Lost star compares his previous role to his new one in the CBS freshman hit Hawaii Five-0.
Actor Daniel Dae Kim
Tavis: Daniel Dae Kim is a talented actor who, of course, starred on the groundbreaking ABC series “Lost.” He now stars on the popular CBS police drama “Hawaii Five-0.” The show airs on Monday nights at 10:00. Here now, a scene from “Hawaii Five-0.”
Tavis: So Daniel, I grew up a huge fan of the original series. As a matter of fact, I watch it as often as I can in reruns, when I can catch it. When I heard that they were going to do this, I didn’t think it was going to work. Honest confession. Didn’t think it was going to work because the track record of trying to redo stuff in this town doesn’t always work so well.
You were the first person they cast for this, so tell me why you signed on thinking that it could, in fact, work.
Daniel Dae Kim: I think you’re right, first of all. There’s the track record – the history of Hollywood is littered with attempted remakes, but there were a few reasons I signed on. The first one was that the creators of the show had a strong pedigree. Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci, Peter Lenkov. They’d all done things that I’d been a fan of.
So because there are no guarantees, you’ve got to kind of stick with the people that you feel like gives you the best chance. Then when they started putting together the cast and I started reading the script for the pilot, I thought, well, this is something else.
I think any time you try and do a remake you have to honor the original; at the same time, update it for today’s sensibilities. This script did a really good job of doing that.
Tavis: Why do you think it is working? You were betting that it would. I was wrong, you were right. (Laughter) It’s working.
Kim: I want my dollar. (Laughter)
Tavis: Yeah, we got that Eddie Murphy “Trading Places” bet for one dollar here.
Tavis: So you win, I owe you a dollar. But why do you think it is, in fact, working, though?
Kim: Well, I think it’s some of the things that we already talked about. I think the strength of the stories are a big reason for that. I think the casting is a good choice and it’s not a typical crime procedural in that it actually delves into the background of the characters and it also mixes in some comedy as well. It has the familiarity of a known brand name.
Tavis: The character that you play, you happy with the arc? Going to expand, grow into the future, you think?
Kim: I am happy about that. One of the things I’m proudest of on this show is the amount of actors of color that get regular work. The fact that you’ve got 50 percent of a regular cast of Asian-American descent, or actually I’m (unintelligible) Canadian, is pretty groundbreaking. Week to week, we have at least two or three actors of color on our show, and that’s something to be proud of. I hope that that’s one of the reasons for its success.
As far as character development, I’ve been really happy with the way things have been going. It’s at its heart a crime drama, and so we can never lose sight of that. But the amount of exploration that my character has had, especially in these past recent episodes, has been really satisfying.
Tavis: Back to your happiness about the fact that actors of color are getting an opportunity on the show – how has that played into the choices you’ve made over the course of your career in terms of playing certain characters and turning other characters down based upon, shall we say, stereotypes?
Kim: It’s been one of the biggest criteria for choosing whether to take a role or not, to be completely candid, because it’s inescapable. In our business, it’s inescapable that your appearance has an affect on how people judge you.
So I’ve turned down a fair number of roles because I felt like the character wasn’t something that I wanted to represent, and we just have to be careful, because a lot of – most people are sensible and they don’t make judgments based on one character that they see on television, but there are others who kind of see one representation and then start to think that everyone of that color is like that. So I’m aware of that, and it’s just been really important to me to kind of work in the positive direction.
Tavis: Speaking of that dollar that I owe you (laughter), if I had a dime for every time I have over the course of my career talked about the treatment or the maltreatment, as it were, of Black folk in Hollywood, I’d be independently wealthy. What never happens, of course, is a conversation about the treatment, or lack thereof, of Asian-Americans in Hollywood, because it always gets trumped by this Black-white Hollywood discourse.
I raise that only because I wonder whether or not we should celebrate the fact that we’re seeing people of color because this show is set in Hawaii, or whether there’s a larger issue that you’re raising here, that you think people of color are getting more respect across the board in Hollywood.
Kim: I think that’s a great question, and I –
Tavis: Two different things, right?
Kim: Yeah, they are, but they are intertwined, for sure. I think the fact that we are set in Hawaii almost requires actors of color to be a part of the show.
Tavis: Although “Seinfeld” is in New York, and they didn’t have no Black – “Friends” didn’t have no Black friends.
Kim: You’re exactly right.
Tavis: And “Seinfeld” didn’t have no – and they were in New York City. But I digress, I’m sorry.
Kim: No, no, but that was actually the point I was going to make, is that you would think that that would be a requirement, but if you look at past television shows and movies, there are incredibly whitewashed versions of New York and Los Angeles and Chicago out there that don’t necessarily match what you see when you walk down the street. So those two things are definitely intertwined and I’m happy that we live in a climate where even though the representation isn’t where it should be, the studio executives and producers can say, “All right, well, it’s set in Hawaii, so we can have actors of color on there.”
Tavis: Now, the flip side of this conversation is whether or not you are over even having this conversation, whether or not you look forward to the day when a guy like Tavis or anybody else on television won’t even be raising these kinds of questions with you, because this issue won’t even be worthy of being discussed.
