Filmmaker Kulap Vilaysack Untangles Her Family History In ‘Origin Story’

“Why are you defending him? He’s not your real dad.”

During a heated argument with her mother who blurted out this truth in a moment of frustration, a 14-year-old Kulap Vilaysack found out that the man who she called Dad her entire life was not her biological father. This devastating revelation sent Vilaysack into an existential crisis that forced her to question her relationship with her family, friends and herself. It wasn’t until 20 years later when Vilaysack was planning to have her own child that she decided to put to rest any questions that she might have about her father’s identity, and her own.

Vilaysack has done it all in showbiz. She’s been a showrunner, producer, comedian and actress. You might remember seeing her in “A Benihana Christmas” on “The Office” or Seeso’s “Bajillion Dollar Propertie$,” or seen her work as a co-executive producer on “A Legendary Christmas with John and Chrissy.” Now, Vilaysack has chosen to tell her own tale. Interspersed with text message conversations and interviews with family members, “Origin Story” follows Vilaysack’s journey as she travels to Laos to meet her biological father. The deeply personal documentary made its festival rounds last year and is set to hit Amazon TVOD on May 10.

Despite all her experiences, Vilaysack said the process of creating “Origin Story” felt “incredibly terrifying and scary.” She said, “It’s really unusual for an Asian family to talk about their dirty laundry. I was uncomfortable every step of the way because I was playing both the director and the main subject.”

Although Vilaysack found the production process “emotionally draining,” she was grateful for the experience because it helped her connect to her Laotian background. She learned that her mother and biological father swam across the Mekong River to safety in Thailand. From there, they immigrated to Minnesota. But then they separated, with her father returning to Laos and her mother remarrying another Laotian. “I felt like something I didn’t even know was missing was back,” Vilaysack said. “The most amazing by-product of this whole project has been me figuring out a way to my roots.” Upon her return home, Vilaysack started Laos Angeles, an organization that aims to cultivate a community of Lao American creatives and support their work.

Vilaysack also became a lot closer to her half sisters and her stepfather throughout the process of making the documentary. Much to her surprise, it also helped mend her broken relationship with her mother. At an October screening at the Twin Cities Film Festival, Vilaysack’s mom watched it as Vilaysack’s little sister sat between the two of them as a “buffer.” Vilaysack was nervous about her mother’s reaction, but came to realize that her mom was actually enjoying the movie. She even giggled at the funnier scenes. “It was a very intense and therapeutic screening,” Vilaysack said.

Vilaysack said it’s her dream for more people to see the documentary. She hopes that her story will be able to help others in similar situations. “I wanted to not feel alone, and showing my stories to people has made me feel that way,” Vilaysack said. “I hope that it inspires people to tell their own stories.”

Correction: In the print edition of Character Media’s April issue, Vilaysack was listed as the executive producer on “A Legendary Christmas with John and Chrissy” instead of a co-executive producer. Additionally, the article stated “Origin Story” would be available on Amazon Prime instead of  Amazon TVOD.

This article appeared in Character Media’s April 2019 issue. Subscribe here.