by Samantha Bergeson
Actress Jae Suh Park was destined to be a screen star– well, at least destined be a dinosaur.
Her impressive acting career ranging from guest spots on “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Mindy Project” to her starring role on Netflix’s “Friends From College,” all surprisingly stem from a convincing turn as a dinosaur in a second grade play. “When I was on stage, I really believed I was a dinosaur. It felt like more than just pretend,” Park explained. “From that moment on, I was on a quest to find out what that feeling was. It turned out to be called ‘acting’, and I was hooked.”
Park began her career in theatre: college plays, community theatre, and even a role on a murder mystery-themed dinner cruise. Yet her work in sketch comedy is what stuck professionally, landing her spots on TV sitcoms and pilots. “I don’t know if I’m drawn to comedy as maybe comedy is drawn to me,” Park admitted. “I think sometimes when you do comedic roles, people think of you for other comedic roles, and then you start being known as a comedic actress. I’m not complaining– I love comedy, and I think great comedy is based in and has great dramatic moments. And I love making people laugh.”
Park’s role as Marianne in the Netflix hit series “Friend From College,” co-starring Cobie Smulders, Keegan Michael-Key, and Fred Savage, came just as easily from Park staying true to herself. “I just went in and auditioned,” Park explained. “During the session, the casting director told me to read the character as myself and not what I thought she should be. It was incredibly freeing to hear that.”
After not hearing from the casting director for months after her audition, Park was surprised when her lawyer called about negotiating the contract for “Friends From College.” “I was like, ‘why are you negotiating a contract? No one told me I got the job!'” Park joked.
Although yoga instructor Marianne is described as a bohemian free spirit, Park herself remains more sensible. “Marianne says and does a lot of the things I wish I could. She’s me on my fiercest day,” Park said. “I do relate to her desire to keep the friend group together, and make sure that everyone is good. Classic middle child syndrome.”
The platform of Netflix greatly differs from traditional television network shows, both in terms of release schedules and shooting timetables. The shorter seasons, unbound to seasonal scheduling, allows for shows to remain “fresh,” as Park explained. Park also credits Netflix for nurturing artists’ visions. “I think Netflix does a great job of giving artists the freedom of expression,” Park said. “They are a lot more hands-off than network shows. There’s a trust and confidence there that artists appreciate.”
Park herself is intimately familiar with the structure of network TV, outside of her numerous guest roles. Park’s husband, Randall Park, stars on ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” entering its fifth season this fall. “Fresh Off the Boat” is the first American television sitcom to star an Asian-American family for more than one season. The groundbreaking show arguably pioneered the discussion for Asian casting diversity within Hollywood, laying the groundwork for this summer’s breakout film “Crazy Rich Asians,” starring Randall Park’s “Fresh Off the Boat” costar Constance Wu. Park, a Korean-American herself, applauds the inspirational success of the film. “It just goes to show you that people want diversity, and want to see different standards of beauty represented on screen. I know it’s not just Asians or Asian-Americans going to see the film….It’s great for the community as well as society to represent diverse faces as three-dimensional characters,” Park mused. “I’m excited to see what the buzz does for Hollywood.”
And don’t count Park out for a guest role on “Fresh Off the Boat.” “I’d love a guest role on “Fresh Off the Boat”! My reps are on it,” Park joked. “My husband and I have actually done a lot of little things together, and I love working with him so maybe one day we can do a big thing.”
Yet the greatest collaboration for Park and her husband to date is their five year-old daughter. “[Motherhood has] made me a better actor, and it’s made my career more fulfilling,” Park reminisced. “Your priorities shift so you don’t take everything so seriously. I think it gives you a deeper well to draw from emotionally. There are certain feelings and emotions I would have never known before becoming a mother.”
Park also became inspired to pursue all-natural organic products after realizing she was expecting. “It all started when I was pregnant with my daughter. Of course I wanted to take care of myself and was careful about what I ate, but I didn’t know that certain chemicals were absorbed through the skin and ended up in the bloodstream, which you share with your baby,” Park explained. “I became obsessed with reading labels and researching ingredients. I think it’s important just to be conscious of what’s going into your body.”
Park focused on changing her skincare and cosmetics products, shifting to brands like GreenBeauty. “I’ve been slowing replacing skincare and beauty products over the years but it’s not always easy,” Park admitted. “All women want results. Luckily there are comparable and even superior non-toxic products now, and they are getting better and better. I think a lot of major beauty companies are following suit.”
Park embodies her conscious living outside of just cosmetics. “I’m constantly turning off lights in the house, lowering the dimmer and turning up the temperature. My husband is always telling me it’s so hot! I’m big on energy conservation, or maybe I’m just cheap,” Park joked.
Her awareness extends to food and disposable plastic waste, as well as fluoride consumption. “We’re moving into a new home soon and the previous owners were super conscious of making their home green,” Park explained. “They put in a Reverse Osmosis Filtration System to remove the fluoride in the water…I never knew that our water has fluoride in it and that might be bad. Think about it: toothpaste has fluoride and if you read any toothpaste label, it will clearly say ‘do not swallow.'”
Park’s passion for making the world better continues into her charity work with Best Buddies, a non-profit organization fostering friendships with developmentally challenged individuals and assisting in employment opportunities. Park credits one of her “Friends From College” costars for introducing her to the organization. “[Best Buddies’] mission is to establish a global volunteer movement that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” Park stated. “Especially in this social climate, what a beautiful way to celebrate inclusion and love.”
Looking to the future, Park hopes to expand her career, perhaps even returning to the stage where her dinosaur method moment was born. “I’d love to do a great play,” Park said. “If the right opportunity were to come along, I’d love to do it.”
But for now, Park is focused on the simple things: “laughing and being fluoride-free!”
Catch Jae Suh Park on Netflix’s “Friends From College,” premiering season 2.