Kim: Well, I think that’s the goal, isn’t it? It comes up because it’s still an anomaly. Once it becomes the norm, then we won’t ever have to ask these questions. It’s not that I don’t think we should ever not be aware of race and gender issues in society, but I just don’t think that we’re there yet, and one day we will be and we’ll just have a conversation and we’ll bet a dollar on something else. (Laughter)
Tavis: I’m not losing next time, though. I’m not going to lose another dollar to you, sir. I saw some photos of you recently at the White House correspondents’ dinner, and I’m told that you were doing some other political stuff while you were in Washington, so tell me about your Mr. Kim goes to Washington story (laughter) and how political you really are, or at least were, on your recent trip to Washington.
Kim: Well, I was invited to the correspondents’ dinner, and that was a big thrill for me.
Tavis: The first time?
Kim: The first time.
Tavis: You enjoy it?
Kim: You’ve been?
Tavis: Yeah, I’ve been, oh, many times, yeah.
Kim: Yeah, yeah, so, I’m –
Tavis: It’s a lot of fun though, yeah.
Kim: It is, it’s great. It’s that kind of small intersection between Hollywood and Washington.
Tavis: It’s an eclectic gathering, isn’t it?
Kim: It really is, and everyone’s really happy to be there. Some people in Washington kept calling it the nerd prom when I was there. (Laughter) But yeah, it was really great, and especially given what was about to happen the following day, putting it in that context, it was really special to be able to watch our president joke and laugh around and give a really funny speech, all the while knowing that there was maybe the most serious hours of his presidency about to take place.
Tavis: Before you go forward to your other activities while you were there, since you were in the room that night and I wasn’t there this year, what did you make, how comfortable, uncomfortable, funny or unfunny, did you find the Obama Donald Trump comments, the back-and-forth on that moment? What’d you make of that?
Kim: I felt like it had the potential to be a lot more comfortable. I felt like these kind of situations are one where everyone is expected to get ribbed; everyone in the spotlight’s expected to take a few licks.
So I thought there could have been more room for a sense of humor, let me just put it that way, because it was pretty clear that the jokes were hitting the audience, and the audience was responding pretty well. But it’s an occasion, it’s a lighthearted occasion, and I think if everyone would have kept that in mind it would have made it even more fun.
Tavis: Did you – I don’t want you to speak for the entire state of Hawaii because you’re on “Hawaii Five-0.”
Kim: (Laughs) Right.
Tavis: But did you, or do folk you know and hang out with in Hawaii, have views that were in any way different from nuance from the rest of the mainland in this conversation about this whole birther nonsense, the birth certificate? What was it like being in Hawaii when this conversation’s kicking up?
Kim: That’s also a really good question, because my predominant experience of this whole thing is in Hawaii, and the majority, the overwhelming majority of people of Hawaii are supporters of the president, and we all know that you get a certificate of live birth and you get a short form of it, so it’s not that big a deal. So we accept that as currency.
But I guess it’s not that way on the mainland, so in a weird way it was kind of highlighting the difference between Hawaii and the rest of the States.
Tavis: Yeah, even though you’re one of us.
Kim: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Tavis: Which is the funny part to me, but I digress. (Laughter) What else are you doing in Washington to get your politic on while you were (unintelligible)?
Kim: I had the privilege of emceeing an event for an organization called APAICS, which is the Asian-Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies.
Tavis: I’m glad you said that, by the way. (Laughter)
Kim: I know, right?
Tavis: I would not have gotten all that out.
Kim: Yeah, I was wondering if I could, actually. Washington people love acronyms.
Tavis: They do, they absolutely do.
Kim: They’ve got acronyms for everything.
Tavis: For everything, exactly.
Kim: And the acronyms are so long, I think they need acronyms for the acronyms. (Laughter)
Tavis: I hadn’t thought about that, but you’re right about that, though.
Kim: Anyway, so it was a night where we were honoring all the Asian-Americans who are in public service.
Tavis: Oh, cool.
Kim: That was a real privilege to be a part of, because again, like entertainment, I feel like representation is a really important issue in the Asian-American community, and historically, Asians are not that involved in politics in America. So to be able to participate in a night where we were celebrating the ones who are was really special.
Tavis: So we’ll end where we began, back to this dollar that I owe you one last time. (Laughter) How hopeful are you about the future of “Hawaii Five-0?” It had a nice run the first time out.
Kim: It did.
Tavis: So are you feeling good about the run for this version of it?
Kim: I think so. The climate of television, we’re in a state of flux all the time, so, and things are changing a lot, but I think there’s always room for good quality popcorn entertainment, and if you can throw in a little bit of interesting character work and some social issues, I think you’ve got the recipe for something that might be around.
Tavis: Yeah, well, you’ve been on some good stuff, so I think you might be in for a treat for a while here on this one. Good to have you on.
Kim: It’s been my pleasure.
Tavis: Daniel Dae Kim, of course, formerly of “Lost,” now a star of “Hawaii Five-0.” Good to have you on.
Kim: Oh, it was my pleasure.
[Walmart – Save money. Live better.]
Announcer: Nationwide Insurance proudly supports Tavis Smiley. Tavis and Nationwide Insurance – working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. Nationwide is on your side.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.