on his face (laughs) I think that's what really did it. And the look on his face while the water was dripping down it, that really got seared into my memory and I could not let go of that for many years.

"But in retrospect, it was not that big of a deal. And things turned out OK. I've made mistakes, I'm still going to make mistakes — and I may feel like those mistakes define me in the moment — but with time they just become part of the journey.

"And I may even get a great story out of it."

Style on 03/19/2019

Print Headline: Fresh Off star Park recalls the soggy audition


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