Brian Kim is deep in rehearsal for the role of Ray in Julia Cho’s Aubergine at San Diego REP, a role that he has long coveted.
Last year, the award-winning actor, filmmaker, writer and producer performed onstage in Dinner with Georgette at New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW), May-Lee Yang’s The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity with Theatre Mu at Park Square in St Paul, Labour of Love at Olney, and The Emperor’s Nightingale with Pan Asian Rep in New York.
Brian Kim is a Minnesota native who currently calls Brooklyn his home. He has appeared in Les Miserables, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Carousel, Flower Drum Song, and his personal favorite, Hair! Other workshops include Great Wall, The Music of Time, Enter Laughing, and Jason Ma’s Gold Mountain.
As a voiceover artist, he can be heard on Pokemon: Sun and Moon, Regal Academy, MCvs. Through his production company, Misfit Dog, he continues to explore the American-Asian narrative through film and theatre – including his debut short film, The Beach House, currently on the festival circuit. Kim won Best Actor at The Grove Film Festival.
During a Christmas Eve Orphan dinner at Pio Pio in New York organized by Brian Jose, Brian and I had a chance to catch up on his whirlwind year.
Lia: Is this the most that you’ve traveled since you moved to New York from Minnesota seven years ago?
Brian: Absolutely. I made a point that I was going to focus on staying in the city and not accept regional work. I hadn’t changed my stance on regional work but it was the piece, The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity that made me go, “Oh well, it’s an interesting title, it’s a Korean role and it was also back at home.” Accepting the offer continued to lead me to new opportunities and although a lot of them were out-of-town, I just let the universe point in the right direction.
Lia: What were your favorite projects this year?
Brian: Benedict in The Korean Drama Addict’s Guide to Losing Your Virginity – that was an incredible experience. Playwright May Lee-Yang is topical. She’s not afraid to push buttons and push the envelope. She also did her homework. She is obsessed with Korean dramas. She had a lot of reference points to pull from and she made this beautiful character. To be able to do it at home where I haven’t done a show in seven years was an incredible homecoming. I had the opportunity to share it with family and friends. It was also the biggest role I had done to that point – the male romantic lead. When does that happen for Koreans or Asian Americans? Never! I felt like I was playing a role that was written for me. It was really fun.
Lia: Did you kid her about that?
Brian: I told May-Lee Yang, the playwright, many times that had she gone with her original title, The Sun Embrace the Moon, I may have passed over the audition notice. It was some kind of kismet that brought me home – even as far back as the audition video, I’ve had my fair share of rejections and I always try to do my best. But I felt like I nailed this character and it was mine.
The next one, I haven’t done it yet, would be Ray in Aubergine. I’ve been in love with this play since I saw it Off-Broadway. I never in a million years thought I would have the chance to actually do it. I’m always grateful for any project that I get to work on and to have it be a Korean story and a story about family relationships – it hits home right now in my life. As an adoptee, I’m trying to figure out that balance with my Korean roots and how much do I want to delve into that past and accepting the path that I have here in America and the great life and opportunities that have been given to me through my adoptive family. Getting to explore Korean tradition and family expectation through this play, I’m really looking forward to it and working with my fantastic cast – Dana Lee as my father and my friend Audrey, who is from Minnesota, is playing my girlfriend.
It’s a tie- Dinner with Georgette at New York Theatre Workshop where I played this weird character called Cactus Eyes – a Korean refugee taken away from Korea to a war base in Arizona. It was written by Rick Burkhardt and directed by Ellie Heyman. This was the start of my year-of-playing-Korean-characters!
Labour of Love at Olney. The play was about British Parliament and politics. It was so relevant to American politics and what we are going through with Xenophobia, feeling like we need to put America first and dealing with immigration and jobs. Being in DC, it was so timely and relevant. I spent a lot of my time off exploring the memorials. It was such a relief from today’s climate to be reminded of the great rhetoric from leaders past. In many ways, it made me a better American and not so despondent. I’ve been very fortunate that each project this year has been great as far as artistic progress and human growth.
Lia: How many times did you see Crazy Rich Asians?
Brian: 7 or 8 times.
Lia: How many times did you see it with other Asians?
Brian: 5 or 6.
Lia: How did the film speak to you as an Asian American man?
