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Sherry Cola Talks ‘Shortcomings’, Asian Representation in Media & More – Sundance 2023 Interview

The Sundance Film Festival is underway, and with that comes directorial debuts. One such directorial debut is Randall Park’s Shortcomings, starring the amazing Sherry Cola.

Not only does Cola have a starring role in Shortcomings, but she is currently filming season five of the fan favourite series, Good Trouble, voiced one of the aunties in Turning Red, and has some exciting upcoming projects, including The Tiger’s Apprentice and Adele Lim’s currently untitled comedy film.

With all of these incredible credits to her name and exciting projects to come, we had the opportunity to speak with Cola about all of them and, very importantly, get candid about the state of Asian representation in media.

Check out the full interview with Sherry Cola below:

Sherry Cola - by Jonny Marlow
Sherry Cola. (Photo by Jonny Marlow)

What is it like having one of your film’s premiere here at Sundance and being able to be part of it?

Sherry Cola:
I mean, when I first found out we got into Sundance, it was just so surreal. I told my mom that it’s like getting into Harvard because it really is that big of a deal. You know, as close as Harvard as I’ll get to my mom’s standards. But it’s just so special, especially because of what this film means for the community in the sense that it is so simple, so raw, and so just relatable. You know, all these characters are flawed and evolving, and kind of stuck in their ways, and very much complacent–but want more out of life, but don’t know how to do that, you know? Which is just the most universal theme ever, and we just happened to be Asian. So I think Shortcomings is just such a slice of life that the world kind of needs.

Can you tell us a little bit about your character in the film and some of the things that you personally related to in reference to your character?

Cola: Yeah, I play Alice, who is Ben’s best friend, and there’s so much overlap between me and her. Because we’re both queer, we’re both Asian, and we’re both very unapologetically women. And you know, we’re loud, we’re kind of reckless with our behavior which kind of is a breath of fresh air, but also problematic. You can see my character kind of struggle through grad school and just goes through things that any normal person goes through. So it’s cool to kind of just show that perspective in such a layered way. Because, you know, with her, you kind of do see this light at the end of the tunnel. And because she wants more and better for herself, it’s really special to portray this character, and I wear glasses, which is really fun! I don’t wear glasses in real life, and I think I look very adorable [laughs].

In addition to that, can you talk about what it was like working with Randall Park, as this is his directorial debut?

Cola: Yeah, to be, you know, a part of someone’s directorial debut is so special and not to be taken for granted, you know, let alone it being Randall Park, someone you’ve admired for years and kind of had on your vision board. You know, I’ve known of Randall since he was on MTV’s Wild ‘N Out, and I thought he was so funny. He was the token Asian guy, you know what I mean, as a lot of these trailblazers were back in the day. And the fact that you know, I know him now, and I can call him my friend, and he thought of me for this role. Of course, I had to do my due diligence and send in the self tape, and I had my chemistry read with Justin. And as I got deeper into the process, you really just pinch yourself because Randall Park has definitely been such a pinnacle of the AAPI community within the industry. So to be in his directorial debut is something I don’t take for granted.

Piggybacking off of that, what was it like building the chemistry between you and your co-stars, Justin and Ally?

Cola: Justin and I just operate the same. We just clicked from day one. And we couldn’t be more different. We’re, like, on opposite sides of the extremes in terms of our personalities. But we just work; we have such chemistry, and I think it really reflects on the screen. We play best friends, and we get along so well. We’re family now, you know? And it’s funny because I just did a film with Ashley Park that’s coming out in June, and they’re real-life blood cousins. So now I’m just part of the family. So it was so cool to work with someone I’ve known of within the community and to share the screen like that’s so rare–even now. I think in 2023, we don’t have enough of that of just sharing these identities with the people you see on sat in front of the camera and behind the camera; that is so rare and so special. And I hope to keep it going.

Sherry Cola. (Photo by Jonny Marlow)

You were also featured as a voice in Turning Red this past year. So what was it like for you to be a part of that movie and do voice work?

