Comics & Graphic Novels Interview Movies

Daniel Dae Kim on ‘Hellboy,’ Asian Superheroes, and Rom-Coms

Daniel Dae Kim has been a busy man.

Since 2004, Kim has been a fixed entity on our television screens through ABC’s mystery series LOST and CBS’s Hawaii Five-0. Since leaving Five-0, Kim has been working nonstop on acting and being an executive producer.

This week, Kim stars in the new reboot adaptation of Hellboy, playing Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense agent, Ben Daimo, an Asian American character created in the comic books by Mike Mignola. After some controversy over the initial casting of Ed Skrein as Daimio, Kim was cast as the tough ex-military captain of the British marines. Yes, the Philadelphia-raised actor had to put on a British accent for the role. “Most of it is set in London, and Broom is British, so it just felt like that was the universe they wanted to create,” said Kim. “Back in school, I was excited about learning R.P. [received pronunciation], but at the time, I thought to myself, ‘as an Asian American actor, am I really going to be asked to do a British accent?’ Then lo and behold: Hellboy.”

Aside from acting, Kim has been running his production company, 3AD, which produced ABC’s hit drama series, The Good Doctor, and is currently working a new legal drama for ABC called Exhibit A.

We sat down with the actor during the Hellboy press junket to talk about his role in Hellboy, which he only had two days to prepare for, superheroes, representation, and romantic comedies.

NOC: You really only had two days to really prepare for this role. How was the research on Daimio and the Hellboy franchise? Were you a fan of the comic book before or the other Hellboy films?
Daniel Dae Kim:
I saw the previous two films because I am a fan of Guillermo Del Toro. So, I was familiar with the movies, but I wasn’t familiar with the comic books. So as soon as I got the role, I started digging deep into the comics and I learned about Daimio’s story. I was really happily surprised to see a.) Mike Mignola created an Asian American character when other comic book creators were not and b). he actually had an interesting arc and storyline that spans a long time in the storyline of the comics.

Daimio is himself a “supe” (supernatural) fighting against the paranormal. Does he seem distant and disgusted by Hellboy and the other paranormal creatures because of his own self-hatred of him being like them?
You hit it right on the head. Most interviewers have not. He has a sense of shame. He has a sense of self-hatred and it all stems from the fact that a.) his appearance is what it is and he is defined by his appearance now and b.) it wasn’t his choice. He spends all of his time repressing the other side of him. As someone of color, I could relate to that. I remember when I was younger wanting to be white and wishing I wasn’t Asian. I think that’s part of his journey as well in his own way.

Daimio has a strict military background with a horrible past. Did you do any research for his portrayal of PTSD/Sole Survivor Guilt?
A little bit. I focused more on this idea that he was dedicating himself to the service of his country. What a person does and wants once his primary passions can no longer be pursued after that. So, in a way, that was about his PTSD.

We need to talk about this issue I have. We gotta talk about Daimio’s clothing. He goes through what we call “The Hulk Effect.” Please explain how Daimio’s clothes were not completely shredded after transforming into the were-jaguar.
I cannot. I cannot explain it. I will tell you on the day that I brought up this very issue because it’s the same thing I said for years about the Hulk. Why does everything come off except his pants? He’s growing ten times the size of a human being and his pants manage to stay on. All I could think is that he’s wearing special yoga pants or something that expand. But, I don’t know what to say for Daimio because his pants — there is no way that his pants should be on.

I thought this film was Rated-R, so I was thinking oh, his clothes will shred off and he’d just grab the closest thing to shield himself, but then he just comes back with two tears on his pants in the front thigh area.
If you call it out in your piece, then maybe in the sequel, we’ll figure it out.

HELLBOY

Superhero films are popping up all over. We are saturated with superhero films, but we are seeing a surge of Asians getting their own films —
We do?!

Yeah! Silk has been signed on. She’s a Korean American Spider-Woman. We have Shang-Chi.
I know Shang-Chi, but Silk?

Silk is a Sony/Marvel character.
Is it going to be TV or film?

Film.
And, she’ll topline it?

Yes.
Amazing. This is the first time I’ve heard of this.

Silk is a Korean American superhero. We have Shang-Chi. And, potentially, Marvel has been hinting about Namor, the Sub-Mariner. Is there a superhero you’d be interested in portraying? Our team at the NOC have been pushing for you to play Namor.
I would love to play Namor. I think when I was young and reading comic books, I always thought he was Asian from his appearance — even from way back when — and living in Hawaii now, the ocean has a special place in my heart and that combination would be a natural fit. But, I’ve talked about Namor in the past and the headline has always been ‘Daniel Dae Kim campaigns for Namor.’ That’s not what I’m doing. I would say that anytime we have an Asian American who gets to play a superhero, that’s a win. Anytime we have more minorities playing superheroes, that’s a win. I think Captain Marvel is a win as well. One of the reasons I took this role is because he was an Asian American superhero.

