'Hawaii Five-O's' Daniel Dae Kim on His TV Directorial Debut, Hollywood's "Disconcerting" Diversity Issue

The actor, who stepped behind the camera for Friday's episode, reveals his co-stars' surprising reactions to taking direction from him.
Norman Shapiro
Daniel Dae Kim on the set of 'Hawaii Five-0'

Hawaii Five-0 star Daniel Dae Kim's (Chin Ho Kelly) longtime goal of directing a TV episode is finally being realized.

The actor, who has been itching to get behind the camera since his days as Jin on ABC's Lost, helmed Friday's episode of the CBS police drama, entitled "Stakeout," and he tells The Hollywood Reporter he was surprised by "the amount of preparation that directing requires."

Kim, who can be seen on the big screen in next month's Insurgent and has had a busy development season with his 3AD production company, said he feels "incredibly lucky to be a part of two shows that have hit 100 episodes — not many actors can say that. Let alone, two shows that hit 100 episodes in Hawaii."

In his chat with THR, he discussed Chin Ho's upcoming face-off with a hated foe. Kim also talked about Lost's legacy, how fans of the Divergent book series reacted to him joining the film franchise and why he feels that casting for Asian-American actors involves a level of scrutiny that other actors don't face.

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How did it feel to give direction to your fellow Hawaii Five-0 co-stars, and what were the biggest challenges of directing the series?

It was weird at first. The first day I had to yell action, it was kind of odd, and I think Alex [O'Laughlin] (Steve McGarrett) and Scott [Caan] (Danno) stopped for a minute just because it was so weird to hear me yelling action. We all kind of made the transition after that really quickly, and it went really smoothly. The other thing that I remember was just trying to direct myself acting — forgetting my lines because I'm still thinking about being a director. It felt like a little headless chicken running around.

Why did you decide to try out the director's chair?

When I was working on Lost, I actually shadowed a couple of our directors, just because I was interested in it, and I wanted to learn more about another side of our profession. But Lost wasn't exactly the kind of show to cut your teeth on as a new director — it was a very elaborate show with a lot of secrets and plot points that only certain people were privy to. As an actor on the show, it would have been difficult for me to change sides. But Hawaii Five-0 is a very different kind of show.

What can fans look forward to in your episode?

It's a really fun episode — there's a lot for everyone in it. We have some alternative lifestyles; we have some really hilarious actors who you've loved from childhood, like Cloris Leachman and Jon Lovitz. We have a lot of the things that Hawaii Five-0 is well-known for — big stunts, arguments between McGarrett and Danno and we have a cat who is a star. [Laughs.] There are certain characters that are introduced in my episode who end of coming back to the show [on future episodes], and the storylines are continued because there are some loose ends in this episode that get tied up later.

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What is in store for Chin Ho throughout the rest of the season?

My character is known for being in the middle of some drama regarding his past and his history, and that continues in this season. An old nemesis comes back and makes his life very difficult.

How was it to work on Insurgent with Shaliene Woodley and the rest of that cast, and how did the books' fans react when you were cast as Jack Kang?

Great bunch of people. Shailene Woodley is fantastic — so is Theo James. They are very cool, down-to-earth folks. It was a very hard-working but easygoing set. When my character was announced, everyone had an opinion about whether I was right for the role or not. People were very vocal. Thankfully, they were by-and-large supportive of me taking on the character.

Why do you think Lost has still remained part of the cultural conversation, years after it wrapped?

It's pretty telling of the time that we live in. Had Lost been on the air 10 years [earlier], it would have been dead and gone, but because it aired right at the cusp of Netflix and iTunes and [online] pirating, it lives on in a way that other shows that started at the same time haven't. I knew we had something special — it was fun to do. I'm really happy that it's taken a place in the pop culture. Especially if you take a look at television in the early 2000s, Lost is always in that conversation.

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What did you think of the recent claim that went viral, in which a Lost writer supposedly said that the writing staff introduced twists like polar bears without ever intending to explain them?

What I read in that article was not my experience of the show, nor what I remember to be the truth at the time. I always believed and still do believe that there was an end goal in mind because, in my conversations with executive producers, I was told certain generalizations about what would happen — and did end up happening.

Diversity has been a particularly hot topic of late in the entertainment industry. What is your take on the current state of diversity in TV and film?

It's disconcerting to me that, in 2014, we have one of the most reputable awards shows in our industry [the Oscars] with only white nominees. The issue really is not in the nominees — the issue to me is really in the makeup of the Academy in general. People will tend to vote for experiences that are close to their own. The Academy ... is overwhelmingly white, it's overwhelmingly older and it's male. If that is the group of people who are voting, then it doesn't seem like such a big surprise that the nominees reflect that demographic. 

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What's the solution?

[The Academy is] going to have to take distinguished people in our industry and give them a way to become members so that they can have a voice in voting and representation. [But] we can't just place the blame on the Academy. It's actors, it's producers, it's directors who write to their own experiences, and there's nothing wrong with that, except if all the actors and directors and producers are white, then they're writing for white people. ... [And] you still get a lot of white people playing non-white roles.

Right — [in 2014 film] Exodus, for example.

When it comes to the casting of Asian-Americans, I find it fascinating that we as an ethnicity are the only ones who are subject to nationality-specific casting. There was [an animated feature] that I was up for that called for a Japanese actor. ... [The producers] considered me, but they didn't offer me the part because they were concerned about the backlash they would receive by hiring a non-Japanese person to play a Japanese character, even though it was completely fictional, had no historical value and was a cartoon. I thought that was fascinating and telling. ... [That said, ABC sitcom] Fresh Off the Boat premiered successfully, and there have been numerous casting calls for Asian-Americans in lead roles for upcoming pilots.

It does seem as though there's not currently an established pipeline to allow Asian-American actors to join the A-list.

It's difficult because most actors who are Asian, who are at that level, got their success overseas. The ones who have been raised in America, like me, who have been working their ways up, in some ways get limited because I don't have that major film behind me. I'm not given that shot because I don't have that experience. It's that catch-22 of, how do I get that experience if no one will give me the experience? It's why I think opportunities like Insurgent are so valuable. And it only came about because a young author wrote an Asian-American male character in her book. Until the people who have ownership over the creative process, write these characters, things will not change fast enough. 

Hawaii Five-0 airs Fridays at 9 p.m. on CBS.

Email: Ryan.Gajewski@pgmedia.org
Twitter: @_RyanGajewski