Cola: That was really fun being a part of Turning Red. I mean, a Pixar film?! Come on; I’m literally pinching myself, you know? I play one of the aunties, a very small part of this iconic, legendary historical machine that is Turning Red. What a special story of a little girl essentially going through puberty. But how does this fit into a red panda? Every single time she feels a strong emotion? I think we can all relate to that. But I’m just really thrilled to be in a lot of animations. Actually, there is a paramount feature called The Tiger’s Apprentice that’s based on a trilogy of books by Laurence Yep that’s coming out next year. And that’s a really special movie as well with Henry Golding, Sandra Oh, Michelle Yeoh, Bowen Yang–so it’s like this perfect cast. So I’m excited to do more and more animation as the years go by.

You have The Tiger’s Apprentice and Adele Lim’s upcoming comedy. So is there anything that you can share? Maybe what you took away from these projects or anything you’re looking forward to people experiencing as it pertains to these two projects?

Cola: Yeah, I also feel really lucky to be a part of Adele Lim’s directorial debut. You know, that’s your first piece of work as a director; it’s beyond the cast. I mean, come on! I feel so extremely lucky, also to be in the industry at this time where we have these opportunities to use our voices in this way and to show our faces in this way. So that movie comes out June 23, and it’s essentially, Hangover/Girls Trip, for lack of a better comparison, but with Asian leads. It’s me, Ashley Park, Stephanie Hsu, newcomer Sabrina Woo, who’s a brilliant stand up, and Sabrina plays my cousin. So I really look forward to how people react to that. It’s funny, it’s raunchy, and it’s just simply the first of its kind.

In terms of Asian representation in media, do you believe that the representation is going in the right direction? How do you feel about the state it’s in at the moment?

Cola: I think Asian representation in the industry can always use more, you know? I think we’re constantly pushing to get the platform and the stage that we deserve to be heard and seen, you know? I think there’s been progress, of course, in the last few years, because of the mainstream hits–which is afforded us films that are so simple and more slice of life, like Shortcomings. So I’m really grateful to sit on the shoulders of our trailblazers and, hopefully, kind of create that ripple effect for the younger generation behind me and coming up. You know, I really see this time as a group project within all the AAPI people in the industry because we’re all in this together. And I think due to so many events, kind of even in trauma bonding, we’ve gotten more fired up in the last few years. And, you know, whatever it takes to kind of just not settle for less any longer because it’s been too long. It’s been a long time coming for us to actually get the representation we deserve.

Absolutely! Is there anything you personally hope that people take away from Shortcomings after they’ve viewed it for the first time?

Cola: I think, you know, I’m excited for people not in the AAPI community to watch Shortcomings and see us as just human beings. You know, there’s a lot of walking and talking, there’s a lot of sitting and talking. You know what I mean? Just having conversations that cannot be less going on in this movie because, literally, we’re allowed to do that. We can just live and exist on the screen, and that can be enough. You know, we don’t need to be doing kung fu; we don’t need to be opening red envelopes, even though it is Lunar New Year. Even though I will definitely be opening some Lunar New Year red envelopes today. But what I’m saying is it doesn’t have to be so divisive. You know, we can just simply be, and I really hope that’s the takeaway for people who want Shortcomings.

Lastly, what is it like to be appearing in a fan-favorite series like Good Trouble?

Cola: Oh, yeah, I’m in the thick of filming season five of Good Trouble, a show that I’m such a fan of, a show that I’m so proud of. I also play a queer Asian character. And, you know, I feel lucky that I get to do such multi-dimensional work and represent because the young girls or the young queer people in my DMs who feel like I’m making a difference or were motivated to come out to their parents because of my character on Good Trouble. That’s what it’s about, you know? Making the impact, that’s why representation is so important. So, Good Trouble season five premieres on March 16 on Freeform; you can stream it on Hulu. So that’s the way of the game!

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