Photos: Henry Wu @hello.henry
“I love a grand adventure.”
These words, echoing from the trailer of the upcoming comedy film Joy Ride, perfectly encapsulate Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, Stephanie Hsu, and Sabrina Wu’s remarkable group dynamic. From the very beginning of their interview with Timid Magazine, it is evident that the chemistry among this main cast is more than just a professional camaraderie—it's a genuine bond that extends beyond the screen. With a penchant for inside jokes and the ability to burst into laughter or song at any given moment, their connection is palpable and adds an extra layer of joy to their collaboration.
In Joy Ride, childhood best friends Audrey and Lolo, played by Park and Cola respectively, are joined by Audrey’s college friend Kat (Hsu) and Lolo’s cousin Deadeye (Wu) in a journey across China to find Audrey’s birth mom. Directed by Adele Lim and written by Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao, Joy Ride tells a hilarious and unabashedly bold story of identity and self-discovery.
“I think the chemistry on screen reflects real life. We're very lucky that the four of us got to bond, originally as a group via Zoom in the chemistry reads and right when we were in physical contact with each other in Vancouver, Seattle, Korea, and China,” Cola says.
“We never let go,” Park says, and the four become an overlap of arms as they simultaneously reach out to hold each other’s hands.
“It was just so obvious that we were doing something really special together,” Cola adds.
Park agrees, saying, “It really felt like family from the start. All of us have such nuanced relationships with each other.”
“We have a lot of fun,” says Hsu, looking fondly at her castmates.
Bonded by their shared experiences performing live on stage, the cast members of Joy Ride bring a diverse range of talents to the film. While Cola and Wu began their careers in stand-up comedy, Park and Hsu started theirs in theater. Park is known for her stage roles as Tuptim in The King and I and Gretchen Wieners in Mean Girls, while others might remember Hsu as Christine Canigula in Be More Chill and Karen the Computer in SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical.
Park’s most notable onscreen roles include Mindy Chen in the Netflix comedy Emily in Paris and Naomi, a recurring character in Netflix’s recent show Beef. Regardless of the project, she approaches her scenes similarly, explaining, “No matter how many jokes are in it or what crazy thing is happening, I try to stay grounded in the intention of that character in the scene. Where are we at the beginning of the scene? Where do we get at the end? What do those characters want from each other?” Still, she finds screen work quite different from stage work, where she had to perform eight shows a week. She comments that theater “is some of the hardest physical work that you can do,” and credits her theater experience with shaping her onscreen endeavors, instilling the values of hard work, resilience, and a strong work ethic in her.
Cola currently plays Alice Kwan in Freeform’s Good Trouble, which wrapped up its fifth season in May. Her film, Shortcomings, is set to be released in theaters later this summer, where she also plays a character named Alice. “I'm always very proud of the fact that I'm an actress who has a stand-up background,” Cola says. “Stand-up is a solo sport, and being on screen with three others is a team sport. It's really cool to bounce off of each other and throw punch lines and get one back, and keep going in that regard. It keeps it spicy; just like in the way that we do crowd work when we do stand-up.”
Having previously served as a staff writer for Disney+ show Doogie Kameāloha, MD, this is Wu’s first scripted role in front of the camera. One thing that stood out to them during filming was how open the film’s writers were to different ideas. “If you had a better joke, you could try it,” Wu explains. “We did so many alts. The hardest thing as a stand-up is to say a line where you’re like, ‘That is not funny’ and everyone dies a little inside. I can’t get attached to that. There was just space to be like, ‘Let me beat it, let me beat it.’”
“It's so nice that we were all there to support each other,” Park notes. “We all come from worlds of live interaction, and it was a big adjustment for me when I started doing screenwork. I would be like ‘Did it not work?’ To not get an immediate reaction and not know if something landed, you die a little bit inside… but it was nice to have each other because we're like, ‘Oh my god, that was great.’”
“It was constant reassurance,” Cola says.
Wu recalls, “The most stand-up thing that Sherry does after everything that doesn't work—’Not my best, not my best.’”
