Memorable roles for Asian actors are still few and far between in American television shows, but fortunately for Matthew Moy, his comedic turn as the bumbling restaurant proprietor in 2 Broke Girls is completely unforgettable. With his humorous mannerisms and absurd faux Korean accent, his character, Han Lee, has become a popular cast staple. We spoke to Moy ahead of his appearance at FansTang Comic Con about everything from his Guangdong heritage to his dream TV show and where he hopes he can take Han in the future.
I don’t know if you know this, but 2 Broke Girls is huge in China. Why do you think it’s so palatable to audiences here?
Everyone, and I mean everyone, knows what it’s like to be broke with your best friend. Also, all the characters are like family, so there's that. And lastly, our characters can sometimes be weird people. I think that frees many fans in a way to feel like they can be themselves and laugh when they watch our show.
We’ve heard that your trip to China for FansTang Comic Con will be your first visit to the country, and that you’re planning to visit your hometown, Taishan, in Guangdong. What prompted you to make the pilgrimage? And do you still have family there?
I've never been to China and have always wanted to go. Unfortunately, I don't know of any family who lives there. I am fourth-generation American-born Chinese, so it's cool to see where my Chinese roots come from.
I read in a recent interview that you were really resistant to learning Chinese as a kid. Why was that? How much Chinese can you speak now?
Chinese was boring to be as a kid. I had trouble learning it. I didn't have the ear for intonations. So I just stopped and decided to take karate lessons instead. I can order dim sum in Cantonese a little bit! Hurray for never going hungry.
There have been loads of great guest stars on 2 Broke Girls. Who has been your personal favorite?
Hal Linden! Such a great soul. Kind, hard working and such a pro. Next would be Valerie Harper. I just love old sitcom actors.
Max and Caroline are constantly trying to make their cupcake business work. If you as Matthew Moy could step into the show and give them some advice, what would it be?
Less chatting and more working! Sorry, I guess that was Han's advice too.
Congratulations on being renewed for a fifth season by the way! How would you like to see Han Lee develop moving forward?
I want to see him go steady with a girl. We're so used to him only dating someone once. What would be more interesting is finding out what kind of girl can steal all of Han's heart! I think it takes a special woman that none of us expect.
You’re Chinese American playing Korean. Do you think it’s more positive or negative that Asian casting for Western shows generally ignores actual nationality?
Casting offices do not have such a cavalier attitude. They'd get fired if they ignored their orders from creators. If they're ordered to find an actor of a certain race, they try to find an actor of that race. Sometimes though, if an actor looks like a certain race, the casting directors have to slightly adjust if they're not satisfied with anyone else. Because ultimately, the casting directors choose whichever actor fits the role the best for what the creators want, and they're on a deadline. I auditioned with tons of other Korean American actors for the role of Han. Tons. Now, why did a Chinese actor get the role over other Korean actors? How did that happen? I don't want to create animosity with other actors, but I think that's a more interesting question. Funny story, in the audition room, Justin Chon and I ran into James Kyson Lee on his way out. Justin and I and I looked at each other and thought, "Man, James, you are a beautiful man. You are way too good looking for this role." James' hair is so high and cool. Can you imagine if he was Han?
Obviously you’re not fresh off the boat, but the character you play is. Was it difficult to get into that mindset?
Fresh off the boat is such an old-fashioned and a bit of a derogatory term. It refers to immigrants who literally have just arrived off of a boat to America. What's interesting about Han is the writers never said how long he's been in America. Now, he still does need to become an American citizen. But that encompasses a range from six months to several years. He could've been in America for a bit before the show started. What's interesting about Han is he starts to develop kind of a second family with the people in the diner, and he's always trying to impress them. Where does that need for acceptance come from? That's where my mindset starts.
Incidentally, have you seen the new show Fresh off the Boat? Any thoughts?
Yes, I think it's a great show. I don't really care for its title, but it has a hilarious cast and great story. I love the family aspect. Randall [Park] and Constance [Wu] are old friends of mine. I did a pilot named Tax Man with Randall the year before 2 Broke Girls, and he's such a nice guy and a pleasure to work with. I used to visit Constance's place when I was younger because I was friends with the guy she was dating at the time, and we'd all hang out. I remember when she arrived in LA and neither of us had that much professional acting experience. But we worked so hard for the careers we wanted. That girl is a very talented actress. I am very proud of those two actors.
You’re working on several other projects at the moment. Which one are you most passionate about?
Well, I love Chinese fans and am working hard towards getting to know all of you guys better! Cheers to our future! And I love the cartoon show Steven Universe where I play Lars. Lars is so much fun. He's a bully! I rarely get to play that.
If you could create your own TV show, what would it be about?
I want Ken Jeong to be my dad, Bobby Lee to be my crazy cousin, and Rex Lee to be my uncle. Maybe Jamie Chung could be my sister. It would be a hilarious sitcom and I think so many high jinks would ensue. I also have high hopes for Ken's new show, Dr. Ken! Can't wait.
Finally, what TV show (other than 2 Broke Girls, of course) has you totally hooked?
The 100 on CW. I love sci-fi shows with morals about surviving and bravery. It's so well done.
FansTang Comic Con information:
When: May 30 – June 1, 10am-6pm
Where: Canton Club, Canton Place Haifeng Lu, Zhujiang Xincheng, Tianhe District 广粤会, 天河区珠江新城海风路广粤天地
Individual autographs and photographs with Matthew Moy can be bought at Comic Con Guangzhou. Follow FansTangOfficial WeChat and Weibo for info on meet and greet events with Matthew and other Comic Con celebrities.
[Images via CBS]