Living local Daniel Dae Kim's guide to eating local
by Kawehi Haug
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
A man walks into a bar. Not exactly what we expected. The joke's on us.
At around 9:30 last Thursday morning, the plan was to watch actor Daniel Dae Kim walk through the door of Side Street Inn.
This is how it was supposed to go down: We'd meet, we'd sit, he'd answer a few questions, his phone would ring, and he'd say that he's needed back at the set and is that all for now?
We'd say yes, thank you, and by 10 a.m. we'd be back in real life, where we're an annoyance to the stars, and the stars are very important indeed.
So, this man walks into the bar. He doles out hugs and handshakes and makes us forget for the next 60 minutes that we're not in fact talking to some man who just walked into a bar.
Sitting in the empty eatery — owner Colin Nishida opened the place early to let us do the interview here because it's one of Kim's favorite Honolulu haunts — the actor looks the part. His overgrown hair, an essential prop for his role on the television show "Lost" as Korean businessman Jin stranded on the kind of island where personal grooming takes a backseat to survival, is slicked back into submission, Miami Beach style.
He's got that don't-hate-me-because-I'm-beautiful glint in his eye. Perfect teeth, golden tan. If we're just talking about the skin-deep stuff, the guy has every right to be an insufferable cad. A Hollywood-bred philistine. The kind of person we'd rather not have in our city of aloha, never mind how much cash and good publicity their big-budget motion picture projects generate for the Islands.
But, take our word for it: We want this guy. And he wants us, which, even if he didn't look like a dream, counts for a lot.
On this day, Kim is between shooting the final few episodes of ABC's mega-hit series "Lost" and filming the pilot for a CBS network remake of "Hawaii Five-0" in which Kim will play Detective Chin Ho Kelly.
If the series takes off, it will be filmed here, ensuring that Kim, his wife and two sons will be able to stay on O'ahu, where he says they feel most at home.
Six years ago this week, Kim, 41, who was born in Busan, South Korea, and raised in New York and Pennsylvania, arrived in Honolulu to start work on "Lost," and hasn't wanted to leave the island since.
These are busy times for Kim, but if he's worried we're going to take up too much time on his big-star schedule, he's not letting on. He settles in on one of the black vinyl bar stools, elbows on the bar, eyes alert and welcomes the onslaught of questions.
Let's start with "Lost." Did you have any idea that it was going to be as big as it is?
I've been around long enough to know that just because you're excited about a project doesn't mean that the world is going to be excited about the project. I was cautiously optimistic about its prospects because I had a lot of faith in J.J. Abrams, and I thought what he was trying to do was really ambitious.
To be honest, when I first heard about the show, I wasn't very optimistic. It just doesn't seem like anything filmed here in Hawai'i is ever very successful.
At the time, "Hawaii," "North Shore" and "Lost" were all filming. I remember people saying that "Hawaii" was going to be the one show to stay around, and others said "North Shore" was going to stay around because it had beautiful women. No one wanted to work on "Lost." It's kind of ironic that we're the last ones standing.
In "Lost," you play a Korean-speaking Korean. Was it daunting to have to act in a different language?
Yes. It was one of the biggest challenges of my career. Even though I was born in Korea, English is very much my first language. I would speak what I call "household Korean" with my parents, but nothing beyond that. To act in Korean was a double challenge. It was daunting, but I'm happy to say that after six years, my Korean has never been better.
And what about speaking English with a Korean accent?
That was also a challenge! Because my parents still speak with a Korean accent, I've learned over the years to tune it out. And while it's easy for me speak with an English accent or a French accent, it was difficult for me to hear the Korean accent objectively so I could make the sounds. It took some doing.
This is the final season of "Lost." Will you miss it?
Yes, of course. It was the most significant role I've ever had. It was the project that brought me to Hawai'i. It was the project that gave me a sense of financial security. It was the project that raised my profile in the industry. It gave me countless blessings, and I'll always be grateful for it.
But now "Hawaii Five-0" will start filming here, with you cast as Chin Ho Kelly. Are you a fan of the original?
It was a little bit before my time, but that theme song is so iconic, and I do remember that famous shot of Jack Lord on the Ilikai. When the prospect of this project first arose, I watched a few old episodes of "Hawaii Five-0," and I realized I was watching them as a local. What I mean by that is when they're driving their car in Makapu'u in one shot and two seconds later they're in Diamond Head, I'm like wait a minute! That's not right. I know now.
If you hadn't taken the "Hawaii Five-0" role, what would you have done after "Lost" wrapped?
My family and I were really trying to find a way to stay here because we love it so much. I'm not sure what we would have done. There was a very strong possibility that my family would have stayed here and I would have tried to commute back and forth to L.A. looking for work. There was also the possibility that I would have just tried to stay here and looked for work on local movies and become a local actor. But I'm just lucky that things turned out the way they did.
What are your feelings about the new role? Excited? Anxious?
I feel like I'm in a bit of a win-win situation. Because we wanted to stay, and I also didn't want to lower my artistic standards, to have a show that is written and produced by Ed Bernero ("Criminal Minds"), it's almost like a blessing that dropped from the sky. It's not only a show that's well done creatively, it also puts Hawai'i in a really good light. The thing about "Lost" is, as much as we celebrated shooting in Hawai'i, it was never set in Hawai'i. The fact that "Hawaii Five-0" is actually set here, and will actually use real locations, adds a little bit of extra authenticity.
What is it about Hawai'i that makes you and your family want to stay?
I grew up in a small town on the East Coast, and the thing I loved about it was that kids were able to stay kids, and I think the same is true of Honolulu. The options for an actor are generally New York and Los Angeles, but kids grow up quick over there. I guess I'm of the feeling that my children have their whole lives to be adults, so why don't I let them be kids for as long as I can?
Correction: The new version of the CBS series “Hawaii Five-0” is written by “CSI: NY” executive producer Peter Lenkov, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. A Q&A with Daniel Dae Kim in a previous version of this story contained inaccurate information.