Randall Park: Walking is, for me, just this wonderful gift.
During the pandemic, I actually, for the first time in my life, experienced panic attacks. They were really jarring and scary for me. I started incorporating long walks into my life. They really make me feel more relaxed, more in touch with the Earth and the world. And it’s something that we all take for granted, including myself, far too often.
Go take a walk. It’ll be great for you.
Sam Sanchez: It’s Time to Walk, where some of the world’s most interesting and inspiring people share stories, photos, and songs that have influenced their lives.
Actor Randall Park plays a federal agent in the blockbuster Marvel movie “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and the hit television series “WandaVision”. He also co-wrote, produced, and starred in the romantic comedy “Always Be My Maybe” and played a lead role in the TV show “Fresh Off the Boat”. On this walk, Randall reflects on how failure can sometimes lead to greatness when you least expect it and the value of storytelling to help create positive change.
Randall Park: So we’re going on a walk through my alma mater, the campus of UCLA. It’s so damn beautiful here. The reason why I chose UCLA was just because it means so much to me in terms of the progression of my life. And the time I was here was pivotal in the formation of who I was to become.
So we’re walking through this beautiful campus, and we’re… we’re going to see some places that are important to me.
I was born and raised in L.A. I have never left L.A. And I think, for a lot of people, L.A. gets a bad rap, you know? They equate it with, like, Hollywood and glamor and avocado toast and kombucha and stuff like that, but that’s not the L.A. I know.
I grew up with, like, the most diverse set of friends. We were like a Benetton ad. It was like… It was almost, like, absurd. We were all just kids from families who worked blue-collar jobs, middle class. You know, we would take walks as kids to… to, like, the Taco Bell down the street. That was what we did for fun. And I think, out of the group, I was kind of more the artistic one, you know? Some of my other friends were more athletic.
Marcus and Robbie, they were great athletes, and they’d play Little League baseball every year. And I remember going to the games, watching them play, and thinking, “Oh, man. They are so cool. I want to be a part of it.”
And I remember, one summer, asking my parents, like, “Is it cool if I do Little League?” My mom and dad were like, “You? You want to do Little League? Uh, okay.” So I enrolled in the Little League program. And I was with my friends, and it was just so great to be around my friends.
But it also wasn’t so great because I was really bad at baseball. I was, like, probably the worst baseball player in the nation. And I think it was because I was scared of the ball. Like, the baseballs are, like, hard, you know, and when they’re coming at you, how can you not be scared?
They put me out into the far, far right field, like real far. And whenever, like, the ball would come close, I would just fill up with this intense fear and anxiety. And, as it would come up to me, I would just, like, flinch. I’d shut my eyes and… just for a second, and the ball would, you know, inevitably just go through my legs, and what would’ve been, like, a base hit would become a home run.
But the worst was being up to bat because here you have a guy hurling a ball at you, like with all his might, like he wants to kill you. And I was like the king of getting striked out.
The only time when I would not strike out is when I’d get hit with the ball. And my teammates, they were so sweet and encouraging. “Good job, Randy.” They called me Randy back then. “Good job! Way to take it.”
And I’d be like, “Way to take it? I had no choice. This game is barbaric.”
So the season progresses, and it was the final game of the season, and it was a great game. It was a nail-biter, a bunch of home runs and hits and play. I don’t even know the terms. That’s how much I hate sports.
The bases were loaded with two outs. And guess whose turn it was to go up to bat? Me. And for the first time throughout the entire season, I was like, “I hope I get hit with the ball,” because then I’d end up on base, and then all the pressure would be on the next guy. I didn’t want the pressure.
I go up to bat. This pitcher winds up, hurls the ball, and it’s going so fast. And I flinch, and I close my eyes, and I swing. “Strike,” the umpire yells. And I’m like, “Yeah, okay. Everything’s going according to plan. This is like how it’s supposed to be.”
The pitcher winds up again, hurls the ball, and this time the ball is, like, way outside of the strike zone. But I was still so scared that I close my eyes and swing. Strike.
And my… and my coach was like, “It’s okay, Randy. Good job. You didn’t have to swing at that one, but… but it’s okay.”
And I was like, “All right, let’s just end this.”
The pitcher winds up, hurls the ball, and of course I get filled with fear. My eyes tighten. I just quickly swing, open my eyes, and I see the coach yelling, “Go, Randy, go! Go, go!”
