'Fresh Off the Boat' Star's Dad Shares Pride and Pain of Seeing His Child Grow Up Onscreen (Guest Column)
Journalist Jeff Yang has watched his son Hudson experience milestones like a first kiss on the ABC sitcom — and deal with the demands and stings of fame offscreen — as he makes TV history doing a job he loves: "We can't entirely protect him."
I remember the moment when Hudson first decided he wanted to be an actor — or more precisely, a "TV star." He was 8 years old, on the brink of 9, and scampered off the school bus one afternoon declaring his new goal, without explanation or warning.
I asked where this was coming from. Although I'm a journalist who has written about film and TV, he had never shown any interest in performing and had long since tried and rejected all of the stereotypical Asian performing arts (piano, violin, etc.).
My question made Hudson go bright red, mumbling about a "friend" acting on TV and thinking it was kind of cool. After some probing, it was clarified that the friend was a girl, and a popular one, the object of his schoolboy crush. Feeling a surge of paternal empathy, I decided to support his ambition … after sitting him down and explaining the difficulty of breaking into Hollywood, the historical lack of roles for Asian-Americans, and the heartbreaking reality faced by my actor friends who'd gone into the business with stars in their eyes and subsequently developed ace bartending and Uber driving skills.
I told him that I'd support him, as long as he realized that it would involve hard work and endless frustration, with a hundred doors slamming in his face before even one opened. His jaw set, he told me he was determined to make a go of it. (The girl was a cutie, apparently.)
Reaching out to friends in the industry, I heard about a pilot that, oddly enough, needed not one but three Asian boys. I'd never heard of Far East Orlando, but Hudson was to read for the show's middle son, described as a studious, polite teacher's pet — admittedly something of a stretch for a wisecracking kid with a double helping of attitude. The day after his audition, I got a text message from Eddie Huang, the author and star chef. "Hey man, did your son just try out for my show?"
It turned out that Far East Orlando was an adaptation of Eddie's book Fresh Off the Boat (a title the show would later re-embrace). Eddie let me know that while Hudson was wrong for the perfect middle child, he was exactly what they were looking for to play the lead kid role of Eddie himself. A few weeks later, Hudson was announced as the star of the first show in 20 years to focus on an Asian-American family, and our world turned upside-down.
For a family that's only known New York, the move to L.A. has been a culture shock, to say the least. We began to embrace our new life of sun and elbow room and really good sushi. We got used to sitting in standstill traffic and never wearing more than one layer of clothing. For Hudson, the transition to being an "industry kid" has had enormous benefits, but also some unexpected downsides. He's had to get used to having a studio teacher instead of going to traditional classes — and we've had to get used to explaining to our relatives and every other Asian-American we know that yes, Hudson "still goes to school," which is usually the very first question they ask. He's had to learn the rhythms of production, four weeks on, one week off — with a different alarm-clock setting every day, based on his call time. And of course, he's had to adjust to the reality of being recognized by random strangers when he's hanging with his friends, when he's out in public, when he's eating meals.
His mother and I have had to change jobs to adapt to his schedule, spending much of our time sitting in the dark, watching him from a few feet away, making TV, making history. We're entering our fifth season now, against everyone's expectations. It's admittedly been a challenge sharing Hudson with the world, knowing that we can't entirely protect him from the stings of social media trolls or prevent fans from demanding more of his time and attention than he's able to give. And millions of people have seen our kid grow up: his first kiss, scenes performed through real tears, private moments that have played out in the most public medium possible. Though we've had moments of doubt, we haven't had a single regret.
Oh, and the girl Hudson was trying to impress? In a Hollywood story, getting cast on the show would've been the moment of magic that got him noticed. In the real-world version, she refused to ever talk to him again.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.