Michelle Park Embodies Asian-led Stories On Screen and Off

Charis Poon

Michelle Hayoung Park is chasing her dream. Wanting to be in front of cameras is that classic Los Angeles aspiration and, while the odds are stacked for anyone, not too long ago it seemed particularly less sensible for a young Asian American girl to wish for. Though there have been times of doubt and frustration, Michelle hasn’t let the lack of representation, outright racism, or the pressure to be many things at different times stop her from going after a rewarding acting career. (You may have seen her in the recent Wong Fu short, “The Spring We Never Had”.) For her, acting isn’t just about entertaining audiences, but to educate, share stories and bring out empathy. We’re lucky to have Michelle at Intertrend as a production coordinator and to have this conversation about what it takes to go after what you want in an industry that can be hard to crack.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I am a Korean-American actress and a production coordinator here at Intertrend. I graduated from UCR with a media major and education minor, and then studied at UCLA’s Professional Program in Acting for the Camera.

Why do you act and how did you first get into it?

Growing up, I didn’t see many Asian faces on the big screen. I thought it was just a silly dream of mine that could never really come true. After college, I went into a huge slump because I didn’t know what to pursue with my career, so I got up one day and started creating my own content — writing, producing, directing short films! One of my shorts won the ISA Digital Film Shootout, which is where I was inspired by other creatives and had the confidence in myself to live out this dream with no regrets. I worked a bunch of different jobs to get myself on set, learn and network — from working as a PA (basically grabbing coffee for everyone) to doing background acting work to acting in low budget films to working as a producer behind the scenes. About a year later, I applied to UCLA’s Professional Program in Acting for the Camera and this newbie got in! From that moment, I decided to go full on with my acting career.

What films, shorts, or movies have you been in?

I’ll share a couple of my recent favorites! Last year, I got to work on a big budget Chinese-American movie featuring Eddie Peng. It was a small role, but we filmed in the same studio that filmed the Titanic ship/ocean scenes which was super cool! We filmed in Rosarito, Mexico and lived there for about a month. It was so awesome seeing creatives from Mexico, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and the US come together and make a story come to life. You can also see me in Andrew Thomas Huang’s recent short film, “Lily Chan and the Doom Girls”, which features a group of misfits who adopt a Chinese-American girl, challenging her to find her own voice despite expectations of first generation families. This short was sponsored by Google Pixel, and was shown at the Google Pixel Creator Labs in New York. The feature film is currently in the works with the help of Sundance. I also guest starred on ABC’s “Speechless”, and I’m currently a recurring star on a children’s YouTube TV show. Most recently, I was in the Wong Fu short film, “The Spring We Never Had”. Each shoot is always different, with different people and a different story. It’s an amazing ride being able to help these stories come to life with such creative and talented individuals.

“Lily Chan and the Doom Girls”

Did you watch Wong Fu growing up? What did it mean to you then?

Yes! I’ve looked up to Wong Fu for quite some time now. It’s actually a funny story. After winning the ISA Digital Film Shootout, I was able to meet Phil and Wes from Wong Fu and was so inspired by them and how far they’ve come. After I graduated from my UCLA Acting Program, I wrote a letter to myself saying that I’ve come a long way as well, and that one day I will audition and book roles and be in a Wong Fu film! It meant so much to me in particular because a lot of talented Asian American actors I look up to have been a part of a Wong Fu production.

How do you feel now after accomplishing your goal of being in a Wong Fu film? How was it filming with them?

Not gonna lie, being a part of a Wong Fu film was a lowkey bucket list check and an experience I’ll forever cherish. Filming with them was great and they made everyone feel so comfortable. They’re all very sweet, talented, normal human beings who just love creating stories that feature Asian American talent. All love and respect for the Wong Fu team.

How was it filming during a pandemic?

Surprisingly, filming with Wong Fu wasn’t my first gig during the pandemic. However, every shoot I have been on has taken COVID precautions seriously. All the cast and crew would take COVID tests. We would have a COVID compliance officer on set. Our holding areas were all outdoors. We had temperature checks and hand sanitizer available pretty much everywhere and masks were still worn when we weren’t filming.