And I’m like, “What?”
I look at my teammates, “Go, go, go, go!” I look out at the outfield, and I see that I had hit the ball so far that it went way over the outfielder into the diamond across the park.
“Go, Randy, go, go, go!”
And I start running. And for the first time, I felt what it felt like to touch each base, and I felt like I was floating. It was like this spiritual experience rounding the bases.
And I get to home plate, and the teammates just cheer. They’re going crazy, and they’re hugging me, everyone piling on top of me. And then we won the game because of my grand slam home run. It’s called a grand slam, right? When… I think.
To this day, my friends and I talk about that moment and marvel at that moment. It was like out of a movie, you know? And we never talk about all the times I struck out, all of the times the ball went through my leg, that one time when I might’ve screamed a little when the ball was coming at me. No one even remembers that.
We just talk about that home run. And I think that’s a testament to the fact that failure is fine, you know? It’s going to happen, and it’s going to happen over and over and over again. And that’s okay because it’s also, like, a great setup. Failure is a great setup to a really good outcome as long as you stay in the game.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
When I enrolled in UCLA, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. So, when I got to UCLA, there was this vibrant Asian American community, and it was all throughout campus, you know, in different forms.
There were sororities, fraternities, the Filipino student organization, you know, the Koreans, and there was an Asian American Studies program. The Asian American experience ran the gamut on campus, and I never really got to see that before, especially different groups of Asians, you know?
Then there was also this sense of Asian American and this unity amongst these different groups that was just really exciting to me.
During high school and throughout my schooling, I was always really good at, like, math and sciences and stuff like that. I never thought of myself as, like, a writer. And it was during my sophomore year. I was in an English class, and the TA for the class pulled me aside and was like, “Randall, you’re a great writer. You should think about this as a path.”
It felt like a call to action. And I started to think of myself as a writer, and I started writing just, like, really bad poetry, like the worst poetry. But at the time, I thought it was so good. And I met two friends, two Asian American guys, Dave and Derek, who were also, like me, writers of really bad poetry.
And one thing we were always really frustrated with was the fact that storytelling in pop culture never included perspectives from Asian Americans. When we were on the screen, we were usually the goofy sidekick or the waiter at the Chinese restaurant, you know? And we were always kind of the butt of the joke, in ways.
You know, when I was a kid, I never questioned those things, but at UCLA, I started to feel like, “This is weird and wrong, and it’s the norm. This… We should do something about this.”
And we made this pact. We were like, “We’re each going to write a full-length play about our experiences as Asian Americans.” And we decided that I would go first. Now, I had never written a full-length play before. I had no idea how to do it. But I was so focused and, eventually, I finished the play.
I wrote this play essentially about my friendship with these guys. It was about these three guys, and it took place at UCLA. That’s how great a writer I was. I just literally took everything that was going on. There were musical elements. There were action elements. I’m sure there was a love scene in there. Just everything that I had consumed throughout my life, through popular culture, I was throwing in my Asian American version of that into this play. And I thought I wrote a masterpiece, you know?
We started casting the play, just holding auditions. This company that we were forming was an Asian American company, of which none of these people were in the theater… from the theater department. But they were all math majors, science majors, these people who were doing what their parents wanted them to do, pre-med. But they all had this, like, desire to do something creative.
And we formed this company. We casted the parts, and we just rehearsed. The day of the first show was coming, and we were all getting very nervous, but we were all so excited.
And I remember on that first late afternoon going up to the theater, which was called the Northwest Campus Auditorium, and it was up there by the dorms. And there was a line, a huge line, and it was snaking all around the dorms. It was like… It was unbelievable, and it was all of these Asian American kids who were so excited to see this show.
We do the show. It is raucous laughter. People are going crazy. Like, I would say words that I wrote, and folks would be jumping out of their seats.
And all of us, I think, in that theater company were… I think we were changed, like fundamentally, on a deep level because of that very first show.
The next night, go walk up to the theater, the line is twice as long. We had to turn people away. Every show, we had to turn people away. But this time it wasn’t just Asian American kids. It was kind of a mix of people, and I was like, “Oh, my gosh. The word is spreading. And people not just in our community want to see this, but there’s an audience for this stuff.”
