Joel Kim Booster on Being the Unofficial Face of Pride and Bringing Queer Joy to the Screen (Exclusive)

The actor talks to ET about the success of 'Fire Island' and starring in the Apple TV+ series 'Loot' opposite Maya Rudolph.

“I’ll know I’ve really made it when they wanna release something [of mine] outside of Pride Month,” Joel Kim Booster jokes with ET about the fact that several major projects of his have debuted in June.

In fact, the month first kicked off with the celebrated release of the Hulu film Fire Island, which he wrote and starred in, followed by two Netflix standup specials, Joel Kim Booster: Psychosexual and Stand Out: An LGBTQ + Celebration, before closing out with the debut of the hilarious Apple TV+ series Loot, in which he plays a devoted assistant to Maya Rudolph’s character, Molly. 

Considering June is the month when so much LGBTQ-related content is released, Booster has been a part of some of the biggest, most notable and historic ones, more or less making him the unofficial face of Pride in 2022. “No one wanted it, but everyone’s getting it,” he jokes. “I guess that is sort of my lot in life this year. But I’m very, very happy and honored and proud to be a part of all these great projects.” 

And he should be, especially as a 34-year-old openly gay Korean man who went from being afraid and ashamed of who he was growing up (“It took a lot of work and a lot of energy to live proudly”) to being at a major cornerstone in his career in large part by celebrating exactly who he is now. “I have fought for this and I’m gonna enjoy it,” Booster says. 

20th Century Studios

When it comes to the largely positive reception surrounding Fire Island, a queer modern adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice written and directed by as well as starring gay Asian men, Booster never expected it to land with audiences the way it did. “Before it came out, I just was like, ‘Oh my god, everyone’s gonna hate it,’” he admits. “I never in a million years would have thought that this would be the reception for my little movie. But it’s been really wonderful and it’s been really rewarding to hear back from the queer community.” 
And when it comes to pushing the needle forward in terms of LGBTQ storytelling, and being part of this new era of queer rom-coms, “the reaction to it has been far and away, like beyond what I ever could have hoped for,” Booster says, happy that “people are really responding to the queer joy in the film.” 

That element is what also drew the actor to Loot, which sees him holding his own as Nicholas opposite Rudolph, who plays a recent divorcee who turns to her multibillion-dollar foundation to pull herself out from rock bottom while also helping others. The series also stars Michaela Jaé Rodriguez as Sofia, a stern boss who manages Molly’s charity. 

“My character and Michaela’s character, we get to be queer and happy and it’s incidental,” Booster says, explaining that it’s something he wanted to accomplish with Fire Island. “It’s a big part of what has made it such a joy to work on the series. I am able to play a character that’s not traumatized.” 

Apple TV+

Not only that, but the part was almost too perfect to pass up. Created by Alan Yang and Matt Hubbard, Nicholas is a gay guy from the Midwest who is Asian. And as Molly’s longtime assistant, he’s much more used to living a lavish lifestyle that comes with his boss being filthy rich rather than spending time on charity or even focusing more on himself. “While they didn’t write the part for me,” Booster says, "they definitely had me in mind for this… And I was like, ‘If I don’t get this part then we have a real issue. Like, I should reconsider my entire career if I can’t book this.’” 

While from a glance, this character may seem like another gay assistant trope -- something Fire Island co-star Matt Rogers also worked against in I Love That for You -- Booster trusted in the creators and the writers, some of who happen to be queer, to push this beyond what’s been seen or done before. “I’ve gone in for dozens of gay assistant roles over the course of my career,” Booster says. But when he read this, “any fear I had about playing one in this context was really put to rest immediately.” 

Over the course of the season, there’s growth for Nicholas, who is quickly embraced by Molly’s cousin, Howard (Ron Funches). And it’s because of that friendship, which is such a contrast from the superficial and competitive one he has with Molly, that there’s real transformation for Booster’s character. “That was really fun to play, and I hope it’s as fun to watch,” he says. 

Luckily, there’s no shortage of funny moments packed into season 1, with some of the biggest laughs coming early on, like when Molly takes her new team of coworkers on a private jet to Miami in episode two. For her (and Nicholas), it’s just another quick excursion, while for the rest of them, including Sofia, it’s an impromptu trip that disrupts their day. And despite Molly’s reassurance of how wonderful it is to fly private, they all lose it when the jet experiences rough turbulence. 

Apple TV+

Filmed inside an actual jet on hydraulics, Booster says that scene was like being in an amusement park ride. “The turbulence was very real,” he reveals. “As a comedic actor, it’s always fun to have that moment where you get to see who people are at their core in a moment of crisis like that. And so, it was a lot of fun to play.” 

And it’s scenes like that where Booster gets to soak up every moment of playing opposite an icon like Rudolph. “She was really formative for me as a comedian. Like watching her on SNL when I was growing up, she formed a lot of my comedic sense,” he says. “And so, to get to work with her on this level was -- I don’t know, this is so corny -- but it was life changing.”

“They say don’t meet your heroes, but I’m glad I got to not only meet mine but to work with her as well,” he continues, adding that sharing scenes with her is “literally like working next to the sun. It is insane.”  

But even though Rudolph is the star of the series, Booster still gets to shine -- just like he does in Fire Island and in his standup specials. “To feel seen and feel recognized for the first time is really, really rewarding,” Booster says. “And, you know, I can’t wait to see what’s next.”

The first three episodes of Loot debut Friday, June 24 on Apple TV+.

Reporting by Stacy Lambe and Lauren Zima