Korean American actor Jake Choi plays the lovable, young single dad Miggy on the hit ABC show Single Parents. Soon, Choi will be gracing the big screen in The Sun Is Also A Star, directed by Ry Russo-Young and in theaters May 17, 2019. The film is an adaptation of Nicola Yoon’s young adult novel and stars Charles Melton (Riverdale) and Yara Shahidi (Black-ish).
Choi is the son of Korean immigrants and was born and raised in Elmhurt, Queens, New York. Before acting, Choi played semi-pro basketball, and last year talked about identifying as sexually fluid in an interview.
I chatted with Choi ahead of the film’s release, where he talks about landing his dream job, why he is passionate about acting, and about his key role as Daniel Bae’s (played by Melton) brother in The Sun Is Also A Star.
Can you talk about your role on Single Parents? That’s kind of a breakout role for you. What has that been like being on the show?
Yes, it’s definitely a breakout role. It’s been surreal, working with this cast and crew. Everyone’s just really great to work with, everyone’s really nice, there are no divas (laughs). It seems like not just the Asian community, but just people in general have responded really well to the character and the show itself—it’s a really smart and well written show. And I love my character—he breaks stereotypes in so many ways.
It’s a blessing to be on a network show, working with people who have been doing this for a long time. I’ve learned so much this first season. It’s just one of those things, as an actor, you spend so much time putting in work, putting in money, investing emotionally and mentally to work on projects like this and have a steady gig. And now that you have it, it’s important to take a step back and realize, “Oh wow, you’re living the dream.” That’s kind of like how I feel with Single Parents. It’s really a dream.
It’s a really great role and great show and really relatable to so many people. So on the show you play a single dad. I’d read that you were raised by a single mom.
Yes, my mom raised me and my brother, two badass kids by herself for most of our lives.
Do you ever draw on that experience at all? I know it’s a different time period and circumstances.
Not as much as you would think because we’re totally two different people, but with that being said, I have friends who are my age or younger who are single parents, and I saw them going through the struggle of going through being young, single, millennial parents. I kind of drew from them than my own mother. But I have so much respect and empathy for single parents, whether they’re my mother or my friends or whether I don’t know them at all, because I kind of experienced it first hand or second hand, one way or another. I think a big part of my character’s struggle is that he’s a very young single dad and he doesn’t know what he’s doing. So the fact that I, in real life, I’m not a single parent, and I’m really ignorant to what single parents go through in terms of first hand experience, it kind of makes sense. I’m not supposed to know, in real life and on the show. So the writers do a very good job of creating this world and flushing out these characters, and I kind of come in and trust the writers and my case and lean into the character and the circumstances. And it seems like it’s been working out.
Well, congrats on the show and a great role for you.
Just to back up more—I understand that you played professional basketball in Korea at one point. There aren’t that many former pro athletes that go into acting. What made you want to go into acting?
Right…Okay, so I have to make this correction real quick. I think on Wikipedia, I think it says I played pro basketball. Not correct (laughs). I played for a university there. It’s the top university in Korea. It’s called Yonsei. I played for them a little bit. Then I played for this semi-pro level league for the U.S. military. And also the university teams in Korea are just as good as the pro teams. But, that’s the correct information (laughs).
I guess when I was a kid, I didn’t care for being on stage, or reciting words. I wanted to run around and get physical. Fast forward to Korea, I took acting classes and I thought, this is a way of expression of telling stories I never really had a chance to, my whole life. I came back to New York shortly after starting classes in Korea, for personal reasons, I saved up money, I worked odd jobs, I signed up for classes at Strasberg and continued my training there. And that’s how I started. I didn’t realize I had this urge, this voice inside that was fighting to lead my body. You know, it was just kind of screaming to express myself. And I think acting helps me do that. I started auditioning slowly, doing plays, and student films, fast forward to 2019 and I’m here on a network show.
So, The Sun is Also A Star. Can you tell us more about your role in the movie?
I play Charlie Bae. He’s the older brother to Daniel Bae, who’s played by Charles Melton. Charlie is the the asshole older brother who has a very abrasive and sort of more aggressive personality and way of getting things done. A lot of it comes from, at least his treatment toward his family and younger brother, the years of pressure put on by his parents put on his as the first born to succeed and be the bread winner and be the golden child. He didn’t want to pushed down the role, he wanted to be his own person and pursue his own individual passions. When his parents deemed him this failure because he couldn’t live up to their aspiration and dreams. They sort of rejected him and threw him to the side and said, hey you’re younger brother. It causes a lot of conflict between him and his younger brother. And you’ll see that in the movie.
He loves his younger brother, but he shows it ways a lot of people would disagree with. A part of Charlie wants to protect Daniel, but there’s also this aspect of jealousy and resentment toward his younger brother. But he also wants to protect his younger brother from being a robot to his parents. But he goes about it in this quote-unquote tough love. And you’re going to see that in the movie.
You see Charlie’s inherent self-hate and anti-Asianess which was kind of spawned by his parents. I think a lot of first generation Asian Americans who are children of immigrants see their parents come here, they can’t speak the language, they just put their heads down and don’t speak up, they work these quote-unquote shameful jobs that they feel like are beneath them. I feel like a lot of Asian American kids look down on their parents, but the parents are actually working those jobs and making sacrifices for them. It’s hard, it’s very complex. A big part of why Charlie is the way he is because he saw his Korean parents being victims of racism and they didn’t fight back. All they did was work hard and be passive. Charlie saw that as weakness, so what’s the opposite? You go out and you want to assimilate as much as possible. And that’s a big part of Charlie’s character.
There is a scene with me and Yara, where you do see some redeeming qualities in Charlie, and there’s a turn, which is great. It kind of humanizes Charlie. I don’t want to give away too much (laughs)!
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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.