Wong Fu “The Spring We Never Had” BTS

What are some of the challenges that Asian Americans face in the industry?

I think right now we’re still hoping for more Asian American representation in the industry. Yes, I do believe that Asian American representation has grown massively compared to when I was a kid, but I still don’t think it’s enough to be content with just an Asian face that doesn’t represent us well and/or an Asian face that sticks to an Asian stereotype. We want our authentic stories to be shared and understood.

Why do you think Asian representation is so important? Why do you think Asian led stories are so important?

Asian representation is super important in getting our authentic stories and history to be shared, understood, and learned about. I feel at times that we’re overlooked as a minority group in general. We’re known for all of our stereotypes, and that’s it. There were many times when I had these stereotypes pressed upon me in an audition, on set, or when talking to others. “Can you do a thicker accent?” “Can you open your eyes just a little bit bigger?” “We have a token Asian girl so we have diversity!” These aren’t just challenges that Asian Americans face in the industry, but in society in general, which is why I feel Asian representation and Asian-led stories are even more important. Stories on screen not only entertain, but they educate and bring out empathy. Especially during COVID, we see true colors come out in America. Racism and bullying exists because people choose not to have empathy and people choose to stick to these stereotypes that they see. In the end, we’re all humans that come from different paths of life, and the media plays a crucial role in how others see us.

Wong Fu “The Spring We Never Had” BTS

There is increased momentum of Asian Americans in media, entertainment, business leadership, politics, and more. Who are some of your Asian American role models that are pushing the narrative forward?

This is a hard one! There are so many Asian American role models out there. First, Sandra Oh is a queen. I absolutely loved her performance on “Killing Eve.” She was the first actress of Asian descent to win multiple Golden Globes. In 2019, she not only won a Golden Globe for the lead actress in a television series, but she also openly thanked her parents in Korean with so much gratitude. As a Korean-American, I was so excited that a role model like her embraced her culture and thanked her parents in Korean with no hesitation and fear of judgment. I’ve also recently been a big fan of Daniel Dae Kim. Many of us have probably seen through the news that he tested positive for Coronavirus a couple months ago, and since then, he’s been helpful and passionate in fighting racism towards the Asian American community.

How do you personally want to be a part of this movement?

I want to do what I can to fight racism, not only in the Asian-American community but for all communities of color. At Intertrend, we’re currently working on an initiative called Make Noise Today. Our team hopes to combat racism and empower young people to be actively anti-racist, as well as highlight stories of how people are making noise in their communities. It’s been really great to hear so many diverse stories and to see the passion people have out there to make change, and it motivates me to do the same.

Though I do love acting and bringing characters to life in front of the camera, I also enjoy doing behind the scenes work and working with fellow like-minded Asian American creatives. As a production coordinator at an Asian American media agency, I hope to take part in furthering Asian representation in front of and behind the camera.

Most importantly, I really hope to be a good role model for the youth and a good representative of the Asian entertainment community. I want to continue to educate myself and show kindness, compassion, and empathy to those I meet, as well as be a light to those who need it.

“Lily Chan and the Doom Girls”

Anything you want to say to your fans?

I would say a lot of my fans are kids at the moment because of the kids show I’m currently in, so thank you to all of the kids for your super creative and cute fan art that I love waking up to! Be real, be genuine, be you, and always try to better yourself and love those around you. You all are the future of this generation, so work hard, chase your dreams and do good for the future of the country you live in.

And to those who have been supporting me and keeping up with my journey thus far- thank you so much! It really means a lot knowing I have friends and family surrounding me to be my support system. I’m also always open to chatting if anyone needs some advice starting out, or if you just want to talk and share life. Feel free to connect with me on Instagram!

What’s next for Michelle Park?

Haha… That’s a question many of us actors ask ourselves! We really don’t know what’s next. You can book your biggest gig tomorrow or ten years down the road. This industry is really not easy and you constantly have to hustle. Fortunately, I do have a couple of gigs already set (some on hold due to the pandemic) and I have an awesome job at Intertrend. I guess for me, I’m going to continue to work hard, better my craft and be a good human being!