Although he's appeared in numerous movies and television shows since the mid-'80s, Gedde Watanabe is still widely recognized for his comical portrayal of foreign exchange student Long Duk Dong in "Sixteen Candles" (1984). In the film, a coming-of-age teen dramedy directed by John Hughes, Watanabe uttered several memorable phrases, such as "What's happenin', hot stuff?" and "Oh, sexy girlfriend," which have become as important to the American film lexicon as "Here's looking at you, kid." When the film was released in 1984, Watanabe received his share of outrage from those who believed his portrayal of Long Duk Dong to be overtly stereotypical of Asian-Americans. However, Watanabe never allowed himself to be sidetracked by criticism, and has since gone on to have a long career as a film, television and stage actor.
For Gedde Watanabe, life began in the rural town of Ogden, UT. Since his parents were Japanese-Americans (Watanabe's mother was placed in a Japanese internment camp during World War II), throughout his early life Watanabe felt an overwhelming sense that he was an outsider. He found his escape in acting, having first appeared in a local production of "The King and I" when he was 6. At the age of 18 he moved to San Francisco to pursue acting full time. Life in San Francisco was difficult for Watanabe. He lived cheaply, sharing a small apartment with several roommates, while performing in plays at the American Conservatory Theatre. In order to pay the bills, Watanabe sang Bob Dylan songs on a street corner in Chinatown. He earned few fans, however, with most of the passersby who heard his renditions throwing vegetables at him. Starving and never one to let a good meal go to waste, Watanabe often brought those vegetables home, boiled them up in a pot of water, and ate them.
When the acting jobs ran dry in San Francisco, Watanabe moved to New York City. He once again took up street singing in order to pay the bills, while auditioning for film, television and stage roles by day. It was during his stay in New York that Watanabe had the opportunity to audition for a role in the latest film from '80s film icon John Hughes. Already a well-known commodity in Hollywood for penning the comedies "Vacation" (1983) and "Mr. Mom" (1983), Hughes stepped behind the camera for the first time to direct "Sixteen Candles." While auditioning for the role, Watanabe, whose first and only language is English, contrived an over-the-top Chinese accent that the casting agents loved. "Sixteen Candles" was an instant hit with teenagers when it was released in the summer of 1984, eventually going on to achieve cult-classic status. Despite being embroiled in controversy for his stereotypical portrayal (he later said he was only trying to make people laugh), Watanabe managed to salvage his career by appearing in numerous guest spots on sitcoms like "Murphy Brown" (CBS, 1988-1998), "Seinfeld" (NBC, 1989-1998) and "Mad About You" (NBC, 1992-99). In the late '90s he landed a recurring role as Nurse Yosh Takata on "ER" (NBC, 1994-2009), and has since made a nice living doing voiceover work for animated TV shows and movies. In 2012 Gedde appeared alongside Billy Crystal, Bette Midler and Marisa Tomei in the family comedy "Parental Guidance." Despite weak reviews from critics, the film went on to earn $125 million at the box office.
Cast (Feature Film)
Breakout performance as Long Duk Dong
First series regular role on "Gung Ho"
Recurring role on "ER"