Taylor Takahashi is a vocal Golden State Warriors fan. He thinks Steph Curry is the greatest player currently playing in the NBA, and he’s willing to defend that position.
“A lot of people will probably [say] I’m on a bandwagon, but I’m not; I’ve watched that team since I could watch TV and understand the game,” Takahashi says. “I’ve seen them be really, really bad for a long time. I would’ve never thought I’d see them win one championship, and to see them win three in four years, it’s pretty incredible.”
Takahashi, who grew up in the Bay area, retains his Warriors pride even as he’s settled in Orange County. Previously an elite high school basketball player, at Alameda High School, he moved to Los Angeles five years ago to pursue a career as a personal trainer and in the restaurant industry. In 2017, a year and a half after moving down to L.A., he was invited to join a recreational basketball league — a recruitment that would end up changing the direction of his career entirely.
One of his teammates ended up being Eddie Huang, the bombastic celebrity chef-turned-author, whose memoir “Fresh Off the Boat” spawned a sitcom for ABC. “I had no idea that Eddie was going to be on the team,” Takahashi says. “I had followed Eddie’s show on Vice, ‘Huang’s World.’ I felt like I knew him. And there he was, right in the flesh,” he adds. “I played it as cool as I could. I had a million questions I wanted to ask him, but I restricted myself. And as time went on, we became really good friends.”
In 2018, Huang hired Takahashi as his assistant, who was introduced to the entertainment industry through Huang’s day-to-day work. “I learned so much by being able to observe,” Takahashi says. “And he never treated me like, ‘I’m your boss and you work for me.’ It was always very open, very much like, ‘I’m just going to treat it as a friendship. And yes, we’re going to have to buckle down and get things done, but there’s opportunities where you’re going to meet people. If you want to explore relationships with them, my world is your world. And I want you to try to take advantage as much as you can.’” He wasn’t kidding.
Huang showed Takahashi the script he’d written for “Boogie” and told him his goal for the year, above all else, was to direct the film. When the project was greenlit, Takahashi joined Huang in New York to help with pre-production. Specifically, Takahashi was tapped to train the young actor originally cast as Boogie to look like a top New York City basketball player.
“I show up to the office about three and a half weeks into pre-production, and Eddie’s standing at the front door,” says Takahashi. “And he’s like, ‘Wwhat’s up? How you doing today? Give me your phone and give me your laptop. No distractions today.’ And I was like, ‘Am I fired? What happened?’”
Takahashi was far from fired: He was being hired to play the titular lead role in the film. And that’s how he became an actor. It’s all thanks to a recreational basketball league.
Unlike his character Boogie, Takahashi didn’t grow up in an immigrant home. The actor is fourth-generation Japanese American and almost a decade out of his Bay area high school, while his character is Taiwanese and a high school senior in Queens. Despite those differences, the story and significance of basketball resonated deeply.
“I first picked up a basketball when I was like two years old,” Takahashi says. “Basketball for me has been a huge beacon of opportunity. It’s been a huge beacon in my life not only just on the court, but I’ve learned so many life skills through the game. For me to pick up the script originally and to read about an Asian basketball player, an immigrant story set in New York, it was like — I’m almost reading a script about myself and my dream of trying to make the NBA.”
Takahashi hasn’t seen a final cut of the film yet; he’s holding out to watch it at a movie theater. But even ahead of the film’s release, he notes that many people have already connected to the film on various levels: the immigrant story, the basketball story, the hip-hop story. While Takahashi grew up around other Asian basketball players, he’s aware that viewers might not be as used to seeing Asian representation within the basketball community, and certainly not on screen. “It’s bigger than just a movie opportunity; it’s an opportunity to bring kind of representation to a typically underserved community,” he adds.
While his role in “Boogie” was unplanned, Takahashi intends to continue acting and has been auditioning for new projects and taking acting classes to improve. “If I relate it to basketball, it’s [about] developing more skill, becoming a five-tool player and working on the basics and understanding the fundamentals,” he says. And, naturally, he equates the role of a director to that of a coach: Huang was his Phil Jackson.
“When your coach is on point and your coach is giving you direction, that’s how a team flows. And it’s up to us as players to go out and ultimately perform,” he says. “But when you give them the confidence to go out and perform, it makes the process so much more enjoyable.”
While waiting for his next role to emerge, Takahashi has also been working on another skill: clothing design. He launched his own brand, Ototo, as a creative outlet this past year, integrating his knowledge of sneakers and streetwear. Current offerings include golden hue mesh shorts and embroidered crew socks that would be at-home on a basketball court, and striped shirts. Ototo means “little brother” in Japanese, and was inspired by his experience hanging out with his older brother’s crowd as a young teenager.
Like any little brother, he imagines Ototo growing up and evolving from just t-shirts and shorts and sweatshirts. For now, he sells his limited-batch designs direct-to-consumer through Instagram.
“I was a glorified guy selling his T-shirts out of his trunk, using social media, using word of mouth,” he says. “And hopefully after this movie drops, the following will gain.”
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