“Not my best, not my worst,” Cola corrects, and the others echo the phrase before dissolving into laughter.
Cola grins, bringing her palms together in front of her chest. “Right in the middle.”
Hsu is best known for her role as Joy Wang/ Jobu Tupaki on the critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning A24 film Everything Everywhere All at Once. The film, as well as Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Disney’s American Born Chinese, and now, Joy Ride, are just some projects she has been involved in that have broken new ground for Asian representation in the media.
“I really feel like I'm on a personal journey. I'm healing in real time,” Hsu says. “When I was growing up, my mom said, ‘There's no way you can be an actor. Nobody looks like you.’” Hsu started in experimental theater, feeling that that was the only way she could avoid having to play a stereotype. “I don't want to make it big if it's at a cost to myself and my humanity,” she states, “but somehow through the backdoor and through a lot of guardian angels along the way, I have been given these amazing opportunities. I feel so lucky that I get to be a person who is making space or clearing away that ‘never’ for others.”
Hsu goes on to explain, “Even with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, when I first got the script, I was like, ‘They're never gonna have a character who can speak Chinese and English in the 1950s. No way!’ Getting to actually do that and say, ‘Okay, now no one ever again can say that could never happen, because it's been done.’ When you are in any sort of marginalized community, it is a huge gift and also a burden to make sure that any work that you do is bringing a whole flood of people alongside you along the way. So it’s going to be with me this whole life, right? We're just going to have to keep rising together. I feel really honored to get to live this version of a life that I couldn't possibly have ever even seen or dreamed for myself when I was younger.”
With the past two months being AAPI Heritage and Pride months, the cast addresses how important exploring and showcasing intersectionality is in storytelling, and Joy Ride’s approach to doing so.
“It's a movie that celebrates our differences,” Park states. “These are four such distinct characters, and they're all going on their own journey. We hope everyone's laughing, that they feel awesome and seen, and that they have a good time when they come watch this movie. It really is just a celebration of people, whether it's finding out how to be the truest version of themselves, not apologizing for who they are, or not apologizing for what they need from people and the people that they love. These are huge, overarching themes, and we celebrate it in such a joyful way. I think that's super exciting.”
“I have a thing I want to say about months,” Hsu says, jumping into the conversation. “In the future of the world that I dream of, we are so integrated, so intersectional, and so open that we don't need a month to just re-emphasize the ways in which we should and deserve to be celebrated. Every day should be intersectional. That's what I want to have. That's my goal and I want to just name that because I want us to collectively move towards that.”
That certainly is a worthwhile goal, one Joy Ride is already making strides towards by centering four distinct Asian American characters in a big-screen comedy. Its easy inclusion and celebration of characters like Deadeye push things forward even more—by allowing them to exist, and normalizing that existence. The film is both a testament to the progress we are making and the work that still lies ahead.
“This film, whether it be the Asianness, queerness, or humanness—it just proves that we can be more than one thing,” Cola says.
Joy Ride doesn’t try to be anything more than its genre: a comedic romp of summer fun. It doesn’t set out to (nor does it have to), as Hsu said, “clear away the ‘never’” for others, but it does so anyway, as a comedy film created and led by Asian American, queer, and gender nonconforming storytellers. By taking up space—in the entertainment industry, in comedy, on big screens around the world—it is making space for others to do the same.
There is no shortage of individual talent within the ensemble of Park, Cola, Hsu, and Wu. Nevertheless, it is their chemistry on and off the screen that is at the core of Joy Ride as a project and story. Whether it’s providing insightful responses about their craft or sharing a hypothetical road trip plan where Cola assumes the role of driver and snack provider, their deep affection and unwavering support for one another shine through.
Joy Ride promises a grand adventure. While the film certainly delivers, the one that audiences will see on screen is undoubtedly only one of many for Park, Cola, Hsu, and Wu. Whatever exciting journeys lie ahead, they can rest assured that audiences will eagerly join them on their next ride.
Joy Ride is set to be released in theaters on July 7, 2023.
Disclaimer: This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.