Gary "Gedde" Watanabe is a Hollywood actor and comedian of Japanese American origin. He is best known for his portrayal of Long Duk Dong in the 1984 movie ‘Sixteen Candles’. Throughout his career he has mostly portrayed East Asian characters with heavy accents although he doesn’t speak any Japanese. Watanabe is known for his acting style as well as his singing skills. He was interested in acting from a very young age and took part in several high school productions. He also wanted to be in a rock and roll band and was once a street singer in San Francisco. He was part of the original Broadway cast of the play ‘Pacific Overtures’ during the beginning of his acting career. He has done voice-over roles in animated films and series as well.
Gedde Watanabe made his debut as a member of the original Broadway cast of ‘Pacific Overtures’ in 1976, originating the role of ‘the boy in a tree’. In 1980, he landed a role in his first movie ‘The Long Island Four’. He is best known for his portrayal of Long Duk Dong, a foreign exchange student, in the 1984 movie ‘Sixteen Candles’. The role attracted hatred from some Asian American groups who called it "stereotypical, racist and part of a long history of Hollywood's offensive depictions of Asian men." To add to the worries, US and Japan had a sour trade relationship during the period. However, Watanabe justified his role stating that he was only making people laugh. He added that he didn’t realize at the time how it would affect people. In his piece for ‘Allmovie,’ Jason Buchanan wrote, "The character that Gedde Watanabe is most remembered for is Long Duk Dong, the clumsy foreign exchange student in [the 1984 film] Sixteen Candles."
Watanabe got the starring role of ‘Oishi Kazuhiro’ in the 1986 movie ‘Gung Ho.’ He co-starred as Kuni in the 1989 movie ‘UHF’ starring "Weird Al" Yankovic. His character Kuni was a karate instructor and the abusive host of a TV game show called ‘Wheel of Fish.’ He later repeated the role on the ‘Weird Al Show.’
In 1998, he was cast in two television shows, namely, ‘Sesame Street,’ as Hiroshi and ‘ER,’ where he portrayed gay nurse Yoshi Takata. During the same year, he did voice-over for the character Ling in the Disney animated movie ‘Mulan,’ which tells the story of a girl who disguises herself as a man to join the army. He did several movies after that, including ‘Armageddon’ (1998), ‘On the Couch’ (2004), ‘Fortune Hunters’ (2007) and ‘47 Ronin’ (2013). He has also done voice-overs for animated television series like ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Scooby Doo’.
You May Like
Continue Reading Below
Family & Personal Life
Gedde Watanabe was born on June 26, 1955, in Ogden, Utah. Acting was an escape for him from his ever-quarrelling parents. He joined several dramatic productions in high school and took up both acting and singing. After graduation, he left Ogden to become a street singer in San Francisco. He sang folk songs by Bob Dylan and hoped to become part of a rock and roll band. As a San Francisco artiste he lived in a commune with his two flat mates. His favorite singing spot in the city was Chinatown and his songs were often met with displeasure. His songs were considered to be unbearable as restaurant workers and cooks threw bok-choy at him! He would take the vegetables thrown at him home and make a meal out of them.
Watanabe attended the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. Later, he moved to New York and took to street singing again. Following his singing gig in New York, he moved to Los Angeles and decided to make acting his career. He later became a part of the original Broadway cast of ‘Pacific Overtures,’ after which his acting career started blooming.