Just days away from the Neil Marshall-directed and Andrew Cosby-written R-rated Hellboy reboot hitting theaters, star Daniel Dae Kim is saying he’s “grateful” to the film’s producers and director Neil Marshall for recasting his character, Ben Daimio, with an Asian-American actor.
The role of the rugged Japanese-American agent who teams up with Stranger Things star David Harbour’s Hellboy to stop an ancient sorceress (Milla Jovovich) and her apocalyptic plans had originally gone to the white English actor Ed Skrein. Following social media backlash over the casting as a whitewashing of the original comic character, Skrein vacated the role. A month later, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Kim had taken over the part.
“It’s an important thing to take action, and what Neil and the producers did was take action,” the actor said while speaking to THR before the film’s premiere this week. “I am a direct beneficiary of that, but I think all of us benefit by having a role that’s intended for an Asian being played by an Asian. So I’m grateful for him and the producers, who did the right thing, ultimately.”
The Lionsgate and Dark Horse Entertainment film also cast black actress Sasha Lane (American Honey, The Miseducation of Cameron Post) to play Alice Monaghan, a character who is white and red-headed in the comics. In the transfer from the page to the big screen, Lane’s character has also become more of a surrogate daughter than a potential love interest to Harbour’s demon-hunting beast.
Hitting theaters Friday, the origins tale based heavily on the the “Wild Hunt” comics storyline will introduce a new generation to the devilish Dark Horse Comics character just over a decade after monster-master Guillermo del Toro’s 2000s run of pics starring Ron Perlman.
Described as an amalgam of the Hellboy comic storylines, the new film also happens to be hitting the big screen in a year when both horror and comic book fare aren’t just dominating the box office, but expanding both the conceptions of and audiences for their respective genres. On the heels of more diverse and socially allegorical narratives in each of those genres — from pics like Get Out and Annihilation to Wonder Woman and Black Panther — Hellboy‘s mix of action and scares manages to fit right in.
“I think in [this] universe anything is possible — you can be white, you can be a demon, you could be black, you could be Asian, you could be Latinx, anything,” Kim told THR. “And anytime that you have something that broadens our perceptions of what could be, it changes possibilities and the messages of that possibility. ”
Daimio is one of the movie’s many characters grappling with their own personal demons, powers and social metaphors. Kim noted self-acceptance and finding one’s own path as two of the messages behind his character’s journey, and they are issues Harbour says Hellboy’s arc also shares.
“I really think that there’s a tremendous thematic in that, but it’s actually a weird thematic,” Harbour told THR on the carpet. “It takes a concept of destiny and grounds it in the fact that to [Hellboy] it’s his DNA. It’s genetically what he’s built for. He’s built to bring about the apocalypse. And he has to struggle with his conscious mind to go against that. But if he chooses good, he ultimately is going to cut off a piece of himself that’s very vital.”
Harbour went on to echo Kim’s sentiments about the possibilities of storytelling in a mixed genre film such as this, as well as the messages that emerge from the characters, including the journey of his own very big, very red and very hairy demon.
“To me it really is this idea of what defines us,” Harbour said. “Is our identity based on these impulses, or is it based on who we consciously define ourselves to be? And in a way that’s a superhero in and of itself — anyone who goes about defining themselves as their behavior as opposed to their upbringing or genetically what they were given or not given.”