Home Film & TV Meet Bowen Yang, Howie in ‘Fire Island’

Meet Bowen Yang, Howie in ‘Fire Island’

by Neil Bui

Ahead of Fire Island’s release on Hulu, Dorkaholics was fortunate enough to speak with one of the film’s leading actors, Bowen Yang. He shared with us his take on his character, the onscreen and real life friendship with the film’s writer/actor/executive producer Joel Kim Booster, and what Fire Island means as a place to visit for audiences.

Catch Fire Island on Hulu, out now (June 3).

Neil Bui: How would you describe your character, Howie, in Fire Island?

Bowen Yang: Howie is a sort of down-on-his-luck romantic, who, despite internalizing a lot of rejection, still holds out hope for some semblance of romance while he’s in a place that’s as hedonistic and is immediately gratifying as Fire Island and that bumps up against Noah, Joel Kim Booster’s character.

Neil Bui: And how different or similar is your real-life friendship with Joel Kim Booster from that of your characters in the movie?

Bowen Yang: I would say it’s just similar enough in the broad strokes, but also in the specifics. Of course, it’s pretty, pretty different. Early on in our trips to Fire Island together, I think Joel and I were probably pursuing different things that are reflected in those characters where I was probably looking for something that was not as readily available as things that are “just quick and nice and vacation boyfriend-y.” And I feel like he and I were always switching configurations between whether or not we wanted one thing or the other, but overall, it’s pretty similar.

Neil Bui: I know the film has had a lot of comparisons made to Pride and Prejudice, which are very overt. In what ways do you think that those comparisons have benefited the film or the characters?

Bowen Yang: It has benefited a lot by just giving people a way into the story, and it’s definitely a big pitch or a big sell to ask a lot of people to watch, a movie that’s so specific in its experience in terms of being a queer Asian romcom. But the thing that’s sort of universally appealing, that’s perennially appealing for a lot of people through the almost two centuries has been this familiarity with Jane Austen’s work.

Neil Bui: If I read correctly, originally Fire Island was meant to be a series on that thing we call Quibi but is now a Searchlight pictures feature. Do you know if that shift played any significant changes for the roles of the characters, besides commitment?

Bowen Yang: I think the characters are probably on the same journeys both in the original structure which was episodic and into this film structure where you can track the arcs in a more seamless way. But in the Quibi version, it was more punctuated by these smaller beats, which was sort of by virtue of the platform. And while it could have been great on Quibi, I feel like it’s in its best form as a film. And I think everyone in the production is just really grateful to Searchlight for giving us this life raft after things were sort of up in the air.

Neil Bui: How do you hope people walk away after seeing the film feeling or thinking?

Bowen Yang:  The film does a lot of things that I love about movies, but in terms of a romcom, I love any romcom and makes me want to go out there and like fall in love or be with the person I love and just pursue that emotional sense. And for a vacation movie I feel like I love when vacation movies make me feel like I’ve gone to the place, and I think both things are happening at once with ours. I hope that people come away from the film wanting to experience some form of love with anybody that they are around, whether it’s a romantic partner or their chosen family relationships, and then two it feels like you’ve gone to Fire Island with us, even for people who haven’t gone. It feels like by the end, I’ve gone on a trip there and I really hope that translates.

Neil Bui: When was it filmed on location at the actual Fire Island?

Bowen Yang: Yeah, we did. We did five weeks of shooting and two of those weeks were on Fire Island. So yeah, 40% of the movie was shot on location. Just out of production necessity, a lot of things were shot throughout the tristate area, but it was really important that we got the ethos of going there and sort of capture that authentically.

Neil Bui: Would you say the film is indirectly a big promotion for people to go on their own journeys to Fire Island?

Bowen Yang: I mean, it doesn’t have to be Fire Island because a reality that I’m willing to admit/acknowledge is that it gets more cost prohibitive every year to go. As more people move into the city or more people just have access to some way into some housing situation on Fire Island, the market goes a little bit haywire and it’s certainly challenging for a lot of people I know to go, including myself. Anyway, I won’t go into the details, but it gets harder every year to go, and I feel like it doesn’t necessarily have to encourage people to go to Fire Island, but it can certainly encourage people to venture outside of their parameters with people they love and experience this anywhere. I feel like you could set this movie in like, you know, the gay neighborhood of Boston or something and have it have it work. Whatever space is designated for queer people, I think this story is still able to be transposed that way.

Neil Bui: And in the same way that Crazy Rich Asians serves as a milestone in Asian American cinema, where do you see Fire Island sitting in terms of this streak of Asian American films?

Bowen Yang: I think it just sort of maybe adds to like the tapestry. I don’t know if it’ll be a milestone. Joel and Andrew didn’t really necessarily set out for that. I think he just wanted to make a film that felt honest. Hopefully this just gives a different flavor in the selection of Asian American films. And I think Andrew already contributed so much to that in Spa Night and Driveways, and those are completely different films from this one. I feel like it just is adding to the multitude of different kinds of film experiences we can enjoy. If we want to specifically seek out an Asian American story or just watch a romcom that happens to have you know, four Asian leads.

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