KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 25 — Korean-American actor Daniel Dae Kim has been enchanting viewers ever since shows such as Lost and Hawaii Five-0 propelled him to international fame.
After 31 years of acting in television, the 53-year-old is finally getting his own spotlight in his first series lead in the National Geographic scientific thriller The Hot Zone: Anthrax.
Kim plays FBI Special Agent Matthew Ryker who embarks on a quest to track down the perpetrator behind the 2001 anthrax attacks where journalists and politicians received mail maliciously laced with infectious spores of anthrax bacteria one week after 9/11.
The attacks resulted in five deaths and sickening 17 other victims.
Malay Mail caught up with Kim ahead of the show’s premiere to chat about diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, and why the anthrax attacks were a harbinger of public safety challenges, in particular the US’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the social impact of the virus.
Playing the face of the FBI in a story that’s important to American culture and society, Kim said this goes to show that progress is being made for non-white actors.
“But it also says something more significant and important, and that is nothing is guaranteed to any of us as actors,” he said.
“Some actors get their lead role right away, and they take it for granted thinking this is how it always will be.
“Some actors who are very talented, much more talented than I, will never get a chance to play a lead role regardless of their race so it’s something nobody should ever take for granted.”
While it’s easy to assume that Kim has a penchant for playing law enforcement officer-types, thanks to his popularity as Chin Ho Kelly in the Hawaii Five-0 reboot, it wasn’t a conscious choice playing an FBI agent in his latest outing.
“You’re not the first person to point that out today so I have to rethink the next time I get offered a role like this ‘Why do I really like playing these characters?’”
Unlike other hour-long TV shows that often end with the bad guys being caught, this story has a lot more twists and turns that are more reflective of real life.
“How the story ends is not something that is necessarily tied up in a neat little bow,” he said.
“That is intriguing and to be able to represent the people who worked so hard to solve this crime is something of an honour because so many of us worked so hard during that time to try and solve this mystery and to bring those guys to justice.”
To prepare for the role, the father of two not only read about the actual attacks and the investigation but also spoke to a number of agents who worked in the bureau then.
“Some of them were Asian American so I asked specifically about the experiences of being Asian American in an FBI that was predominantly white male,” he said.
“It was really enlightening and all of that was really good preparation for the role.”
Kim, a political science graduate, believes it’s important to revisit the anthrax attacks because of the parallels between the bioterrorism event and the ongoing pandemic.
The actor has been vocal about Asian American hate crimes that increased in the US after the Covid-19 outbreak due to the virus’ Chinese origins.
Early this year, he and actor Daniel Wu offered a US$25,000 (RM105,000) reward for information on individuals who attacked elderly Asian Americans in San Francisco.
“In America, there was a catastrophic event that changed the way we view the world – it made us fearful, it made us question, it made us feel vulnerable and you can interchange 9/11 with Covid and for the two things, our reactions have been the same.
“How we as a country dealt with it back then reflects how we’re dealing with Covid today, and how we move forward in the future, I think we can take some lessons away from.
“I’m a big believer that we need to remember our history so that we can move forward to the future, and this kind of event resonates today because there are a lot of parallels,” he said.
Kim recalled the sense of unity that was felt across the globe after the 9/11 tragedy and the lesson, he said, is that it doesn’t take a tragedy of that magnitude for people to realise how much they have in common.
It’s something he hopes viewers will take away from the series.
“Each of our countries has had significant events that have shaped our culture, we have that in common,” Kim said.
“I hope that people will see that universality of that theme and understand that we can do things together, we don’t have to be polarised, we don’t have to scapegoat people, we don’t have to be xenophobic – there are alternatives.”
The Hot Zone: Anthrax begins Monday, November 29 at 10am (MY) with a three-night event premiere on National Geographic (Astro Ch 571).