'Always Be My Maybe': Ali Wong and Randall Park Reflect on Rom-Com's Success and Mull Oscar Hopes (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Always Be My Maybe's Ali Wong and Randall Park are having a moment.
The pair lead Netflix's latest romantic comedy hit, which centers on childhood best friends who grow up to lead vastly different lives: Sasha Tran (Wong) is a well-known chef, while Marcus Kim (Park) is slumming it as an uninspired A/C electrician who moonlights in a band. When they unexpectedly reconnect in their adulthood, years after a teenage fling that ended disastrously, those romantic sparks come flooding back. Oh, and Keanu Reeves is in it too.
Wong and Park, pals since the '90s, co-wrote the film alongside writer Michael Golamco, with a vision to make their own version of When Harry Met Sally. But set in San Francisco. And starring a largely Asian cast. (Daniel Dae Kim, Vivian Bang, James Saito, Susan Park, Karan Soni, Charlyne Yi and rapper Lyrics Born also star in the film.)
Since its late May release, the film has gotten praised for the inclusion of specific everyday Asian household staples, such as the rice and spam dish young Sasha garnishes with furikake, or the classic dim sum plates like shu mai and har gow that Sasha and Marcus chow down during a meal, and de-stigmatizing Asian stereotypes.
Recently, ET hopped on the phone with Wong and Park to discuss the acclaim the film has gotten, their reaction to a grassroots campaign to get Park's original rap "I Punched Keanu Reeves" into the Oscar conversation and if they've discussed a sequel.
ET: Now that Always Be My Maybe has been out for a week, what has been your take on the reception to it? What has surprised you in hearing people's reactions to it?
Ali Wong: I thought that everyone was really going to be mostly freaking out about the Keanu part because that's such a big reveal. But everybody seems to be really drawn to a lot of diverse aspects of the film. Some people are really into the relationship between Marcus and [his dad] Harry, and how refreshing that is to see. Some people are really into Sasha's glasses, and into the fact that Sasha wears glasses until the very end. Some people are really into the revelation, which I've always known, that Randall Park is a snack.
Randall Park: (Laughs.)
Wong: Some people are really into the band. Then, some people are really into the gender dynamics of it all and how that's [been turned on its head], and what kind of commentary that they've drawn from that. In the end, it makes me really proud that there's not one thing that stands out. That everybody's taking away all these different things from the film. It's seemingly very sweet and simple, but from the reaction, it's safe to say that it is a layered, complex film.
You guys have spent a lot of time perfecting the script for this film, and a lot of it is drawn from your own lives. Ali, you were born and raised in San Francisco, and Randall, you were once in a band much like Hello Peril in the '90s called Ill Again. What specific personal experiences were you nervous about translating to screen or that you felt was important to include?
Park: We really wanted to tell this story, and whenever it seemed right and it fit, then we would offer our experiences and see if it organically worked with the story. The band, for example, was something that just felt real and this is a Bay Area person that Ali has seen over the years and knows very well. It made sense to have Marcus be in that kind of a band. There were a lot of little touches throughout and even after writing the script, when we were building the world and choosing props and art decorations to fill up the homes, we were using paintings that my mom actually painted in real life and having them be [Marcus' late mother] Judy's paintings. Little touches like that really helped make the movie feel lived in and feel real.
Growing up in San Francisco, right from the jump, I recognized the row of houses that opened the movie because that was the neighborhood I grew up in.
Wong: You grew up in the Richmond?
Yeah, the Richmond district.
Wong: I'm from San Francisco, too. What school did you go to?
I went to Alamo for elementary, Presidio for middle school and then Washington for high school. Then I transferred out of Washington.
Wong: Oh, you're like a super Richmond district girl! That's another aspect that people really respond to. They're like, "Thank you for showing San Francisco in a way that we haven't seen before." Just little things from the background actors at the Hello Peril shows that looks like what a San Francisco audience might look like or the farmers' market scene. And the Richmond district houses. It was exciting to put those details in because we hadn't seen it before.
Dear @netflix: Please submit "I Punched Keanu Reeves" for awards consideration. According to Academy rules, Original Song submissions must be made no later than 60 days after the opening of the film's L.A. qualifying run, which puts the deadline at July 28. #AlwaysBeMyMaybe
Speaking of the music, Randall, you helped write all the songs that Hello Peril performs in the film. There is sort of a grassroots campaign on the internet to get the end credits rap song, "I Punched Keanu Reeves," into the Oscar original song conversation. What's your reaction?
