“[Basketball] is always more than just a game,” says Taylor Takahashi. And if you are ready to experience exactly what Takahashi means, get excited for Boogie, the directorial debut of author, chef and food personality Eddie Huang. In Boogie, Takahashi makes his acting debut as Chinese-American basketball player Alfred ‘Boogie’ Chin. An “Asian American coming-of-age immigrant story”, the movie deconstructs stereotypes around the game while examining imposter syndrome, acceptance and relationships. Takahashi stepped off court to tell Schön! about his experiences as Boogie, what it was like filming basketball scenes and about his streetwear brand, OTOTO.
How are you feeling these days? Do you have any major takeaways from 2020 you want to share?
2020 was a tough year for me — as it was for just about everyone else not named Jeff Bezos — but I’m appreciative of it because it gave me the much-needed gift of time. With the world on pause, it allowed me to explore myself, push boundaries and become a more complete person than I’ve ever been. It’s created happiness and comfort that I’ve never felt before but will continue to ride throughout my new journey in the industry. My advice is to not be afraid of any type or level of self-exploration and continue to push the envelope so you can reach your maximum potential.
Your first role is Alfred ‘Boogie’ Chin in Boogie. Why did you want to be part of this film specifically?
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring light and attention to a world that is rarely seen in Hollywood. An Asian-American coming-of-age immigrant story set on the backdrop of NYC, with the influence of basketball and hip-hop cultures all coming together through the vision of Eddie Huang. It’s a mouthful to say, but it captures the uniqueness of Alfred’s Asian-American experience and story, which, for most, is something we’ve never seen before. I hope this film can help normalise some of the experiences that we go through as Asian Americans and help give a voice to an otherwise underrepresented community.
The movie is about a Chinese-American basketball player and the pursuit of his dreams vs. societal expectations. What do you think it means to be a Chinese-American basketball player in society today?
I think in any traditional Asian household, the pursuit and dreams of playing basketball aren’t one of the more popular topics discussed. In society, being a Chinese-American basketball player, you’re automatically associated with Jeremy Lin or Yao Ming, whether that’s fair or not. With the growth of the game on an international level, and especially in China, I believe it has helped introduce the sport to so many others and helped the game be played on so many different levels. It’s no longer about going pro or earning scholarships or accolades — though you should always strive for the mountaintop — but allowing the game to teach you fundamental life skills that you can take into the world.
Why do you think this film and the conversations it sparks need to happen right now?
For the longest time, Asian culture has been silent — partially because of how we tend to assimilate and do our best to not ruffle any feathers, so we don’t cause more attention, but that needs to end. It’s time to start standing our ground, using our voices, and coming together to fight the good fight. The attacks on the Asian community throughout the pandemic are horrifying and the senseless acts of violence and on all POC — they need to stop. We need to implement the systematic changes and give the people in communities the real resources to carry those [systematic changes] out and begin the process of some real change. I hope seeing a diverse cast in this film can help bring people together and open up a willingness to explore all cultures.
We know you are a basketball player in real life. What was it like filming basketball scenes, and how is it different from your real-life experiences on the court?
Filming basketball scenes is much more difficult than any real on-court experience. When I play, I rely a lot on the natural flow within the game to develop my rhythm and pace in knowing where to pick my spots. It’s also a way for me to adjust to who I’m playing with and how to best utilise my teammates. In filming, it’s so much start and stop that the flow gets taken away. So, you get this camera pressure to hit shots, make passes, run plays, etc. that would normally never happen. Basketball is also extremely fast-paced so to start and stop is tough, but our director Eddie and D.P. Brett did an excellent job in capturing basketball in a unique way that doesn’t feel stiff or static.
There is also an on-screen romance – and not just between Boogie and the court. Can you tell us more about this romance?
Let’s be clear — Boogie loves to hoop! But just like any adolescent teen, he also has a love interest in Eleanor, and she happens to be out of his league. For Boogie, it’s the beginning of exploring intimacy and trying to navigate around the typical Asian stereotypes. It’s the battle of acceptance, confidence, and belief of being good enough handed down from home life that’s carried over into his personal intimate relationships. That navigation versus self is never easy, and you’ll see how the struggle of his masculinity can all be self-induced.
We understand you met director Eddie Huang on the court, but what was it like working with him on set?
Eddie is one of the smartest people I’ve ever been around because of his innate ability to understand people, situations, and moments. He has such a fun, youthful spirit that he always carries with him — I think he gets it from his mom — and it’s highly contagious. On set, he created a vibe of what we knew as Summer Camp. When we all first showed up at camp, it was like, ‘Woah who are these people?’ But after 26 days, we all didn’t want to leave! We enjoyed ourselves too much. That’s pure credit to the environment he created and his fearlessness to do things in a nontraditional way. After the first day, I think everyone recognised that spirit, respected it, and appreciated his unique style in getting things done. You could tell that everyone was just so excited to be a part of this — you’re going to work really hard, but you’re going to enjoy yourself while you do it and that’s a special quality he activates. He really is one-of-a-kind.
