DR KEN’s Krista Marie Yu previews all new episodes and why you should watch!
When DR KEN premiered in the fall, Ken Jeong and the critics didn’t always see eye to eye about his passion project. As the show has continued along on Friday nights (and the contention between Ken and critics appears to have subsided), it has pulled in solid numbers, earning the first full season order of the Freshman series, while strengthening the family dynamic and diving into the personal lives of Ken’s work mates. It’s a show with an incredibly loyal following (the hashtag for #DrKen on Twitter is full of praise) and one that I find myself enjoying more and more with each new episode.
To celebrate the return of new episodes tonight, where Ken and Dave try to have the sex talk, Krista Marie Yu (Molly) and I talked about what she loves about the show, why people should be watching, and what the show means to the Asian American community that has embraced it.
There’s a chemistry to the Park family on DR KEN, it feels like a real family. I wondered if you felt that as an actor on the show? What’s the dynamic on set?
OH I really do! It’s become such a close-knit group, not just within the Park family, but also with Jonathan (Slavin), and Tisha (Campbell-Martin), and Kate (Simses) and Dave (Foley). It’s just one of those [laughs], I don’t mean to get cheesy, but a very magical thing in which we are all on the same page in terms of how we approach life and how we approach work, and how we like to conduct ourselves. Our appreciation for each other really comes out, and we’ve bonded in a really special way. I couldn’t be more grateful for the way that each cast member has treated me, and taken me under their wing, and given me just as much respect as they would to somebody that’s been working for a long time. I’m very new, and they are very not new [laughs]. They have so many shows under their belts. Before I met them, I was just looking at the cast list and awe-struck – even Albert (Tsai) had a show before – at the talent that was involved in this. I was so excited to learn from them and be a part of it. When I met them, they just opened their arms and not only are they so hilarious every day, they’re just really kind, generous people, and they teach me how I want to be.
It has to be a scary thought – you’re new to this series regular role, not sure what you’re getting yourself into. Sounds like it was such a good experience. I feel more invested knowing that you really do like each other.
Oh thank you! The reason why I felt even more invested than I even knew I would, is just seeing how passionate Ken is. And how dedicated to the work he and how dedicated to the show he is. He is pouring 100% into this show. He was at my 2nd out of 4 auditions because he wanted to find the right Molly. And he wanted to be sure that everyone had the best possible audition to bring the best possibly Molly in their hearts forward. I, ever since then, appreciated him more, just as an actor and knowing that if I were to work with him that I would learn so much in terms of just love for who he is, love for the craft, and love for creating. He’s just an incredible person.
I love watching the episode where you and Ken end up at the concert, the father/daughter relationship where you’re just like “ohmygod, I’m so sick of my dad, but he’s still my favorite person on the planet”
[laughs] oh yeah!
I have that relationship with my father, so it’s so universally relatable!
That’s so funny – that episode was almost too close to home for me. Instead of with my dad, it was with my mom. There are times that things come out that I don’t want to say in the way that I say them [laughs], and it was exactly how the episode went. At the end of the day, I love them all so much, my parents, and Ken and Suzy, and I’m so grateful for everything they give me.
The show itself has a lot of weight to carry on its shoulders, being only the 2nd show in like, 20 years, to be fronted by an Asian American cast. That has to be in the back of the mind of the actors involved in the show – we want to do justice for our culture as well, because it’s been so long since something like Margaret Cho and ALL-AMERICAN GIRL. What is that like, what is that extra weight adding to the show? Is that present in your mind?