I know we, the Asian American community, have been hearing Asians have been improving. We’ve been doing this and that. We’ve been hearing about this for years — “Asians are taking over Hollywood. It’s the Year of the Asians.” But, with Crazy Rich Asians, Asian superheroes in film and TV, production companies like yours pushing the narratives on television and film — do you actually feel like the tides are turning?
I do. I think we have a long way to go still, but there’s never been a better time to be an actor of color in this industry and that includes Asian Americans. I am so happy that most of my friends are unavailable to my productions because they are already working. What a great thing to be able to say! I think we’ve made more strides in terms of diversity and inclusion over the past three years than we’ve had in the previous three decades.

When do you feel like Asian Americans in the industry will feel like “we’ve made it?” Is there a point where “we’ve made it?”
I’ll think we’ve made it once no one is talking about the issue anymore because there are so many Asian Americans and African Americans in every kind of role and it’s not even an issue. That’s when I know we’ve made it.

Well, do you still feel the burden of being the Asian American representative? We see your films. We see John Cho. Constance Wu. Do you feel that burden that you alone representing “all Asians?”
I don’t consider it a burden. I think it’s a responsibility, but it’s not a burden. It’s an important distinction. I consider every role I take very seriously. I think about the ramifications of what this character would mean to the Asian community, to my family, to my kids, and to my friends. So, I don’t consider it as something that I have to do, but something that I need to do.

You’re a trailblazer where you’ve done a lot of firsts and strides for the Asian American community — the heartthrob in LOST–
Is that what you would call me?!

Oh my God, yes!
You’re being very generous.

Having been in People’s “Sexiest Men Alive” issue twice. Yeah. You’ve made so much strides for the community. We also see you’re the first Asian American comic book hero on the big screen and, also, in the all-Asian American rom-com Always Be My Maybe. Is there anything else you’d want to go for that you feel that our community hasn’t really pursued?
I’d like to do a lead role in Shakespeare somewhere. I’ve trained [in classical theatre]. My background is in classic theatre and I’d love to do a role like Henry V somewhere. I’d also like to be a lead in a romantic drama. I think that is something that I’m interested in and something I am fit to do but never had the opportunity.

Well, playing Dr. Jackson Han on The Good Doctor, we could see some love brewing for the doctor. Will we see more regarding his character?
I’m not sure yet. I’m not sure yet. It was fun to play that kind of limited arc and judging from the feedback, not a lot of people want that character back because he was so mean. I enjoyed the character, and I liked the fact that because he was an obstacle to Shawn (played by Freddie Highmore), it made people love Shawn even more. It engaged people in the show in general. Maybe he’ll come back under the right circumstances. We’ll see. I know one of the producers. So I could put in a word.

Your team at 3AD have been making strides with bringing productions in — one with The Good Doctor, based on the South Korean drama — and another legal one coming based on another South Korean TV series. We are seeing shows and movies being brought in and financed from Asian countries, but we don’t see enough roles for Asian Americans. Films are now bringing in Asian actors from Asia instead of hiring Asian Americans actors. Do you see this growing trend happening in the industry and in your productions?
I’ve definitely seen it. For awhile, in the Asian American community, people say ‘yes, this is going to be great because with all of this money from China and all the interest in Korean cinema, they are going to create more roles for Asian Americans,’ but that wasn’t the case. What it did create roles for was for Asians [from Asia]. I think that’s a positive step and, at the same time, those actors, because they have a significant language barrier are never seen as organically part of the show. They were always somehow outsiders or ‘others’ because the language barrier was there. What really is important is to find roles for Asian Americans and Asians where they are just organically part of the ensemble and they don’t have to be explained. ‘Oh, this is our specialist coming in from China,’ you know. Shows like This is Us do that really well. You have actors of all races and sizes and after a while, it’s not really about their differences, it’s about their similarities. They’ve become family members instead of symbols.

Okay, so, I NEED to know about Netflix’s Always Be My Maybe. We got to see you as a foe between Randall Park’s character and Ali Wong’s character. Can you tell us a little bit about the film and just how it feels to be part of an all-Asian American cast in an American rom-com?
I don’t have a large role in this movie, but because it’s an all Asian cast in a rom-com, I felt like I wanted to be a part of it in any way I could. I wanted to support it. It’s significant this movie because we’re talking about — again, not Asian people — we’re talking about Asian Americans. This is the first movie of its kind that features people who were raised in the States and happened to have Asian parents and are American. It’s a funny movie. It’s a warm-hearted movie and I think Ali and Randall are fantastic in it. I’m really proud to be a part of it, even if I am not one of the leads.

So, should we start the campaign from our site, because our site has been campaigning for you to become #AANamor? So, should we also campaign #GiveDDKaRomCom.
You could campaign for whatever you like. I would love to do a romantic comedy. I would love to be a romantic lead somehow. Historically, the toughest category to be in as an actor is an Asian American leading man because there’s just hasn’t been those opportunities. I’ll know for myself that I’ve really made a huge stride in my career when that gets to happen.

3 comments

  1. That nitpick was not meant to discount the article, which I read and enjoyed. And I could see him as Namor — Kim could definitely pull off the Sub-Mariner’s royal arrogance.

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