Catherine Haena Kim on Her First Time as the Female Lead in ‘The Company You Keep’

Catherine Haena Kim stars as Emma in The Company You Keep. The drama is based on the Korean Broadcasting System series, My Fellow Citizens. New episodes air Sundays at 10 PM ET on ABC.

A night of passion leads to love between con man Charlie and undercover CIA officer Emma, who are unknowingly on a collision course professionally. While Charlie ramps up the “family business” so he can get out for good, Emma’s closing in on the vengeful criminal who holds Charlie’s family debts in hand – forcing them to reckon with the lies they’ve told so they can save themselves and their families from disastrous consequences.

We discussed why she considers this her dream role, her hopes for representation going forward, her favorite filming memories, staying present during scenes, and much more. Keep reading for our full conversation!

ABC/Brian Bowen Smith

Milo gave you so much praise when I spoke with him this morning. He had a lot of nice things to say about working with you and you two together are just fantastic. What can you tell me about bringing that dynamic to life?
Catherine Haena Kim: You know, we’ve talked about this so much, about how people have been commenting on our great chemistry, and so it’s made us think a lot about chemistry and I think it’s something that’s beyond the physical. It’s when you really trust each other and we got to have lots of conversations and rehearsals before we ever stepped on a set. So, we got to build that trust as teammates and we kind of went from there, and I think that’s honestly why we have great chemistry. It’s that intimacy. It’s all those moments in between, all those little things beyond the physical.

Do you have a favorite element of the relationship between Emma and Charlie?
I mean, going back to trust, it’s a question that came up for me a lot while I worked on this role, can I trust you? Because she navigates that on all aspects of life, like she navigates it with him, “Can I trust you,” just because, even before she finds out he’s a con artist, it’s sometimes scary, even though it’s exciting, to fall in love. Then it’s “Can I trust you,” because she’s a CIA officer and she doesn’t necessarily know who she’s working with or talking to. When it’s family and it’s all about optics, it again becomes “Can I trust you or are we just doing this for show? “

ABC/Eric McCandless

You are amazing in this role. Can you talk to me about what it means to be leading The Company You Keep and what that experience has been like?
It’s amazing. I mean, well, I will say, you know, logistically, half the time, I just keep saying it feels like I’m on this train. I feel like there are days where I am sitting back, I’m cruising, I can feel the wind through my hair and life is good. It feels like little kid dream stuff. The other half the time, it feels like I missed the train and I’m sprinting down the platform after a train that I will never catch. I think that is just the nature of this business and these jobs, and it’s definitely been an amazing learning experience for me, but it’s a big deal. I’ve been calling this my dream role ever since the first audition and I just think it’s such a powerful thing to see people who look like you on screen being relatable and aspirational.

Well, I’m gonna steal that train answer by the way, because I’ve never related to something more.
Yeah, I mean that’s honestly how I feel. I think a lot of us feel like [that] in life, just day to day with work and juggling everything because I’ve just realized at some point, being an adult is juggling as many things as possible, including feelings.

ABC/Scott Everett White

I love what you said about getting to see someone who looks like you on screen. Have the fans reached out to you and said anything about feeling represented by you and your character? I imagine you get positive feedback about the show and how much they love it, so what has all of that been like?
Yeah, I have. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback online. People are so excited to get to see an Asian American female lead on network TV and everybody has been very complimentary. But I remember at the premiere, a guy actually came up to me, he came with one of his friends and he almost felt self-conscious saying this because I think it made him vulnerable and he was almost embarrassed to admit it, but he was like, “representation does matter.” He got choked up and it just… it does. I just hope that we get to tell all different kinds of stories from all different perspectives so that we have a more complete human story, and I hope that we keep getting to see all different kinds of people on screen just living life.

What aspect of Emma has been most interesting for you to play with as an actress?
There have been a few. I just feel like she is strong and soft and that’s an interesting dynamic to play. She has to be really strong at work. She’s falling in love and her defenses are coming up but, you know, she can’t help her feelings, and then to get this curveball and find out that Charlie is on the complete opposite side of the law, she is just navigating all of her feelings for him. But how can she be in love with a criminal? It makes no sense in her mind, no matter what. I think it’s just hard to juggle both and so, for me as an actress, it’s been really interesting to navigate both.

ABC/Eric McCandless

I have to say, as a female viewer, I don’t get to often see that balance between soft and strong. I feel like so many times our characters are trapped in one or the other and it’s so refreshing to see that balance.
Yeah, and I think, it’s also really exciting to get to play a really strong, smart, sexy woman and I want to just see so many more strong, smart, sexy women on screen, but we also just get to see them be real and like you said, fall in love, which is complicated as it is in life.

What can you tell me about these last two episodes?
I mean, where do I even start? Honestly, I just feel like every episode tops the next and these next two are really gonna surprise you. I mean, the characters you see in the finale are definitely not the ones that you meet in the pilot.