I think about it, I think it’s really exciting. I don’t see it as a weight, I see it as an open door, and a really exciting opportunity. I’m not sure if it’s true, but somebody told me for all the shows that are airing in the current season, I was like the only Asian-American teenaged girl on primetime. So I was very surprised to hear that for one, and for two, also super excited because I just hope that it sends a message to middle America, or the producers, or whomever is involved in seeing television a certain way, that it can open minds and open hearts to normalizing Asian Americans on TV and seeing people like me in a part that’s not in your face, saying I am an Asian American but showing that we could be Mexican, Persian, or Caucasian, anything, and be your next door neighbors. But we happen to be Asian, and that’s what our society is. I’m from that area, I’m proud to have grown up in that atmosphere, and the more I think people become accustomed to that, the more people realize that we’re not like that stereotype that is often portrayed on TV. I’m really excited that Ken is portraying who he is on TV. I think often, Asian men have been portrayed as the butt of the joke, or a very specific type on TV and in films, and to see Ken or Randall Park in a part where they’re a romantic, they’re a husband, they’re a great father. They’re the boss of their own companies, it puts Asian men in a really strong light, and it just makes people realize that this isn’t how to see a specific ethnicity. There isn’t one way to see people. A man came up to me the other day and was like “Ken is my Asian American hero.” I was like, wow! He was in his 40s, and he said he grew up watching Mickey Rooney playing Asian men and it really made me afraid that it was how society saw me. It really let him down, and he felt so disappointed and ashamed to be who he was. To see now, Ken portraying a strong positive character on TV, it makes him proud because that’s how he’s representing Asians.
What can you tease about we’ll see when new episodes air this spring?
Some really, really fun episodes! A lot of my favorite moments are when I get to work one on one with Suzy or one on one with Albert, and there are definitely those times [laughs]. I don’t know how much I can give away, but what I’m really proud of are those moments, those really specific moments that strengthen me and Albert as brother and sister, strengthen me and Suzy as mother/daughter. They’re really intimate, they’re really special moments, and I can really relate to them. I love when all of the family is hanging out together, but I really like it when I get to do some one on one action with the other actors because it allows for more depth and a plotline that is really fun.
Some of the ways that Albert can give a line – how is that all in this little kid package?
I don’t know! He’s amazing. He really nails every single line. One of my favorite is when he pats his stomach and talks about tightening up the front porch or something; everything that comes out is so precious. He’s so smart. He could do the entire episode by himself; he knows everybody’s lines [laughs].
Do people ask “why should I watch DR KEN,” do you have an answer prepared – what are you saying about why to watch?
I think a lot of reasons – Number 1, you get Ken Jeong who is so unbelievably funny. I’ve been a huge COMMUNITY fan for a long time. The type of actor that he is is so brave, and so bold, in a very grounded reality, it is so fantastic to watch. That kind of release, with no need to have to really focus on anything in particular. You can lean back, relax, and watch Ken do his thing. He is not only verbally fun, he is physically absolutely hilarious. Like, if you saw the concert episode, watching him get electrocuted? It’s crazy, like how do you know to move your body that way? I was dying with laughter. Also, I think, personally, it brings back this sitcom world, which is also so fun. I’ve always been a really big fan of reruns of FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR and FRIENDS, and BOY MEETS WORLD. I think that this show brings a really light, fun, multi-camera playground, and I think it’s just really fun to watch because of that, and it’s fun to watch because of the dynamic. Anyone can relate to a dad who is struggling at home to manage the chaos of his household, and again at work, all of the mishaps that happen in every day life.
I like that there’s an equal balance between what is happening at Welltopia and what’s happening at home.
I think it’s so fun. Even if I’m not working, I like to watch all of the people at the HMO work.
That’s a good sign, that you want to be on set even when you’re not needed. And to get Dave Foley, and Ken Jeong, to watch them work. I can only imagine what that’s like.
It’s really a dream and I’m so, so lucky.
What else do you have coming up besides DR KEN?
I was working on a movie that should be coming out soon, called THE DARKNESS with Kevin Bacon and Ming-Na Wen. It was a smaller part, but a lot of fun. I get to play a teenage girl named Tasha who is kind of like a bad influence on the girl who plays Kevin Bacon’s daughter, Lucy Fry, who is just a doll, really incredibly talented. It’s supposed to be really scary, so I’m trying to gear myself up to see it. Even reading the script was just like, so difficult for me.
That always amazes me – you see these horribly scary movies. It’s like, how did the actor get through that scene?
[laughs] I don’t know!! I luckily didn’t have any of the scary parts of the movie, but I do wonder. I had a friend who was in SINISTER 3 recently and he got like, burned to death? I’m just like, how do you do it? You know, you draw from life, and he’s never been burnt to death in real life. So I don’t know. Maybe the movie magic isn’t as scary when you’re as involved in it!
DR KEN airs Friday nights at 8:30/7:30c on ABC.