Written by Kyle Buchanan
20 Jan 2010, 7:00 AM
Daniel Dae Kim’s Jin has been able to say a lot with just a little bit of dialogue — or often, none at all — over six seasons of Lost. Still, as ABC’s epic adventure drama nears its endpoint, both Jin (who’s finally become conversant in English) and Kim himself have plenty to say.
I caught up with Kim while he was in Los Angeles recently for the TCA press tour, and we indulged in our own series of flashbacks (find out the most difficult — and rewarding — surprises of Jin’s character arc) and flash-forwards (will Jin and his star-crossed wife Sun reunite this year?) in advance of the final season’s premiere on February 2.
Do you feel a certain amount of pride to have made it through all six seasons alive?
[Laughs] Yeah, I guess so! Although we haven’t finished, so it might be a little premature to say that.
Now that you’re bringing Jin’s arc to an end, do you think all those elements of his story have all lined up in a straight line?
Not quite yet, but I think the important thing is that we’re not quite at the end. I think that by the end, we’ll see that all the characters will have a…gosh, “resolution” is probably too strong a word, but they’ll come to sort of resting place and be able to look back with maturity.
I know you can’t say too much about plot particulars, but emotionally, what’s in store for Jin in season six?
I think you might have heard this before, but it reminds me a little bit of season one in a certain way because we relearn the characters. It’s like what you mentioned earlier — you’re going to see the end of the journey that people started back in season one. To answer your question, it’s going to be fantastic as always, but there will be some emotions on a pretty grand scale.
It’s interesting how often Jin and Sun have been parted, then epically reunited, during the lifespan of Lost. They were apart for the entire fifth season, even! How long will fans have to wait to see them together again?
That’s a really good question. Maybe Jin and Sun won’t get back together again. That’s a legitimate possibility, I think.
"We, like you, always assumed that maybe in the finale of last season, we’d be reunited."
Did you have any idea that you and Yunjin Kim would be separated for so long last year?
No! We, like you, always assumed that maybe in the finale of last season, we’d be reunited. [Laughs] As in so many instances, our guess didn’t turn out to be correct.
There have been some seasons and arcs where you had a lot to do, and some where you had to stay in the background a bit. Do the writers give you a heads-up when the work will ebb and flow?
Yeah. We kind of learned that along the way in season one, and it was a surprise for all of us at first, because we weren’t sure how the writers were going to handle such a large ensemble. As we discovered how it was going to play out, it gradually became easier and easier, and it actually helped us as far as our endurance. It’s such a large show and it requires so much that it’s nice to know that if we’re heavy for a couple of episodes, we’ll get a break afterwards and another part of the ensemble will do the heavy lifting.
So in Season 4, when it looked to the audience like your character had died, did the writers let you know that you shouldn’t be worried?
Actually, they did. When the script was about to break, they called me and said, “Listen, you’re going to see something in this script. We just want to tell you not to worry. Things are not as they appear.” I appreciated that. To be honest, by the fourth season, I had already learned to stop conjecturing about the future of my character. All they needed to tell me was that everything was gonna be all right, and that was it.
Is that sort of interaction a typical? Do you have a lot of contact with the writers, or do you only see them every so often at events like TCA?
That’s one of the big disadvantages of shooting so far away from the writers room: We don’t get to have as much contact with them as most actors do with their showrunners. At the same time, it doesn’t feel awkward once we do see them, because there’s a level of trust there that goes back to season one.
Since season four, Lost has had a delayed premiere date. When you shoot so many episode of the season before any of them have even aired, are there pros and cons to that approach?
Yeah, of course. I think there’s definitely a risk — you kind of lose an awareness of the show’s [perception], but conversely, it allows the writers and the people creating the show a certain freedom to do things without so much vocal feedback, because you know our show is characterized by some ardent fans. It’s nice to be able to see through the writer’s vision without outside influence.
