ON HIS PREVIOUS JOB WORKING IN RETAIL:
When I worked at Dior, Paris Hilton and Kathy Hilton came one time and they were kind of crazy. She just got dressed in the middle of the store and I’m like, Paris, we have dressing rooms here, you don’t have to just drop trou in the middle of our boutique, but she did. My crazy stories are probably just competing with all the shady queens on the sales floor because they’re sharks. That’s really who I modeled Mateo after, was all the competitive, sharky people that I worked with. On the sales floor you would work with old Japanese ladies who have been in retail for like 30 years, and the other shady queens in their 20s trying to make a living in San Francisco, and it is a free for all — like they will really stab your mother in the back to get a sale. They would be hiding merchandise for their clients or lying to you or lying to the customers just trying to get that sale. It’s insane.
ON HIS ‘SUPERSTORE’ CHARACTER MATEO WHO IS FILIPINO AMERICAN, GAY AND UNDOCUMENTED:
When he first started, he was just like the bitchy employee, right? And they really added so many more layers. It is to me such a great way of representing him because I feel like what really drives Mateo more than anything is he really wants to succeed. Like every American in this country, they are just yearning for a better life, and he really is the epitome of pursuing the American Dream.
RACIST AUDITION STORIES:
Honestly, I feel I have more where I get called to play more the gay roles. I remember I did a guest spot on 2 Broke Girls, and when I got there the sides for it, I had to say something — oh god, I’m going to paraphrase this but what was originally written into the line was, “I love a caftan and underage boys.” And I was like, “Are you seriously implying that I’m a pedophile because I’m gay?” I was so shocked. I had just got done doing the CBS Diversity Showcase at the time, and I actually emailed the diversity people because they had become friends of mine and I was just like, “Oh my god, like, I’m doing this audition and I can’t believe this line is in here.” I was just kind of venting to my friend about it and then all of a sudden she was like, “Oh, I hope you don’t mind but I forwarded your email to like the head of diversity.” I was like, What? That’s not what I wanted, I was just like telling you as a friend and I’m bitching, like, don’t ruin this job for me because I’m in this position. As homophobic as that line was, I’m not in a position of power, I want the job obviously, and so many times in Hollywood, we do take these jobs that are demeaning because we’re trying to make it, we’re trying to pay our bills. But she emailed the head of diversity who then emailed the head of programming or something — basically it went all the way to the top. I was just going to the audition and they were like, “Your concerns are being heard,” and I’m like, “I’m not going to book this job, I literally am walking into this audition and they’re telling me that the head of programming knows I’m complaining about one of their shows.” Long story short, I ended up booking the job, so I don’t know if me complaining helped me book the job or they just really wanted me for the role, but in the end the line was changed. It was changed to teenage boys. So I was just like, okay. Come on. At the time it was like 2015, I was like, really? Do we have to?
ON HIS ROLE IN THE UPCOMING FILM ADAPTATION OF ‘CRAZY RICH ASIANS’:
I’m playing Oliver T’sien. Oliver is the gay cousin. [Laughs.] Typecasting! And he meets Rachel Chu, Constance [Wu’s] character at a big party at a national park, and it’s like, hello you’re Rachel, poor girl you know nothing of who these people are and what you just walked into. He kind of takes her under his wings like, Don’t worry I’m going to take care of you. He’s Nick’s cousin and he’s kind of, I would say, he’s not an errand boy, but he’s very close to the family and he takes care of a lot of things for the family.
MEETING MICHELLE YEOH ON THE FILM:
Oh my god, she plays Eleanor Young, and I had a couple of scenes with her. I’m telling you, it took all my strength not to fangirl and queen out. There were so many moments I just wanted to scream in her face, I love you! But you know I wanted to stay in the movie and stay hired, so I calmed myself down. She is the most amazing, nurturing, lovely human being in the entire world. She’s such a legend and just being that close to her, I was just like, Oh my god. Everything you could imagine Michelle Yeoh being, she lives up to that.