Ricky Lo interviews the ground-breaking Hawaii Five-0 star, Daniel Dae Kim, and asks the all important question, who would you save, your cousin or your wife?
SINGAPORE — The eyes of Korean-American actor Daniel Dae Kim (or simply DDK) disappear into mere slits when reminded that he’s considered one of the Sexiest Men Alive (documented by People magazine in 2005) and ranked No. 81 on Buddy TV’s list of Sexiest Men of 2011.
Asked during an exclusive Conversation in a suite at Singapore Hilton how he felt about it, DDK said that it’s really no big deal being tagged sexy but he admitted that it’s good especially for Asian actors.
“You see,” he explained in a friendly, down-to-earth manner, “even if my friends tease me about it, on a social level I think it’s important for an Asian guy to be described as sexy. In American movies, Asian men are not really portrayed as sexy, so being considered sexy is good not only for me but for all Asians.”
DDK’s natural sexiness is showcased in his role as Detective Chin Ho in Hawaii Five-O which airs its Season 2 marathon from Tuesday (Aug. 21) to Thursday (Aug. 23), 9:05 p.m. exclusively on AXN (may be followed on Twitter). He stars with fellow “mucho macho” men Scott Caan (son of James Caan) and Alex O’Loughlin (the Australian hunk who was last seen on the big screen as Jennifer Lopez’s lover in The Back-up Plan), and Grace Park (yes, that’s her name, synonymous to a place in Caloocan City, also Korean-American). DDK plays Detective Chin Ho, played by Kam Fong in the original series.
While doing the series, DDK, who turned 44 last Aug. 4, lives with his wife Mia and their sons aged 10 and 15 in Honolulu. Doing TV is a welcome breather for the theater-trained actor who is a graduate of NYU’s Graduate Acting Program in 1996. His credits include hit TV shows (CSI, NYPD Blues and Seinfeld among them) and films (Spider-Man 2 as a scientist and Crash, the 2005 Oscar Best Picture).
Hawaii has become a second home to you. What do you find fascinating about it?
“I have children and Hawaii is a great place to raise an Asian family in. It’s the one place in America where Asians are in the majority and they speak English. We can be Asians and at the same time be Americans. So for that reason, Hawaii is a nice place. And it’s also nice because of its small-town mentality. I spend most of my adult life in New York and Los Angeles, and to raise children in those two cities can be very challenging. It’s always nice for parents to feel that their children are raised in a good, safe place.”
How has the Hawaii Five-O experience been so far?
“So far, it’s been really interesting. It’s good and bad and fun and boring sometimes because of the waiting (for the take), but as a whole it’s been a good experience and I’m happy that I’m doing the show.”
Talk about the good part.
“Yes, absolutely! It’s been nice to kind of take on a role as Chin Ho that’s different from my role as Jin (the loving but traditional husband) in Lost and one on which I get to speak English. You know, I’m happy to do things that I’ve never done before, like ride a motorcycle and shoot a shotgun.”
How’s your working relationship with Scott, Grace and Alex (who was recently injured during an accident on the set)?
“Yes, Alex was injured and it took some time before he got back to the show. As far as our working relationship is concerned, it has never been better. We have become some kind of family…yes, family is the right word because among siblings in a family, you love and you fight and then you love again. That’s very family.”
Is it all action on the set and no light moments?
“We do have some light moments. There’s heavy action and drama on camera, so you have to lighten the mood off camera by joking around and just relaxing and having a good time.”
Playing Chin Ho is very physical; it requires you to run and chase after bad guys. Have you, knock on wood, sustained any injuries on the set?
“Sure! In the first season, Scott hurt his knee while shooting a scene where he was running. He had a surgery on his knee. And, as I’ve said, Alex hurt his shoulder. It’s a very physically demanding show. So far, knock on wood, I’ve been okay.”
The original Hawaii Five-O was iconic, legendary. How do you guys make your performance different from that of the original actors without losing the old Hawaii Five-O flavor?
“That’s a good question. What I did was watch a number of episodes from the old series just so I could have a good resource material and that way I could try and make Chin Ho my own after that. But I always try to be respectful of and to honor the original show, and then try and modernize my character to something that speaks to me as an actor.”
Have you met Kam Fong?
“He’s not around anymore. But his son actually plays a recurring character on the show.”
Aside from being both Asian, how are you like Kam Fong in temperament and attitude? I suppose you’ve read and heard a lot about him.
“I don’t know very much about him except that he’s very well-liked around the island, the memory of him is well-respected, and I think that goes the same for the actors of the original series like Jack Lord (Who’s honored with a bust in front of a big mall in Honolulu. — RFL). All of them are considered icons in Hawaii. So we have some big footsteps to follow.”
You were born in Pusan, South Korea, and grew up in New York. How much of you is still Asian?
“Another good question. My wife Mia is also Asian, our kids are Korean, and we eat predominantly Korean food at home because she’s a very good cook. Yes, I love kimchi! My parents are still very close. We follow many Korean customs in the house.”
How much of the original Hawaii Five-O have you watched?
“Maybe three or four episodes as, as I’ve said, part of my preparation for the show. Throughout, I watched the very first episode and I watched something in the middle of Season 1, and I watched something in Season 2 and then I watched something late in the series because I wanted to see how it evolved.”
The intro music is iconic, too.
“Yes, I sing it and it keeps on replaying in the head!”
What traits of Chin Ho do you identify with?
“I think he’s very loyal.”
‘Yes, I think so. I think he values his family like I do mine and I think he’s often put in a situation where he has to make a difficult choice. In the finale of Season 2, he’s faced with the choice to save either his cousin or his wife. He ended up trying to save his wife.”
Put in that situation in real life, what would you do?
“Between my wife and my cousin? I would do the same…save my wife! Hahahaha!”
You look so fit. Did you have to prepare physically for the show?
“It wasn’t a physical preparation but I wanted to learn what it was like to be a policeman in Honolulu. So I rode around with Honolulu cops for four days, stayed with them in the station, went out on the patrol car with them and got to know them a little bit just so I would be believable in playing the role.”
Is it hard to maintain your kind of body?
“I eat a lot of local fruit. Diet-wise, Hawaii is a good place to stay healthy because there’s a lot of fresh fish, vegetables grown right on the island and there’s so many places to run in and lots of sea to swim in. You can play golf and tennis.”
“A local favorite is Spam but I try to avoid it. (It’s only in Hawaii where McDonald’s serves breakfast of Spam and egg with rice. — RFL) I’m not sure if it’s good for you.”
Was becoming an actor your only ambition?
“Actually, I was thinking of becoming a lawyer. I think ‘lawyering’ is theatrical in some way. I was a Political Science major and I was ready to go to law school. It wasn’t until I was in second year college that I took an acting class. That changed my life completely.”
Any dream role?
“I think I would like to play Henry V on stage. Why him? Because of his qualities and leadership that are admirable which I want to try and explore.”
In one of Hawaii Five-O’s episodes last year, the Philippines was prominently mentioned. Any chance for the series to be shot in the Philippines?
“Wow, that would be interesting! You know, our show deals with a lot of international kind of businesses, so I guess it’s possible. We’re still trying to figure out how to shoot in other parts of Hawaii, but if it opens up, yes, the Philippines would be a natural place to go.”
Have you worked with any Filipino?
“One of my best friends is Filipino. He’s a stage actor in New York. His name is Joe de la Fuente. He and I have been friends for many, many years; and he’s actually the person responsible for getting me to drama school at NYU because he was there first.”