Remembering Sidekicks

“Remembering Mako and John”, my first “sidekicks”

When on set, there are always those stars that hide from fans and friends or shun conversations with a “writer”. Quite the opposites were Mako and John. During our first conversation, Mako eagerly spoke of his past experiences as a kitchen worker on Mott Street in New York’s Chinatown.  He seemed to enjoy the experience that not only fed him when he was struggling for Broadway roles but it offered him the ability to befriend Cantonese culture and embrace its language. From this crossing of cultures came his insight into the youthful energy and character of Mr. Lee in the movie Sidekicks.  Mako, rather than complaining about his early Broadway career and any tough moments wiping “woks”, relished them and proved to realize this  Sidekicks character with a fervor that not only brought believability to his character but excellence to his
craft. Mako was an actor that lived to enjoy his craft. He pleased audiences and he expressed an appreciation for those who supported his work. As the writer that created Mr. Lee, Mako’s character in Sidekicks, I know very well that Mako strove to support a positive cultural perspective of a lovable Chinese cook that had the skilled hands to not only throw rice and bodies to and fro but to care for a disabled adolescent. It was a character that Mako loved, and a performance that made us love him. He was a good friend who showed great appreciation for the pen that created Mr. Lee. When I first created the characters in Sidekicks, I had imagined Mako as Mr. Lee, but felt it would be a long shot to have him under contract. The role was made for him. He was Mr. Lee.
At the age of fourteen, Jonathan’s creation of Barry was more demanding than any theatrical performance that he ever faced. Not only did he have to reflect the multiple fears of Barry’s asthmatic anxieties but he also had to appear to have mastered some rather difficult concepts of Kung Fu. When faced with huge flames dancing and rising from burning bricks before camera, Jonathan at 14 was called upon to show more grit than any other cast member.  Few, thought this stunt to be as difficult as it turned out to be. Despite the height of the flames, Jonathan never questioned the safety of the unique scenario that appeared before him. As the director shouted “action” , Jonathan stepped to his spot and with a momentary glance upward he paused to peacefully observe the plums of flames suddenly rise over his head.  As he inhaled the look from his eyes said it all. In spite of the terror before him, Jonathan’s eyes were that of a determined martial artist. He slammed his hand down through that flaming brick. It was then that he slowly lifted his arm over his head to reveal his sleeve encased in flames.
Someone called for a fire extinguisher and in seconds Jonathan’s arm was covered with shielding white foam. The good news was that Jonathan was unhurt. The bad news was, he had two more takes of the same scene. However, the flames never rose as high and Jonathan never retreated. No doubt playing “Barry” in Sidekicks was a challenge that only a few could ever imagine.
Jonathan brought out the best in himself and “Barry”.  After Sidekicks I expected Jonathan to compete with the likes of Leonardo Di Capria for roles, but he hung his hat and his craft on television instead where he started his career. Thanks to that decision he left more performances to be remembered by.

While on set there were times when I couldn’t help but stare at Jonathan playing Barry. He carried a dramatic presence to the character that was a unique addition, and the performance stands today as a story that fills the hearts of kids suffering from asthma with a hope that will last as long as the film is played but more importantly where ever a kid struggles to breathe.

Today, asthma has become the most frequent of all maladies suffered in our public schools by elementary children.  Hopefully, we will memorialize Jonathan’s creation of “Barry” by putting inexpensive breathing machines in our public schools. With your help our Exceptional Individual Fund would like to tackle that job.