Do you have any funny or memorable behind-the-scenes moments with Pop Smoke and Taylour Paige?
I’ve never experienced being around someone like Pop who’s got that unique characteristic of having an endless energy supply. He would come straight to set after being in the studio for hours and no sleep, and I never saw him yawn. When we were filming basketball outside at the cage, we had hundreds of people crowding around to get anywhere they could just get a view of him, and I don’t blame them. He is a pure talent at such a young age and seamlessly fit into this experience — it was amazing to watch.
With Taylour, there wasn’t any specific moment or time that sticks out over another. Overall, the whole time filming with her was a great experience. She has such a beautiful and free spirit that is also very contagious. We spent a lot of time off-camera and in-between takes just getting to know each other as human beings and developed a friendship/chemistry so naturally that it played well for both of our characters. I have so much respect for her craft and feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with her while I did because she’s going to steamroll everything in her way. Watch out!
Give us your favourite Boogie moment.
Scene 44 — watching the Chang vs. Lendl tennis match with dad, Mr. Chin. It’s the first scene I auditioned with and was the last scene we filmed on set. At the time in 1989, it was a very important moment in Asian American history, and the lessons I’ve been able to learn through that experience carry over to off-screen. It was the beginning of being able to see an Asian American succeed on a professional level, and given the circumstances of what he was battling, made the win even more memorable.
Is there anything you learned while playing Boogie that you think was important to take away the rest of your acting career and in life generally?
Eddie believed in me long before I believed in myself. Don’t get me wrong, I put in the hard work, but it was the truest lesson in having someone believe in you before you believe in yourself and the power of what that can do.
My big takeaway is to always stay ready, because you may just have the opportunity to star in a film. But in all seriousness, it’s to use your life experiences to their full potential and explore the paths that you don’t see coming or the ones less talked about. If you can rely on the lessons you’ve learned along the way, it’ll make navigating the unknown less frightening and open you up to once-in-a-lifetime changes or opportunities. Seize the moment while it’s right there in front of you, and run through the wall because you never know what’s on the other side.
What do you think are the most important things to remember when you are on the court vs. when you are off the court?
The most important thing to remember is that the lessons you learn through the game of basketball apply to all different sectors of life off the court. Basketball has long been one of the greatest teachers that I’ve ever had and is the reason why I think it’s the best game on the planet. While you’re on the court learning about teamwork, leadership, character, goal setting, hard work, passion, determination, and sacrifice (just to name a few), you gain lessons of experience that carry over to the real world. Use the game to further and foster relationships that go beyond the court because those will be the real bonds that you want in life. It’s always more than just a game!
You are currently working on your streetwear brand, OTOTO. Is there a story behind this brand name?
OTOTO translates to ‘little brother’. My brother is five years older than me and was always willing to bring me around as long as I followed one simple rule: don’t act your age. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have other mentors who’ve taken me under their wing in order to pass down knowledge and invaluable life experiences along the way. It was my observations of being around older people and getting exposure early that really shaped who I am today. I’ve respected the responsibility of being the little brother and using the information wisely to shape my own vision, opinions, and outlook on life. I’m forever grateful to those who’ve been willing to share and make it my responsibility to pay it forward.
What inspired you to start your own streetwear brand, and what sets your brand apart from others?
During the pandemic, I was forced to stay inside to foster the creative itch that I’ve always had. Time was always my struggle, but I was gifted with the most time one could ask for, and I took it as a sign to really get things off the ground. I look at the brand as a way of storytelling, and we’re currently in Chapter 1: The Introduction. The creative process for me is what I enjoy most: from idea, to sketch, to vector file and ultimately a final product — it’s something I love spending time on. I was also just fed up paying for clothes that weren’t exactly what I wanted.
OTOTO is a men’s clothing brand focused on delivering quality-sourced goods with high attention to detail that’s produced in limited quantities. The vision was born through the heartbeat of both streetwear and basketball cultures, using those unique experiences to highlight the different worlds around us. Creating on a blank canvas, I tap into those worlds and continue the exploration of distinctive colour theories and palettes which establish the separation from others.
Drawing inspiration from a broad, multi-generational umbrella that pays respect to those who’ve paved the way and also influences how we challenge ourselves for the future. Striving to always push the boundaries beyond their limit while remaining true to our ethos. OTOTO is running like a big family, and from concept to finished product, I am in touch every step of the way. I extend the olive branch to invite you into the experience and embodiment of who I am and hope you enjoy being a part of the family. Check out the site!
Now that you have your first acting role under your belt and are working on your streetwear brand, are you auditioning for other acting roles?
Yes! I have been auditioning for other roles and excited for what’s ahead. There are a couple of things in the mix, but the release of this film is a huge relief. There’s some major opportunity out there and I can’t wait to start this journey!
Boogie is in cinemas now.