From Playing A Stranded Castaway To Being One Of The World’s Sexiest Men, Actor Daniel Dae Kim Finds His Version Of “The Good Life”
Early afternoon sunlight radiates off the azure ocean peppered with earth tones of coral reef behind actor Daniel Dae Kim, posing beachside at the Kahala Hotel & Resort. Several hours into his HILuxury cover shoot, he’s dressed in jeans and a velvet Ferragamo number better suited for a crisp fall day in New York City. Even as he blots the sweat beading on his face, there’s not a single word of complaint. The previous week spent on behalf of the Asian American Pacific Island Caucusses at the Democratic National Convention – where he granted interviews, signed autographs and posed for approximately 500 pictures with fans – left him fatigued and slightly hoarse. Despite the glamorous setting, it’s decidedly hard labor, but all he ever says is, “Thanks for your help.”
Modeling requires stamina. But it’s a jog in the park compared with the ultramarathon of filming a television series outdoors. In his fifth year playing Jin Kwon on ABC’s hit show Lost, the athletic, wildly handsome Kim is making his mark as a versatile actor, changing the face of prime time network television and becoming a quiet leader in the community he now considers home.
All cheekbones and soft curls, the 40-year-old Kim effortlessly produces the sultry looks that coincide with his Italian getup – until a moment of levity incites a dazzling show of teeth that undoubtedly helped land him on People magazine’s list of sexiest men in 2005. (Or was it the six-pack abs?)
“It’s not like winning the Nobel Peace Prize,” he jokes, “but it’s nice to be recognized, especially because Asian-American men are not traditionally considered to be sexy. I’d like that stereotype to be gone.” Those close to him, however, weren’t terribly impressed. Friends enjoyed harassing Kim, his wife barely noticed, and his mother merely expressed amusement. “You?” she laughed. “Really?”
Following the photo shoot, Kim slips back into his own attire – baggy Abercrombie shorts frayed at the edges, slippers and a polo shirt revealing arms intimately acquainted with weights. Several times each week, he runs three miles and completes a full-circuit workout at the gym. Because his schedule on Lost is unpredictable and family time takes priority over workouts, he trains whenever he can. “The days (on the set) can be long, so that’s kind of my endurance workout,” he says.
Unlike many actors who get fit in spurts for various roles but never adhere to the lifestyle, good health is an inherent part of Kim. “I like what the experience does not only for my body but for my mind,” he says. “There’s a sense of peace; I don’t think I have an addictive personality, but I do think I’m addicted to endorphins.” Also an accomplished tennis player, Kim hits with pro Rusty Komori, the boys varsity tennis coach at Punahou, or with his 12-year-old son with wife Mia Kim. (They also have a 6-year-old son, but prefer not to publicize their children’s names.)
In fact, the whole family plays tennis, and it’s a preferred way to spend free time. Days at the beach also top the list, as do evenings at home with popcorn and a DVD. Kim hinted that when Lost ends permanently in 2010 (producers and writers announced the denouement so they could structure the scripts according to a specific timeline), it will be difficult for them to leave Hawaii. His connection to the community has motivated him to donate his services to charities such as the local chapter of the American Red Cross, the Alana Dung Foundation, a battered women’s shelter, ARTafterDARK and Kamehameha Schools, to name a few. He also has worked with Univeristy of Hawaii drama students and speaks at local high schools about his life and career as an Asian-American actor.
Background and Beyond
Born in Busan, Korea, Kim moved to Easton, Pa., at age 1. He established himself as a leader early on when he played quarterback on the football team at Freedom High School and served as associated student body president. At Haverford/Bryn Mawr College, he majored in theatre and political science, and later earned a master’s degree at NYU’s Tisch School of Arts – an intense, three-year program that admits only 18 to 20 students annually.
He honed his acting skills in theatre, a passion that has never left him. “More so than film or television, stage seems to be an actor’s medium,” he says. “The actor has control over his character for three hours at a time without a director or producer or anyone yelling, ‘Cut!’ It’s an uninterrupted arc.” He also appreciates the energy exchanged between audience and entertainer during a live performance, which is why Kim is developing a play back in New York. Details, he hints slyly, remain under wraps.
The good life
But steady television work contains its own creative and financial rewards. Indeed, his newfound ability to splurge on travel is one of Kim’s favorite ways to spend time with loved ones. Most recently, he organized a family reunion at a villa in Umbria, where they hired a driver and toured vineyards throughout the Italian countryside. “It was a way of saying thank you to my parents for all of their hard work,” he says. Yet he’s careful to ensure that his children appreciate their good fortune along the way. “It’s important to me that my kids are not spoiled,” Kim says. “They live a very unique lifestyle, and it’s important for them to learn that this is not something everyone is able to do.”