Brian: Going to it the first time, I knew it was a big deal as far as the historical context because of previous films like Joy Luck Club. But the movie started and within the first 15 minutes I had tears because I was part of this historic moment. Sometimes, you don’t realize how badly you need something in your life until it is right there in front of you. Seeing these Asian people be the majority cast of the movie was incredible. I saw it in Minnesota. At lot of my friends in New York were in Asian filled houses. I was in a White filled house. I might have been the loudest and laughed out loud the most, but they showed up and they were supporting it, liking it and really enjoying it. It meant a lot. I saw it a bunch to boost the box office sales but I also couldn’t get over it. Yes, it was about Asians but it was a good romantic comedy. The cast is phenomenal.
Lia: Do you feel like it has affected you as far as auditioning is concerned?
Brian: I’ve always been a believer that Asian American stories are really close to being told. Seeing this really made me believe it. It gave me a kick in the pants. Most people would say that I am a motivated person but this movie drove me even more. To pair it with Searching, starring John Cho. That was more incredible – Asian August – Asian Year. It’s brought a lot of pride, confidence and the knowledge that the audience is out their for our stories. Stay the course and amp it up. Don’t waste your time. Networks and houses are picking up new material all over the place. If you want to get on this ride, you have to act now because our peers are. It’s been a really good motivator.
Lia: What inspired you to make The Beach House?
Brian: In my first short film The Beach House, written and directed by Eric Elizaga, I play Max with Daniel J. Edwards as Jeremy, Jean Tree as Jamie, Daniel Klimek as Sean, Viet Vo as Luke, and Todd & Jan McCormick as Mr. and Mrs. Pillsbury. It was the most unexpected gift of a ride. The Beach House was produced by SMD Productions / Misfit Dog Productions with Charlie Muentes as Director of Photography. The Beach House tells the story of Korean Adoptees Max and Jamie who discover they have a lot in common while bonding over similar experiences as American Asian kids who grew up in their white families.
We were on Baayork Lee’s rooftop on the 4th of July. We decided we should make a movie when we heard about HBO’s “Asian Pacific American Visionaries Short Film Competition.. Months went by and then we only had two months left. We had plans that fell through but luckily we had this beach house so off we went to Westport by the ocean. Technology makes it so easy to just shoot something and as artists, we all know to a degree what is good and what is bad. We may have to work on some technical things but we’ve seen enough media. To work with your friends and tell a story that hasn’t been told – I’d be happy doing it forever. The exposure that we’ve been getting at festivals has been highly unexpected. We took it to 2018 Boston Asian American Festival. We took it the 2018 Grove Film Festival. We just got accepted to the DisOrient Asian American Film Festival. That was the launching point to realizing we can make films.
We made The Struggle for the 72 Hour Asian American Film Lab Shoot Out. We placed 2nd and won best actor, best director and best cinematographer, which connected me with people at ABC, NBC and some other amazing people. We’re really trying to parlay that into doing really good work. At the end of the day it is just about having fun with my friends.
You can catch Brian in Aubergine at San Diego Rep, January 24-February 17.
An unforgettable story of love, family and the healing power of food, performances for Aubergine run January 24 – February 17, 2019, in the Lyceum Space Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza in San Diego.
Helmed by San Diego REP Associate Artistic Director Todd Salovey, the cast of Aubergine also includes veteran actor of the stage and screen, Dana Lee (“Dr. Ken,” “Hawaii Five-O,” and “Rambo: First Blood, Part II,”) as Ray’s father, Minneapolis-based actor Audrey Park as Cornelia (Theatre Mu, Penumbra Theatre), San Diego local and Brown University/Trinity Rep graduate, Terrell Donnell Sledge as Lucien (Cygnet Theatre’s Wind and the Breeze), Yong Kim as Uncle (“Spa Night” and “Dog Bowl”) and San Diego REP favorite Amanda Sitton (REP’s The Oldest Boy, Road to Mecca, Doubt) as Diane.
Click here for tickets and more information.
Lia Chang is an actor, a multi-media content producer and co-founder of Bev’s Girl Films, making films that foster inclusion and diversity on both sides of the camera. Bev’s Girl Films’ debut short film, Hide and Seek was a top ten film in the Asian American Film Lab’s 2015 72 Hour Shootout Filmmaking Competition, and she received a Best Actress nomination. BGF collaborates with and produces multi-media content for artists, actors, designers, theatrical productions, composers, musicians and corporations. Lia is also an internationally published and exhibited photographer, a multi-platform journalist, and a publicist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Jade Magazine and Playbill.com.
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