From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Mini-View: Lost‘s Daniel Dae Kim

At this weekend’s New York Comic Con I had the chance to sit down with Lost‘s Daniel Dae Kim. Last week we discovered that his character, Jin, did not die when the freighter blew up. This wasn’t exactly a surprise to me, because the producers just love to throw curveballs, bring back characters, and generally mess with viewer’s minds.

As much as the audience is sometimes confused or thrown by the many twists and turns on Lost, it must be a strange journey for the actors as well. They discover new tidbits about their characters as they receive the scripts and often don’t have any more information about where the show is going than the viewers do (except knowing sooner).

When he first started on Lost, Kim had some reservations about Jin’s character–particularly the way he treated his wife, Sun. “For me, as an Asian actor, it’s always been important that I don’t portray stereotypes or negative images. That’s not to say I don’t want to play interesting characters that are full of flaws — Jin is one of those characters. But if all you see is something negative that leads you to make assumptions about all Asians or people of color, that’s something I’ve always tried to shy away from. So that’s why [Jin’s initial characterization] concerned me.”

Though the producers didn’t give Kim many specifics about Jin’s background, they did tell him that he would not be the same person later as he appeared in the beginning. “As in so many other elements of this show, the producers are very smart and they’re very aware and, thankfully, they’re very conscious of those issues. I think that’s why the show is as interesting as it is.” Kim said. “That’s one of the things I love about Lost: what you see is not necessarily what you get.”

One smart move the producers made was to bring in Christina M. Kim, a Korean-American screenwriter, who was able to provide insight and guidance on Korean culture (as well as writing some amazing episodes). “Again, it’s a testament to how much the producers take this issue seriously,” Kim said. “It’s always great to be able to bounce ideas off of someone who speaks the language or eats the food or has the experience of being a fish out of water. It’s also always nice to know that there’s another writer of color getting a job.”

Later this year Kim is starring in a limited-run production of The King and I in London — his first musical. An alumnus of NYU’s Graduate Theater Program, he has a solid theater background and is looking forward to getting back to it. And though his filmography is pretty heavy on SF roles, Kim didn’t set out to do only genre television. He’s eager to take on any great role that comes along, be it on stage or screen.

I wondered if Kim found himself in the SF orbit more often because, as an Asian actor, there were more opportunities to play non-stereotypical characters in genre television.

“I absolutely believe that,” he affirmed. “And I credit Gene Roddenberry for it. When he started Star Trek in the late 60s, his vision of the future was an inclusive one. Thankfully, producers in the SF genre have picked up on that. Like so many other things from the original series, his vision has come to fruition. From the way our phones work — just like Star Trek communicators — to colorblind casting, I think he deserves a lot of credit for that.

“Actually, it’s not really colorblind casting. What was so great about what Gene Roddenberry and what the rest of SF does is that it’s not colorblind, it’s very color conscious casting. They have a very strong regard for how their shows and the future should look. And that’s even more admirable than being colorblind.”

Lost continues its 5th season tonight on ABC with the episode “This Place is Death”.

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