I live in LA, and I have a friend in Koreatown who said that his neighborhood used to shut down when Lost was airing because people were so excited to see regular Korean characters on American TV. Do you ever get feedback like that?
Yeah, I do hear a lot of those kinds of stories. It makes me proud to be a part of the show because at that time, there weren’t many casts like ours on television with a high level of international representation. Those kinds of stories are really heartwarming — at the same time, though, you can’t really invest too much in them. For every person who’s saying that the show is the best thing since slices bread, there’s someone saying something negative about it. Soon, there just gets to be a lot of noise, and it can get to be a little distracting from the work you need to do.
Was there a point when you stopped listening to that?
When we were going through season one, I did read a lot of the blogs. I would go on websites and fansites and read a lot about the theories about the show, things like that. By the end of season one, I thought, “You know what? This is doing as much harm as it is good. I get a sense now of what the show means to people, and what the general criticisms and compliments are, and I think that’s enough. I’ll move on from here.”
I imagine you were reading some interesting feedback at that time, since Jin wasn’t entirely sympathetic until later in season one.
Yeah, that’s a good point. I had my share of people who came up to me when season two started airing who were like, “I hated you.” And I was like, “Well, hello to you too!” I’ve been so lucky in that I knew from discussing with J.J. [Abrams] and Damon [Lindelof] that my character was going to make a turn, so I had trust in them that I could hold out and handle the criticism while that was going on. I knew something better was around the corner.
Which development in Jin’s arc was the most satisfying for you?
I think Jin’s ability to speak English was a big turning point for him. Before that, he was really limited in the interactions he could have with the other Islanders. Once he learned how to speak English, his character took on other dimensions, and I was really, really grateful for that.
Before Jin learned English, was it challenging to you to do so much acting with so little dialogue?
You know, they say that acting is all about reacting, and I really found that to be the case. I found myself listening with my whole body. When you’re in another country and you’re trying to glean any bit of information, you will use every part of your physicality to try to communicate an idea or understand what a person is saying. I realized how much nonverbal communicating we do without thinking about it, and that was a great lesson to learn.
It can be a powerful storytelling technique when you can’t use dialogue. Maybe the Jin and Sun romance is all the more resonant because so much of it is communicated through nonverbal looks.
I think that’s true. I think our show takes advantage of that by giving us a lot of close-ups that can communicate things that our mouths may not.
"There were kind of some racist undertones to his character that I really was surprised by, you know?"
Were there any things you learned about Jin that surprised you or you worried about playing?
Yeah, I guess in season one, where it turned out that he had a problem with Michael. There were kind of some racist undertones to his character that I really was surprised by, you know? That was something that I grappled with for a little while and accepted eventually as part of Jin’s journey. He had to be accepting of outsiders in general.
And there have been a lot of outsiders cycled into Lost’s cast in the form of new characters. Do you help them or haze them?
I’ve found that there is an adjustment period for actors who are new to the show. They’re a little bit dazed — they have to get their bearings from the physical move and the move of being on a show like ours. If I sense that they could use a hand here or there, not just with creative or logistical things to do with the show, but with where to get a burger or something, I like to offer. I would have appreciated it when I was in their shoes.
Meanwhile, you’ve also rotated a lot of people out of the cast. Who have you missed when you’re not working with them?
That’s a really good question. I’m good friends with Josh Holloway, Harold Perrineau and Dom Monaghan, and a lot of them have come and gone, so I miss them when they’re not on set. At the same time, there isn’t anyone I’m uncomfortable with and we all enjoy working together, so that’s a big plus.
Will you be watching this last run of episodes with your castmates? I know you all used to get together and watch them at each others’ houses in season one.
We did. We were a very close-knit group in season one — we all had moved to the island together and given up our respective homes in LA. We had each other for companionship on and off-set, but now in season six, we’ve all become part of the community to varying degrees. We’ve got other friends as well as the cast members. We’ll see how it goes in season six. We’ll see.