Did another night, same thing, and it was such a triumphant experience we just… We kept the theater company going. As far as the name of the company, it’s a weird name. We became Lapu the Coyote that Cares, or LCC. 25-plus years later, Lapu the Coyote that Cares is still here on campus, and it’s pretty amazing.
Really great people thriving in the industry came out of that company. Ali Wong came out of that theater company, an Asian American theater company.
And I think my… our anger at the fact that our stories weren’t being told, we weren’t fully humanized by this massive pop culture machine plays into why… things like the violence happening to Asian Americans. It’s a part of it because… because there’s a lack of empathy, you know? There’s a lack of empathy out there, and when there’s a lack of empathy, it’s easier to assault someone, it’s easier to not defend someone who’s being assaulted. It’s easier to disregard the humanity of somebody.
And I think storytelling is key. It’s a key part amongst many other ways of, of humanizing a people. Storytelling, at least for me, it’s my way. It’s my way. I learned that here with the theater company.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
Acting is a very difficult thing to pursue. So, when I started acting, when I finally decided kind of well after college because I was too scared of going for it. In my later 20s, I was like, “You know what? I’m going to go for it.” And I had a really tough time. It was hard to find representation. It was hard to get auditions, you know?
And just getting those auditions was just not even half the battle. It was hard booking work, thousands upon thousands of auditions that led to nothing. Most of my adult life, I was flat broke. There were periods of real depression and real like questioning, “Am I doing the right thing? It was so fun in college. What the h***’s going on, you know?”
Eventually, I got an agent, you know, like a kind of low-level agent, but willing to take me, which was, like, so… such a big deal. And he calls me up one day, and he’s like, “We got an audition for you. It’s for a pilot.” And a pilot, for people who don’t know, it’s basically the first episode of a show.
I did my audition. Next day, I get a call from my agent. He’s like, “Randall, you booked the part.”
I was like, “What?”
“You booked the part.” I was so happy. I just needed it, and I got it.
Now, the show was an interesting one. At the time, “Desperate Housewives” was really popular, and every network was trying to make their version of “Desperate Housewives”. And this was about a bunch of cops who lived on a cul-de-sac with their wives and girlfriends, and there’d be entanglements and drama. Weird, but I didn’t care.
I didn’t care because I was going to be on a network pilot as a recurring. If this thing got picked up to series, who knows? They could bump me up to series regular. I could become a fan favorite.
So the first day of production comes, and I remember sitting in my trailer. “Oh, my god, I’m in a trailer. This is crazy. I’ve made it.” You know, I’m thinking, “I’ve made it. I’ve made it. This is going to change my life.”
This is the very first day. I get called to set. Throughout the episode, I… I was pretty much in the background for most of it. You know, I was at the precinct with these cops, and maybe I had a line here or there, but I had one scene that was kind of substantial where I get into an argument with the lead cop.
And I had never had anything like that in my career, like an actual meaty scene. So I was so excited, and I worked so hard on it, and I was ready. I was ready.
And I get there, and I meet the director. And he’s just looking me up and down. And I get this feeling that he’s not happy with what he sees. But I, like, brush it off. I’m like, “Well, you know what? After this scene, he’ll respect me.”
We get into the scene. The director yells, “Action.” And I don’t remember the exact lines so I’m paraphrasing, but there was… like, the exchange, like, starts out, like, he says, “You’re the problem.” And I say, “No, you’re the problem!” And we get into the scene.
“You’re the problem.”
“No, you’re the problem!”
He comes up to us, and he’s looking at me. And he’s like, “Look, can you… can you play it just a little tougher? Can you play it tougher?”
And I’m like, “Absolutely. Absolutely I can play it tougher.”
He yells, “Action.”
“You’re the problem.”
“No, you’re the problem!”
The director comes up again. And he’s like, “Look, you’re a cop. You’ve seen stuff. Be that cop.”
And I’m like, “Great direction. Thank you. I’ll do that.”
“You’re the problem.”
“No, you’re the problem!”
And I could tell he’s getting super frustrated at this point. He’s, like, steaming, and he comes up to me, and he says, in front of everybody, “Look, be more manly. Can you be more manly?”
And I’m just, like, frozen. And I’m thinking in my head, like, “What is he talking about?” I’m like, “This is… This is the best I could do when it comes to manly.” That’s what I’m thinking, but on the outside, I say, “Absolutely, yes. I can be more manly. Yes, I’ll do it.”
