Lauren Tom NYCC Interview: Minority Casting on Friends, the 90s, and Batman Beyond

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In 2017, when I first started my Above and Batman Beyond podcast/YouTube channel, I quickly familiarized myself with the IMDb of Beyond cast and crew. For Batman Beyond (’99-’01), it begins with none other than Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman/Old Bruce Wayne. Then, there’s Batman Beyond himself, Will Friedle, as the voice of Terry McGinnis. But, then there’s the ever present love interest of Dana Tan: the smart-yet-naive, gorgeous Asian girlfriend of young Batman.

Left to right: Dana Tan (voiced by Lauren Tom), Terry McGinnis/Batman (voiced by Will Friedle), “Batman Beyond” (’99-’01)

As Beyond fans, we know Bruce, Terry, and Dana by their voices.  Because I hadn’t kept up with the show’s IMDb for nearly two decades, I hadn’t yet put together that the voice of Dana Tan was actually Julie from Friends! Julie was a recurring guest on the mega nineties hit series as Ross’ Chinese American girlfriend.

Left to right: Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston), Julie (Lauren Tom), “Friends” (’94-’04)

So, what’s the point here, IMDb trivia with a concentration on Asian 90s casting? No, but that is a great piece if you know your Friends. The point is, believe it or not, this was still a time when it was rare to cast minorities for mainstream shows such as Friends or Batman Beyond.

NY Comic Con 2019 Official Panel Press Release Image, “Batman Beyond” (’99-’01)

I’m not the first, and definitely will not be the last to observe this, but six twenty-somethings, all living in New York City in the mid nineties, and all of them are white? Not exactly representative of history’s top American melting pots.

Neo Gotham, “Batman Beyond” (’99-’01)

Fast forward the same Sociology 101 thinking into a futuristic American city like Batman Beyond‘s Neo Gotham. You better believe all of Terry’s friends are not gonna be white. And, they’re not. And, they were never cast as such if they weren’t. This is the case for Lauren Tom, a woman of Chinese American descent playing Dana; as well as Cree Summer, a black woman playing the black character of Maxine, Terry’s good friend and vigilante confidant.

Maxine “Max” Gibson (voiced by Cree Summer), “Batman Beyond (’99-’01)

I had the immense fortune of meeting and interviewing Lauren Tom at NY Comic Con this year, for the Batman Beyond 20th celebration and Blu-Ray box set release. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment organized a 20th panel at Con as well as press roundtable access to Beyond cast and crew like Tom. Thanks to C506, I had press passes to NYCC this year, which then got a Batman Beyond podcaster into a Batman Beyond press event. Dangerous territory.

But, seriously, Lauren could not have been nicer. Very sweet, very intelligent, not to mention beyond talented. Speaking of her IMDb, talk about range! Stay tuned here at C506 and my ABB channel for my question to Tom about how impressive her range is as an actor: From Joy Luck Club to Friends, Batman Beyond to Futurama.

Left to right: Lauren Tom at NY Comic Con 2019; Dana Tan, voiced by Tom on “Batman Beyond” (’99-’01); David Schwimmer and Tom as Ross and Julie from “Friends” (’94-’04)
From my talk with Lauren Tom at NY Comic Con:

Benjamin David: You said you liked the idea that they were casting an Asian person for Dana. That was one of my questions. Now, minority casting is an everyday topic. People are like, Why don’t you? You might as well. A character should or shouldn’t be this, or, let’s be real about  this time, it’s in the future; it’s just a city. Not everyone’s going to be one type of person, in any city. So, it’s cool, but that’s twenty years ago. Speaking of the 20th. That was more of a big deal back then. So, talk about how that felt. I guess, expand on what you said before, especially for that time.

Lauren Tom: Yea, it was very exciting, because that was just about the same time that I was on Friends. And, she was the only person of color before Aisha Tyler came on. So, I was like, Things are happening! Things are shaking up, and this is gonna be great!’ Then, it did take another twenty-five years for Crazy Rich Asians to come out (Laughs).

Left to right: David Schwimmer and Aisha Tyler as Ross and Charlie, “Friends” (’94-’04)

LT (continued): But, having said that, it’s all good, and it’s just a movement that will keep going in that direction. And, people are talking about it a lot more now, but we still have to be vocal about trying to stake out our place in some of these projects and things.

Here’s the video version of this same interview, with a bit of extra content. Subscribe to my Above and Batman Beyond YouTube channel and podcast for more roundtable interviews with cast and crew of Batman Beyond! Additional interviews include Kevin Conroy, Will Friedle, Alan Burnett, James Tucker, and Andrea Romano. 

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