Park: That's... (Starts laughing.)
Wong: I didn't know that. That's hilarious. It's good.
Park: It's wild to me.
Wong: That's great.
Park: That would be surreal to perform that on that stage.
Wong: In your tuxedo.
Park: In my tuxedo.
Wong: Was it Hustle and Flow that one year?
Park: Yeah, Three 6 Mafia. (The rap trio won the 2006 Oscar for Original Song for "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp.")
Wong: Three 6 Randall.
Park: (Laughs.) But yeah, that's wild. I personally was worried about the music. It was really important for the story. It was important that the music be good.
Wong: So that Sasha doesn't look stupid for liking him, or that you believe she's attracted to him, you know what I mean? Everyone is attracted to Marcus after he performs. They're charmed. They're under that music spell.
Park: We really worked hard on trying to get the music to sound original and to get it sounding as good as possible. We got Dan the Automator to produce the music and I'm just so happy that a lot of people out there are really enjoying it.
Let's talk about Keanu. It's astounding to me how game he was in channeling this heightened, satirical version of himself. Was there anything too out there that he pushed back on or that you guys had to talk out?
Wong: No. There was one scene -- it was in the blooper reel actually -- where he started to improvise and then he stopped. He was like, "This is too much!" Otherwise, he was totally game. I think he had a lot of fun doing it, and I sat in front of him during the premiere and that was the first time he had ever seen the movie, and he was just laughing the whole time. It was really, really sweet to hear. It was delightful.
Because this is a Netflix release, we don't necessarily get to see the deleted scenes or the bloopers, were there any scenes that you filmed that didn't make the final cut?
Park: There's actually a big break-up scene between Marcus and Jenny that was really hilarious and Vivian [Bang] is amazing in it and she physically hurts me, like, in real life. (Laughs.) She actually damaged me, but it was so good and so Jenny. But we ultimately didn't need it in the movie, so we had to let that one go. Maybe these things will see the light of day somewhere. Hopefully.
Can we talk about how amazing Vivian Bang was in the movie because I feel like she hasn't been talked about enough. What did she bring to the table that really elevated the final product?
Wong: That's a character -- the Asian woman with dreadlocks -- that... you're from San Francisco, you've grown up with 20 of them. That's the one character who was very important to me personally to have in the movie and Vivian was there from the beginning from when we had a table read with our friends. We didn't have a director, we didn't know it was going to Netflix and we were working on the script. Vivian always came in to read for Jenny. We didn't tell her this, but I think that role was always meant for her. She always brought so much of this funny... She just brought this great energy to it.
Park: Yeah, that's a character that could, in the wrong hands, be a [caricature]. She really played it with kind of a sweetness to it and a real authenticity to it. Again, Ali and I are old friends, and Vivian is an old friend as well. I did theater with her way before any of this. I always knew how great she was, and a lot of us in our circle have always known how great of an actress she is. Just to give her yet another opportunity to show what she could do, it's so thrilling for us because we always knew that she's incredible.
Because of the positive response to the movie and people really loving it, immediately the question kind of arises about sequels and follow-ups. Is this a project that could have a sequel to it?
Wong: I don't think we started letting ourselves think about it yet because we've really wanted to digest and celebrate how the film is being received. For me at least, I think I'd like to sit in that a little bit longer before even thinking about getting back to work on something else.
Park: The entire journey for this film, from writing it with Ali at the beginning to doing these interviews now, it's been so fun and magical for us. We just want to bask in that for a little while before we talk about whatever's next.
Over the last year or so, there has been a renewed focus in bringing Asian stories and storytellers to the forefront and Always Be My Maybe certainly contributes to that drive. How do you think this movie will continue that march forward for you guys?
Wong: I don't think Randall is going to have to do much. He's going to be very busy getting a lot of offers for the rest of his life. For me, my first love is stand-up, so this was really fun and it was a dream to do. I've been on the road and I'm excited to keep going on the road and doing stand-up.
Ali, you have Birds of Prey coming up with Margot Robbie. After that, do you see more movies in your future?
Wong: If it's the right thing. This project was such a dream and it kind of has to be the right situation again where it's a good script and it's working with people that I absolutely adore and admire on-camera and off-camera -- that I want to have dinner with, that I want to hang out with, that I want to go on a hike with. It has to be like that. But for now, I'm very much enjoying working on my new stand-up special.