Randall Park on How 'Fresh Off the Boat' Led Him to Disney Plus' 'Doogie Kamealoha' (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
Randall Park wasn't necessarily looking for a project like Disney+'s Doogie Howser reimagining, Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.But it was his friendships with executive producers Kourtney Kang and Melvin Mar -- both of whom worked on the ABC family sitcom Park starred in for six seasons, Fresh Off the Boat -- that led him to the charming Hawaiian world. The series is a modern-day update of the classic '90s series and centers on a brilliant 16-year-old doctor Lahela (Peyton Elizabeth Lee), who struggles to balance the angst of teenage life while also being a prodigy in the medical field.
"I love it. I think it's done in such a smart way and in such an organic way in the sense that it reflects Kourtney Kang's background and she had this story in her heart. And it just so happened to fit this hit show from the '90s in terms of some of the thematics, but still is wholly original," he told ET over Zoom on Monday when asked about Doogie Kamealoha. "I like that it's not a remake. It's really a show unto itself with elements of the original Doogie Howser. I just think it's done in such a great way and showing a mixed race family on TV, it's something we don't see too often, so I think that's pretty cool."
Park plays Dr. Choi (aka "Dr. Name Dropper"), chief of staff at the hospital Lahela and her mom, Dr. Clara Hannon (Kathleen Perkins), work at. He also steps behind the camera to direct Wednesday's episode, titled "Dunk Cost," in which Clara decides to go for the chief of staff position and finds herself playing one-on-one basketball with Dr. Choi to comedic effect.
"It was so much fun. Because I'm an actor and originally known as an actor, when I do direct, I want to really make sure that I do a really good job because I don't want to be just one of those director/actors who get this opportunity just because he's made a name for himself as an actor. I want to really show that this is something I'm passionate about, [that] I love," he said. "And so I put a lot of work into it and despite all of the hard work that was put into it, I had such a blast in part because the crew, the cast, everyone involved from the top down are such great people. Just incredible people."
Park's familiarity with the Doogie Kamealoha cast also helped make the experience directing the episode seamless. "I knew Ronny [Chieng] just being friends, and Kathleen worked on Fresh Off the Boat. And the rest, I knew of them, particularly Jason Scott Lee, who is like a hero of mine," Park added. "It was really cool to be on set working with them all and it didn't feel like work."
The 47-year-old WandaVision star recalled an emotional scene between Lahela and her father, Benny (played by Lee), at the ranch that was particularly memorable for him because it transcended genres. "Comedically, we were having so much fun throughout the week and then to be able to direct a more emotional, dramatic kind of moment, it was really nice." Filming the basketball scenes under the hot Hawaiian sun were a different kind of memorable for Park. "I got burned so bad!" he said with a laugh. "But again, part of the reason why I got burned was because I was having so much fun. And I just kind of forgot that I was underneath that hot sun with no shade. I had the worst farmer's tan burn on my shoulders."
Park reflected on working with the late actor Al Harrington, who died Sept. 21 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Harrington was well known for his role as Mamo Kahike on Hawaii Five-0. "To be able to work with him was also great and because he's so associated with the islands, to see how revered he was, particularly by Jason Scott Lee. To see that kind of reverence for him was really heartening."
And Park has been keeping busy as of late. He next appears in the Aquaman sequel and stars opposite Ed Helms in Peacock's hybrid comedy, True Story With Ed Helms and Randall Park, along with a slew of various other projects he's producing and writing.
"It's been a real blessing and for me, I'm at this point in my life where I feel like I have the luxury of trying to pursue things that are fun to me and things that I'm passionate about, and to work with good people. For example, on Doogie Kamealoha, to work with good people, friends, the people who I trust and who I enjoy being around, that's my life's goal," he said, adding that he doesn't "have a checklist per se" when it comes to the projects he's striving for. "But I think it's more a gut feeling. That gut feeling does really center around, 'Does this seem like it's going to be fun?' That's really it. If there's an element in it that seems like, 'Oh, that's not going to be fun,' then I probably won't want to do it."
"I feel very lucky," Park acknowledged. "I've been at this for a long time and definitely large swaths of my adult life where I didn't have this luxury, just getting work, let alone getting even an audition was such a trial for me, so I'm very grateful."