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Actor Ryan Potter of Big Hero 6 Fame Thrills Students at UC Riverside

Potter, Ryan as Beast Boy in Titans
Ryan Potter as Beast Boy in Netflix’ Titans

By Selena Razo. AsAmNews Intern

On February 28, UC Riverside’s Asian Pacific Student Programs hosted a guest lecture with Asian American actor Ryan Potter as part of their Speaker Series.

Potter is known for his roles as Mike Fukanaga in the Nickelodeon television series Supah Ninjas and Hiro Hamada in the Disney animated film and series Big Hero 6. More recently, Potter is starring as Garfield Logan, also known as Beast Boy, in live action series Titans.

After driving for four hours, Potter was greeted with much enthusiasm by the crowd.

“I was just expecting to walk in and do a whole warm up” Potter said in surprise.

Potter himself was also excited for the event to begin.

“I didn’t go to college so walking around campus is really weird for me…To go to different schools and see different student bases and faculty, it’s awesome.”

Potter was born in Oregon, but was raised in Japan until he was around seven years old. At that point, he moved back to the United States and had to go to through the “process of learning how to fit into society all over again.”

After receiving a flyer in his martial arts class that stated Nickelodeon was looking for a 13-14 year old Asian American actor, Potter originally wrote off the idea of auditioning. His reasoning is that he couldn’t imagine an Asian American kid starring on Nickelodeon due to the lack of existing representation.

After some encouragement and persistence from his mother, he decided to go forward with auditioning.

“I was really bad” he said.

Luckily for him, the casting director liked Potter when he was not trying to act and wanted to give him a second chance. After the help of an acting coach, Potter landed his role as Mika Fukanaga on the television show Supah Ninjas. It was then he had the opportunity to work with Randall Park who portrayed Martin Fukanaga, Mike’s single father.

Potter described the opportunity to work with Park as fun. Seeing “…people like that on television representing a growing minority based in America” was inspiring, he said.

Ryan Potter as Hiro Hamada in Big Hero 6
Ryan Potter as Hiro Hamada in Big Hero 6

He called Big Hero 6 the first Disney movie to portray Asian Americans, saying Mulan is not Asian American.

Potter recalled being asked about portraying the first biracial Disney character while promoting Big Hero 6 with other cast members.

The question caught him off guard because everyone else had asked him about portraying a Japanese character in an Asian centric film.

After some time, he finally answered the question saying “it was progress.”

As a biracial Japanese American himself, it was pleasing for him to see a “minority within the Asian American community” being represented and how it was “nice to see society continuing to represent us in an honest way.”

Potter stated that he had not felt a connection to acting until recently.

The connection stems from the growing advocacy for more representation of Asian Americans in the media.

Once he landed his role on Supah Ninjas, Potter went from watching the awards show to actually being there.

He stated that he ended up sitting next to Stevie Wonder, one of his favorite artists.

“I was in middle school a couple of months ago and now I’m sitting next to Stevie Wonder. What do I have to say of value?”

He eventually worked up the courage to talk to Wonder and they discussed Potter’s favorite songs, including These Three Words.

“I took that as a sign and have continued [acting] since” Potter said.

His favorite role so far has been taking part in a Wong Fu skit titled Save the Date. He continued praising Wong Fu, saying how he grew up watching them and how they have continued working on representation of the Asian American community.

The moderators asked Potter what he does in his free time and if he has any hobbies.

“Sleep” Potter said.

Aside from martial arts and video games, Potter said that since he is almost always working “my job becomes my hobby.”

The student moderators also asked him what it is like to be one of the few Asian American actors in the media.

“It’s kind of like watching the sun come up.”

He explains that there is a need for more Asian Americans to “tell our stories.” He states that when someone of another ethnic group is trying to tell an Asian American story, there is a loss of cultural value because even though they are the same scenarios they do not have the same subtext.

He also discusses how this weight is shared among other actors and how even though there are many Asian American actors, there can always be more.

“We need other creatives in the industry that work different jobs…that actually give us proper things to say on camera.

“You can’t just have me as an acting token” Potter said. “If you want to hire me as an Asian American kid you have to represent me and show in the right light.”

When asked what he likes the most about acting, Potter cited his continued interested in art.

“Art was essentially the foundation of my childhood..I can’t imagine doing something outside the realm of art” Potter said.

He also said that the “best part of the job is getting to be creative.”

Potter said that his favorite person to work with was his former television dad Randall Park, known for playing Martin Fukanaga on Supah Ninjas and more recently Louis Huang on Fresh off the Boat.

Park was a big influence on Potter when they starred in Supah Ninjas together, as he helped Potter understand how the industry works.

Potter recognized Park as one of his role models in terms of his acting career, stating how Park bring new ideas and his playful attitude while on set.

One student asked Potter if he had any advice for aspiring actors.

“Believe in what you do more than anyone else does.”

He continued emphasizing the importance of being true to one’s self as an actor.

“Just believe your truth more than anybody else.”

Potter can be seen in the live action television show Titans, only available on the streaming service DC Universe, which has also been renewed for a second season.

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