Stardom has found Kim, and it's a 'great ride'
By Dinah Eng
Gannett News Service
By Dinah Eng
Daniel Dae Kim is still startled when fans start screaming at the sight of him.
"In New York or Los Angeles, it can be a bit overwhelming," says Kim, who plays Korean castaway Jin-Soo Kwon in the hit ABC series "Lost."
"They're appreciative of what I do on the show, and one person may ask for an autograph, then others. I'll hear shrieks on the street, which can be unsettling. It's a bit more low-key in Hawai'i, since we film there."
Not that Kim is complaining. Kim has played everything from sci-fi military officers on TV shows like "Enterprise" and "Crusade" to a government agent on "24." But "Lost" has made him a hot commodity in Hollywood, winning him a place on People's list of the Sexiest Men Alive in 2005 and recognition as a household name.
Still, he notes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
"For any actor, regardless of race, trying to make a living can be hard," says Kim. "Being a minority is just an added challenge. When I'm looking for a job during my hiatus from 'Lost,' I still have to try to change people's minds about roles in films. People tell me, 'This part wasn't written for an Asian person,' or 'We're just not going that way.' Sometimes I get asked whether I even speak English!"
Kim says there are growing opportunities for Asian-American men in Hollywood, but he'd like to see more roles that are integral to the plot.
"I've found Jin to be the exception to the rule," Kim says. "His story is integral to the plot of 'Lost,' and is the most fleshed-out character I've ever played on TV. The thing I like most is that he's the opposite of what he seemed when the show first started. At first, he seemed to be a one-dimensional, conservative, unfeeling Asian, but now you see that he's much more."
Tonight, viewers will see a flashback episode from the point of view of Sun (Yunjin Kim). It involves a love triangle, and will show how Jin and Sun got to be "as dysfunctional as they are," says Kim, laughing.
Kim — who was born in Pusan, South Korea, and lives on O'ahu with his wife and two children — immigrated with his family to the United States when he was a year and a half old. His father, an anesthesiologist, and his mother, a homemaker, encouraged him to speak English to assimilate, so Kim says it takes extra work for him to learn and memorize his Korean lines for "Lost."
While attending Haverford College, Kim caught the acting bug, and after graduation, passed up offers to become an investment banker in favor of the stage.
"I ended up starving and broke in New York for a while," he recalls, before moving to Los Angeles, where he quickly landed roles in television and film. Sci-fi fans will recognize him as Lt. John Matheson in "Crusade," the attorney Gavin Park in "Angel," and Cpl. Chang in "Enterprise."
"In my experience, I've found that producers have been much more open to 'nontraditional' casting in sci-fi," Kim says. "Because of what Gene Roddenberry did with the original 'Star Trek' series, it opened up what's acceptable in the entire genre. "
Kim's latest foray off the "Lost" island was in "Crash," the newly crowned Academy Award winner for best picture.
"I had a tiny role in the Asian story line about smuggling," Kim says. "If you blink, you'll miss it. I'd like to be able to go back and forth between television and film, but if all the films I worked on were of the caliber of 'Crash,' I'd be thrilled."
Whatever the future brings, Kim is thrilled to be working on a show where his character's fate is unfolding in complex ways. "One of the biggest challenges, acting-wise, has been charting a character's growth through the length of an entire season," Kim says. "On stage or in film, I'm able to see a character's journey from beginning to end in one story, but on 'Lost,' every episode opens a new chapter for Jin. It's a lot like real life, actually. You wake up every morning and never quite know what's going to happen. All I can say is that so far, it's been a really great ride."