That’s a good teaser. I love getting to see growth in a character throughout a season. There is nothing more fulfilling and rewarding.
It’s exciting and I love that in the last couple of episodes, you’ve gotten more backstory about Birdie and Daphne, and then you’re gonna get to know a little bit more about David and my family in these next couple of episodes. I think they’re also going to surprise you a lot. I mean, now, Emma’s created this new relationship with the Nicolettis, the truth is completely out, and so, I think it’s gonna be really interesting for everybody to see where it goes.

ABC/Raymond Liu

Do you have a favorite filming memory that stands out to you?
I’m trying to think because I feel like there are so many in a way. Honestly, the first one that sticks out for me though, is I remember one of the first episodes being in the makeup chair with Sarah Wayne Callies, and she was like, “Hey, how’s your show going? My show is going great.” It was such a funny thing because, in the beginning, it felt like we were shooting five different shows in a way with the Nicolettis, then you have the Hills, you have the work stuff between both me and Charlie, then you have our love story. So for a really long time, Sarah and I never even got to have scenes, we literally would only see each other in the makeup chair. Then this next episode and then the one you just saw, we have so much great stuff and that was really, really exciting just finally getting to work with each other.

Yeah, and one thing that came up this morning that I want to ask your thoughts about was that this is a show that you can basically turn my brain off, really get sucked in, and enjoy watching. It’s pure entertainment. Was that something that you noticed? What does it mean to you to bring actual entertainment to audiences?
It’s exciting. I mean, I think that this is not gonna be a show that’s heavy and you have to watch at least ten puppy videos on Instagram before you go to sleep. I love Beef, but I’m like, “This is a lot,” and I need to take it in small doses. It’s just a fun ride, and I don’t think we’ve seen a really good love story in a long time and I think we’ve all been itching for it. It’s exciting. It’s exciting to make people laugh and think but again, not beat anybody over the head with a message because we have a lot of that going on and it’s just nice to add something that we don’t have right now on TV.

I have to know, did you and Milo speak beforehand because you just used almost the exact same phrasing about being beaten over the head with messages.
Really? That’s so funny. I wonder if we spent so much time together that we’re saying the same things. That’s alarming. If we had done the interview together, we probably would have just been finishing each other’s sentences.

ABC/Raymond Liu

Next season, we’ll have to do a joint interview.
I would love that. Also, I mean, going back to that, Milo is always such a generous scene partner and it’s just so fun to play off him because he is always present. We always make sure that we’re present with each other, it’s something that we promised each other before we ever stepped on a set. But then beyond being my scene partner, he is the captain of our ship. He has intimate relationships with every single crew member on set and it’s something that we had discussed a lot before we got into production because it was something that I was really thinking about, how do I be a good leader? Because I think it trickles down from the top. When I sat down I was like, “Oh, okay, he’s already set the bar very high. How do I catch up,” is what it became because I’m like, I’m just finally trying to have a conversation with every crew member and I at least know everybody’s names.

But he genuinely has solid relationships with everybody. He knows about everybody’s families and their lives and their hobbies. He’s the one that’s been in the editing bay while we’re filming, which is insane because the schedule is insane. There have been weeks where I’m filming six days a week, 16 hours a day on four hours of sleep and so, he’s doing the same and somehow finding time in between to go do ADR for the episodes that are airing and then edit the episodes that are about to come out, and he hasn’t stopped up until recently because we just locked episode ten. But he’s always looking out for everybody. He’ll always go in and tweak stuff so that everybody’s performance shines, and I think it’s also because he gets it as an actor.

ABC/Raymond Liu

I want to go off what you just said, how did you feel when you realized that episode ten was locked and that you finished the season? I imagine there’s a great sense of pride in what you created.
Yeah, it’s crazy because I actually did ADR for episode ten yesterday, and it’s surreal. It’s been such a wild ride, personally for me, just because it is the first time being the female lead of a show like this, and all season I just kept joking and saying like, “I can’t wait for season two, so I can take everything I’m learning now and actually apply it.” And that’s what it has felt like, this generous learning experience where I got to try a bunch of things. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t and I just got to tinker away. I’m just excited for what’s next, and it’s reminding me of my other favorite moment on set.

We had just wrapped the entire season and I packed up my trailer, and Milo and I happened to be walking to the parking lot at the same time. He, of course, like a gentleman offered to help me with all the things since he has nothing in his trailer, it is barren. It’s like he is the CIA officer, if he had to extract himself at any minute, nobody would ever know he was there. I have a rug, I have a coffee machine, I have plants and pillows and blankets. So he was helping me carry everything to our cars and we just got to have this nice, quiet five-minute walk where we got to reflect on the season. I got to thank him for this amazing opportunity and he was very complimentary, and it just felt really nice coming from him, somebody that I respect so much and somebody who’s done this for so long.