Eddie Huang on his new movie ‘Boogie’ and casting Pop Smoke

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Eddie Huang likes to keep things fresh.

The 39-year-old, whose best-selling memoir “Fresh Off the Boat” was adapted into a network sitcom that he narrated, has also worked as a corporate lawyer, a chef and restaurateur, a clothing designer and a TV host.

Now, with his new film “Boogie,” in theaters March 5, Huang is adding director to that list — and it just might be his favorite gig yet. 

“You get to play with people,” said Huang, who grew up in Orlando and now divides his time between New York, Los Angeles and Taiwan. “People will complain about actors, but I love actors. They’re crazy. I’m crazy.”

The film’s titular character (Taylor Takahashi) is a Chinese-American high school basketball star who lives in Flushing and has NBA ambitions. Boogie’s domineering mother (Pamelyn Chee) and loving-but-troubled hustler father (Perry Yung) each have their own ideas about what their son should do with his talents. 

Taylor Takahashi (left) and Pop Smoke in the new film "Boogie."
Actor Taylor Takahashi (left) and the late rapper Pop Smoke in the new film “Boogie.”
©Focus Features/Courtesy Everet

Huang, who wrote the film, said the dynamic between Boogie’s parents is similar to that of his own mother and father.

“My dad’s plan was to make me tough … he physically beat me into being tough,” he told The Post. By contrast, his mother wanted him to be a model student and play musical instruments. “It was like I was to be two different people.” 

Casting the film proved challenging. For Boogie, “I couldn’t find an Asian-American actor who [also] interacted with black culture, Latino culture, hip-hop culture,” said Huang.

Then, in 2018, as he was finishing up the script, Huang was playing basketball with his recreational league when his teammate showed up with a friend. He was a a 24-year-old Japanese-American who had recently moved from Northern California and was working as a personal trainer and yakitori chef.

“He’s one of the best Asian basketball players, I’ve ever seen,” said Huang of Takahashi. The two bonded, and Huang eventually hired him as an assistant.

But Huang kept picturing him as his star.

“It became very apparent, [Takahashi is] going to be Boogie,” Huang said, though his friend had no plans to be an actor. “Raphael, our producer was like, ‘I see it too.’”

Pop Smoke (from left), director Eddie Huang and Taylor Takahashi in "Boogie."
Pop Smoke (from left), director Eddie Huang and Taylor Takahashi in “Boogie.”
©Focus Features/Courtesy Everet

When it came time to fill the role of Monk, Boogie’s rival on and off the court, Huang also looked beyond the usual headshots. At the last minute, he cast Pop Smoke, after learning about his background playing basketball.

“He’s one of my favorite things about the film,” Huang said of the late Canarsie rapper, who was murdered in February 2020. He brings a memorably gritty mystique to Monk, and the soundtrack features three of his songs. “I’m just very blessed for the time I had with Pop, I will never forget the days.” 

Huang also acts in the film, playing Boogie’s wacky uncle Jackie, whose ongoing gastrointestinal issues provide moments of levity.

“Watching Joe Pesci as a kid, I always wanted to be an Asian ‘My Cousin Vinny,’” Huang said of his inspiration. 

Acting and directing made for some mishaps. While shooting the second take of a scene in which Jackie is driving, Huang crashed into a Korean spa shuttle van.

“I said, ‘It came out of nowhere,’” Huang said. “Our DP said, ‘It was parked, bro.’”

Much of the film was shot in Flushing — “it’s absolutely a character,” Huang said — but a lot of the action also takes place in downtown Manhattan. There, Boogie and his buds play street ball and hang out at some of Huang’s favorite places: Congee Village, Procell Vintage and his own Baohaus sandwich shop.

“I really want this to be seen as a downtown New York film,” Huang said. “That’s the America I want people to engage with.”

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