DANIEL DAE KIM’S CAREER is a study in the steady accumulation of power. His dream role, as a budding actor in NYU’s theater program, was to play Henry V, Shakespeare’s sure-footed military king. Instead, he made his way in the ’90s with small TV jobs and meatier parts with Asian American theater groups before becoming sexiest-man-alive famous through ABC’s blockbuster show Lost. He confirmed his status as a TV staple with a role on the CBS reboot of Hawaii Five-0, which he left after seven seasons when the network wouldn’t raise his salary to match his white co-stars’. Still, he was able to use that time to start his own production company, 3AD, which is responsible for the ABC hit The Good Doctor. (Kim developed it from a Korean drama.) Now, at age 52, he has his first lead role, on The Hot Zone: Anthrax, an anthology thriller on the National Geographic Channel, and has evolved into a Hollywood spokesman, testifying in front of Congress on Asian American issues during an acutely violent year. “If you’re not aware of politics in any industry, you’re missing all of the ways to navigate it,” Kim says.
Do I have it right that the show you’re currently shooting, The Hot Zone, is the first time you’ve been at the top of the call sheet?
It is. It’s the very first time in television, and I’ve been working in television for 31 years. So it feels like a nice milestone, especially because so many actors who are much more talented than I never get to experience this. All it takes is working in the New York theater to realize how many incredibly talented actors there are at any given moment.
Lost was ahead of its time with its casting and story line, but I was curious about what was going on behind the scenes. How did the Korean dialogue come together? Was there a Korean writer in the writers’ room?
There was one Korean American woman named Christina Kim and then a half-Korean, half–African American woman named Monica Macer. So the way the dialogue was put together was they would write it in English and then I would go to someone in Hawaii and translate it together with that person. Then I would learn it in Korean. I worked harder on the preparation for that role than any other role I’ve ever done; we were constantly getting revisions. I think that it would be obvious to most Koreans watching if I didn’t do that work.
Early on, there was some criticism of your character, Jin, from Asian American viewers about how his relationship with Sun [Yunjin Kim] relied on the stereotype of an overbearing man and a submissive woman. Did you discuss that with the show’s creators?
While we were shooting the pilot, I remember sitting down with Damon Lindelof and J. J. Abrams and saying, “Guys, this character cannot progress in this same way.” They basically said, “Trust us.” I did, and it turned out for the best. As an Asian actor, you’re just looking to get hired. It’s about working within the system to try and change it when you have the opportunity. The character grew to a place where I don’t think you’d call him a stereotype by the end of the sixth season.
After Lost, you signed on for Hawaii Five-0. Why did you decide to do that?
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