But on the inside, I’m just shaken. I start wondering, like, “Is it, like, a racial thing?” It’s, it’s feeling like a racial thing, but I… I don’t know. All I know is I want to do a good job.
We do another take, and I decide I’m going to really deepen my voice.
“You’re the problem.”
“No, you’re the problem!”
This goes on and on again, and it gets to the point where even the cast starts turning on me because they’re getting frustrated. I’m holding up the day.
Twenty-plus takes later, the director’s like, “You know what? Forget it. Let’s move on.” And I remember going to my trailer and crying. I was just crying so much in that trailer. Oh, my gosh. I’m done. I’m done. I had never felt so humiliated, hurt, so alone.
And the worst part of it was that was the first day of shooting. I had another week and a half of shooting where I had to come to work and be the most hated person on set. And I was severely depressed after that.
And then, months later, I get a call from my agent, and he was like, “Hey, I got a copy of the pilot. Do you want to see it?” I get the pilot on DVD because, back then, that’s how it worked, put it in my DVD player, and I watch the pilot.
It’s terrible. It’s terrible. All my parts got cut out except for that one scene including the argument that I get into with this other cop, with the lead cop.
And I’m watching it, and the cop says, “You’re the problem.”
And I say, “No, you’re the problem!”
And I’m like, “Wait. What the h***?”
They dubbed over my voice with, like, the most inhuman… It was like… like a science fiction monster’s voice. And I just burst out laughing. I couldn’t help but just roll on the floor dying. That pilot never got picked up to series.
It’s not really a lesson so much as it’s just a revelation about myself, but I really love these horrible stories about my life. I, like, love them. I love telling them.
I mean, they were a big deal at the time. At the time, I thought I would never get over it, I would never get over that pain. And I think the moment I replayed that scene of the pilot, I kind of got over it, and I moved on.
But the crazy thing, in retrospect, about that experience and a lot of horrific experiences in my life, of which there are plenty, is that they were just a blip in the radar.
[SOUND OF WALKING]
So we’re about to approach our final destination, which I’m very excited to show you, these steps.
This is an area of connection between the dorms where we’d live, basically the bottom of campus, and it connects us into this beautiful… this beautiful campus. I see it as kind of a corridor into this magical place, which is my alma mater.
It’s also good exercise. My legs were very muscular when I was in college, in part because of these steps. They’re still very muscular. They’re gargantuan. It’s actually a burden. I have great legs.
Music is a very important part of my life. It’s always there. It’s always been there. It will continue to be there. It transports you. It’s a journey, you know? It’s a journey and a story, and I love stories.
I’m a big fan of Alicia Keys, but this song in particular is the one I love most. It’s in part because it was produced by Kanye West. It’s just that classic Kanye West sound, the use of the soul sample with Alicia Keys’ voice, I just love it. “You Don’t Know My Name”, it’s so great.
[MUSIC - “YOU DON’T KNOW MY NAME” BY ALICIA KEYS]
The Roots are one of my favorite bands of all time. I love this particular song, “What They Do”. It’s from their album called “Illadelph Halflife” and I think that’s my favorite Roots album. I think Questlove is a genius. I think Black Thought is one of the greatest emcees ever. And this song, in particular, is just… the message of it, I just love. Never do what they do. Be different. Be yourself, ultimately.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
As Black Thought says in the song, he says [RANDALL PARK QUOTES A LINE FROM “WHAT THEY DO”]. And I just love that. I love that because I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider and different. That’s cool, you know? That’s cool, and this song epitomizes that.
[MUSIC - “WHAT THEY DO” BY THE ROOTS]
I remember when my friend introduced me to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and I listened to it, and I was just floored. It was like a spiritual experience, you know? I felt like I was floating the entire time. I listened to it the whole way through. And that’s since been one of my favorite albums of all time.
This song in particular is the opening song of the album. It’s called “Acknowledgement”. In fact, almost every day, I’ll listen to this song because it really lifts me up, but at the same time, it connects me to something greater.
[MUSIC FADES IN]
It makes me feel very present as a living being.
[MUSIC - “A LOVE SUPREME, PT. 1: ACKNOWLEDGEMENT (LIVE)” BY JOHN COLTRANE]
Our walk is finished.
I’m feeling a lot of things, you know? Feeling very happy with being back on campus, just being in this environment and going on this journey with you.
Thank you for taking the time to walk with me today.