We all know Reyn Doi didn’t grow up in the ‘90s. Heck, Doi wasn’t even born yet when the original series That ‘70s Show was even on television in the ‘90s to its conclusion in 2006. He was born three years after that. Yet, the 14-year-old actor felt a connection to his ‘90s counterpart Ozzie in the new Netflix revival That ‘90s Show.
“I’m very honest like Ozzie, who is very honest most of the time,” Doi tells The Nerds of Color. “I think the reason why I’m able to play Ozzie pretty well is because I can point out his characteristics and personality and mine – I can see the similarities and differences.”
Unlike Ozzie, Doi was born and raised in Hawaii – which has a large population of Asian Americans, plus the ‘90s was very different from a queer Asian kid in a midwestern town like Point Place. Showrunner Gregg Mettler had to explain to Doi how the LGBTQ+ community was treated back in the day, especially for people of color. Doi said there were a lot of conversations regarding Ozzie’s sexuality because it was a big deal for a kid – especially Asian – to come out to a stranger.
“They gave me [a lot] of information on [this] because obviously, I wasn’t around,” Doi explains. “This was not common. It was not common for not only someone to be openly gay, but to some out to someone he basically just met. I do think those conversations that were had made me understand, ‘okay, this is a big moment’. It’s not just something that happens every day in Point Place, Wisconsin in the ‘90s. It happens to only a few people that have the confidence and that trust with someone.”
His co-star, and original That ‘70s Show cast member, Debra Jo Rupp had an emotional scene together with Ozzie coming out to her. Both Rupp and Doi were happy to include a scene that should have been widely accepted back then.
“We’re both glad that it was incorporated in the show,” Doi shares.
In the series, Ozzie is part of a group of misfits that befriends the new girl Leia Forman (Callie Havedra) as she visits her grandparents for the summer. The misfits include Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide), her brother Nate (Maxwell Acee Donovan) and his girlfriend Nikki (Sam Morelos), and Jay Kelso (Mace Coronel). Doi said the entire cast felt like a family.
“We really clicked,” Doi shares. “I clicked with everyone. Not only did the six of us become like a family, but we became family with the producers, writers, the executive producers, director, and Netflix. There was an immediate connection.”
As the youngest member of the cast, Doi felt well taken care of, especially with the original That ‘70s Show cast members returning to support the series. Doi was given great advice by Wilmer Valderrama, who plays Fez.
“[The original cast members] were really nice and gave me a lot of good advice,” Doi recalls. “Wilmer told me being on the show for eight years taught him a lot and how it’s always important to take those rehearsal times – whether its a run through or network run, to take those times to really dive into your creative mind. Because you only get one chance to show it to the network and producers. So if you don’t land that joke, it could get cut.”
Speaking of Fez, who was the foreign exchange student “fish out of water” character, Doi found the character to be very similar to Ozzie. Both characters are people of color who couldn’t quite fit into a place like Point Place because of their differences. In the ‘70s, people didn’t understand foreigners and treated them like outcasts. It’s very much in the same vein as a gay Asian kid in the ‘90s.
“When I was watching [That ‘70s Show], I felt like he didn’t know where to fit in with the group,” Doi shares. “In the beginning, [everyone was in relationships with each other] like Kelso and Hyde dating Jackie and Eric dating Donna. Those relationships were set — and Fez was the “foreigner.” So, in terms of that, I feel like being the youngest sometimes, I don’t know if I fit in, but they always make me feel accepted. [And Ozzie], they all love him for who he is.”
Although Doi grew up surrounded by Asians and started seeing himself represented in media, he doesn’t feel any pressure to portray a gay Asian teenager. He does hopes kids can see themselves in the character.
“I’m very happy to represent my Asian culture and the community,” says Doi. “I don’t feel any pressure on my part as long as I know all I had to do was portray the character how the audience would have wanted him portrayed.
If given a second season, Doi would love to explore Ozzie’s family life – like his Asian roots – as well as his friendship with Gwen. The first season already established their relationship prior to Leia’s appearance, but really focused on Leia and Gwen. He’d like to see Ozzie and Gwen get their friendship moments.
“I would like to see my relationship with Gwen go deeper and see more of those stories like disagreements or agreements or whatever,” Doi confesses. “If there’s a new kid that comes along, that’ll be fun too. I think it’s always interesting to bring on another person to stir up drama or stir up something in the basement.”
Doi also mentioned that Ozzie deserves to go to the rave that he missed out on in the fourth episode, especially since Ozzie’s outfit was pretty cool.“Ozzie is set in stone with his fashion,” Doi reveals. He knows he rocks it. He’s very confident. He’s one of the fashionistas of the group. He’s very fashionable and I’d like to explore that.”
Let’s not forget Ozzie’s Canadian boyfriend, Etienne. Is he real? Will the group actually meet this imaginary boyfriend? But Doi had another question in mind when it came to Etienne, “I want to know if he is actually Canadian or not?”
That ‘90s Show Season 1 is available on Netflix now!