Kim certainly labored to get to this point. He has about two dozen feature films to his credit, including The Jackal with Richard Gere, Spider Man 2 and Crash. Guest roles on Law and Order, One Life to Live and All My Children marked his early television gigs. In 1997, with many theatre performances and a few notable guest-starring roles on television on his growing resumÃ©, and an MFA under his belt, he moved to Los Angeles to devote his full attention to a career in Hollywood. This led to opportunities on Seinfeld (he played a medical student asking Kramer to act out diseases), Beverly Hills 90210, The Practice, NYPD Blue, 24 and ER, his last recurring role on a major series before Lost, when producers really began to tap his bilingual talents.
It’s not widely known that Korean is Kim’s first language, which he grew up speaking at home with his parents. However, his family hails from the southern part of South Korea, infusing his delivery with “non-standard” qualities (as does his American upbringing). “I got a lot of criticism initially about my Korean – some of it fair, some unfair,” he says. But working with colleague Yunjin Kim, who plays his wife Sun, helped tremendously. “She was incredibly patient and tried her best not to laugh,” he explains. “She helped me, and I’m really appreciative of that.” In Hollywood though, perfection remains elusive. Says Kim: “I get dismayed when I go back to Los Angeles and people don’t know I speak English!”
The good news is that Kim’s prominent role has created additional opportunities and helped change the perception of Asian Americans. “The success of Lost has led to a greater awareness not only of Asian Americans, but specifically Korean Americans,” says Kim. For a couple of years after Lost became a hit, an increased demand for Korean Americans became apparent at casting calls in Los Angeles.
“If we can bring awareness to each ethnicity in its own way, I think that’s really positive,” says Kim. “In Hollywood, sometimes they’re so specific about what Asian nationality one is allowed to play, and I find that ironic because it doesn’t happen with any other race. A person who is French or Irish or Australian gets to play someone who is British or American. But for some reason, we’re specified. It’s funny to me that Asians aren’t given the same opportunity … What should matter is the quality of the work and the quality of the story.”
Konrad Ng, an assistant professor at University of Hawaii at Manoa’s Academy for Creative Media, agrees that Kim’s work has impacted the industry. “Like other actors of Asian descent working in the U.S. film and television industry, one of Daniel Dae Kim’s positive contributions to the dialogue about representations of Asian-Americans is that his talent draws attention,” notes Ng. “His characters are not instances of tokenism; rather they show that the best actor got the part.”
Over sashimi and wonton soup in The Kahala’s Plumeria CafÃ© after the photo shoot, Kim expresses genuine interest in the people around him, asks questions in the middle of his interview and listens to the answers. An effort to steer the discussion back to the enigmatic Jin Kwon, his character on Lost, yields little. “Sun believes that I’m dead,” Kim says with words carefully chosen and likely approved by a gauntlet of producers and public relations managers. Who could forget the astonishing scene in last season’s finale when Sun watched the freighter explode – with Jin on it? He sips the soup and smiles slightly. “But I’m still here in Hawaii, so that must mean something.”
When Lost finishes its final two seasons, watch for Kim to return to his roots on the stage. After adding complexity to the fisherman/husband/hitman/father he plays on TV, imagine what he could do in the shoes of Henry V. Kim’s passion for Shakespeare accompanies every discussion of theatre, and he speaks with special fondness about one of the Bard’s most compelling characters: “There’s something about his ability to inspire and lead … ”
Stranded in Style
Kim compares and contrasts the style and fashion philosophies of his Lost character and his own personal taste
Written by Yu Shing Ting
Daniel Dae Kim arrives at The Kahala Hotel and Resort for our HILuxury cover photo shoot in his typical day attire: T-shirt, shorts and slippers. It’s an outfit he’s grown accustomed to wearing since moving to Hawaii with his family five years ago.
“Before, I owned one pair of slippers; now I have five or six,” he says. “One thing I miss about living on the East Coast is wearing different clothing for the different seasons and layering. Here, a white dress shirt, a pair of jeans and dress shoes can get you almost anywhere on the Island.”
While Kim enjoys dressing casually and comfortably, his personal style is far different from that of his character, Jin Soo Kwon, on Lost. “I think my character is not at all fashion conscious. He seems very utilitarian in his approach to clothing.”
Like most people, what Kim wears depends on where he’s going. He describes his style as clean, simple and elegant. He favors natural fibers, which is why his closet includes “a lot of linen” pieces, and his favorite labels include Theory, Prada and Paul Smith.
“The great thing about fashion is that it’s so tailored to the individual,” he says. “What works for them might not work for someone else.”
Here, Kim models some of the latest styles from Salvatore Ferragamo’s fall 2008 collection. The company, which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, is named after its founder, an Italian shoe designer whose mission in life was to create shoes that were not only beautiful, but fit well too.
As a teen, Ferragamo moved to Hollywood and quickly became known as the shoemaker to the stars, crafting shoes for many big-name celebrities, including Audrey Hepburn, Ava Gardner and Marilyn Monroe. And, of course, there are those famous ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.
Today, Ferragamo is known for not only its comfortable, high-fashion shoes, but also for its simple, yet luxurious ready-to-wear collection for men and women.