Jennifer Kim Opens Up About Her Asian American Heritage

Jennifer Kim.

Jennifer Kim attended NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at the Stella Adler Studio as well as London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. She has appeared in studio features ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’, ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ and ‘The Bourne Legacy’. Jen is also a strong proponent of independent film and starred in the award winning ‘The Homecoming Queen’. Two additional indie films, ‘Wild Canaries’ and ‘Obvious Child’, premiered at this year’s highly acclaimed South By Southwest film festival.

Jen’s television credits include a recurring role this past season on The Blacklist’ as well as episodes of Elementary’, ‘Rescue Me’ and The Good Wife’. A pilot she shot this year, ‘Mozart in the Jungle’, has just been picked up for series.

A Los Angeles native, Jen lives in Brooklyn and enjoys reading, photography, and watercolors in her spare time.”

You’ve appeared on the NBC series The Blacklist recently – tell us about those roles and your take on the show.

I think The Blacklist is a really smart and interesting show. It’s an honor to be a part of it. Everyone on the cast and crew is really supportive, talented, and driven. I play an FBI Tech in the war room. I’ve been recurring since the pilot episode, so it’s wonderful to keep coming back to the same team. I joke that I’m happy my part isn’t too big or else they would kill me off. There was a moment where everyone was getting axed on that show.

You seem to move between television and movies – do you have a preference?

I love acting in both mediums, but if I had to choose I’d probably pick movies. I became quite obsessed with films in college and even worked at a small art house movie theater so I could watch films for free. Plus, my favorite acting experiences have been working with friends on independent films. Everyone collaborating creatively to make art together: It’s a dream.

Tell us about your background – where did you grow up, what did your parents do, was the entertainment business in your family?

I was born in Los Angeles and raised mainly in Pasadena. My parents immigrated to America from South Korea to provide a better life for me and my siblings. They struggled so much for us and worked so hard to create a beautiful life. My dads’ first job in America was a bank teller and now he owns his own companies. My dad lived the American dream. No one in my family works in the entertainment business. My family is creative, but no one is crazy enough to pursue a career in the arts except me.

How did you start as a performer? And what do you think drew you into getting up onstage? Did your parents encourage it?

When I was a child, I went to see Les Miserables with my family. I remember being struck by this intense and overwhelming feeling: I wanted to be on that stage. It was a very scary realization because I was a super shy kid. It took me years to gather the courage to finally be a part of a play at school. I can’t explain what drew me to the stage. It was as if I had no choice. It had chosen me and I needed to be a part of it. Once I started acting in plays, I fell in love with the entire process: the rehearsals, the building of sets, and the thrill of the performances. The theater department at my school was really phenomenal. I went to an all girls school from 4th-12th grade. So we would get to play the male characters in plays. Male characters were the most fun because the parts were always better and meatier than the female ones. Unfortunately that’s true in the entertainment business today.

My parents were supportive of me exploring all my interests. I was always very independent and went through a lot of phases with different hobbies. But acting was the only one that stuck with me from childhood. I never dreamed I could actually pursue acting as a career. Growing up, there weren’t a lot of actors who looked like me. It didn’t seem like a possibility. But once I sat and really thought about what I would want to do with my life, it became very clear to me that I needed to be an actress. It didn’t matter that the opportunities weren’t there yet. Maybe in some way, I knew they would appear if I kept following my heart. The opportunities are getting better now, but there’s still a long way to go.

You studied at NYU’s Tisch and then with Stella Adler…what importance did study and education play in your career?

NYU’s Tisch/Stella Adler provided invaluable techniques for me to dive deeper into acting. Before studying at conservatory, I felt simply drawn to acting because it was so fun. Once I started becoming more disciplined and focused with acting, I learned so much about myself, the world, humanity, and art. The greatest part about acting is that your work never stops. People are so complex and fascinating. You can always go deeper and become more specific.

Were there many other Asian actors or actresses in class with you?


How does being an Asian woman affect or influence your work—be it in obvious ways or not so obvious ways? Going on auditions? Is it a factor at all?

Being Asian affects the way people view me more than it affects my work. I dream of a day when it wont, but I think we’ve come a long way from even a decade ago. So any progress is better than none. It’s a double-edged sword because the desire to diversify is present, but right now it’s a bit heavy handed. I know I’ve gotten some parts because they need to fill an ethnic quota. That’s a crappy feeling. And usually that’s for a small, insignificant part. Rarely do we see an Asian leading lady. And if we do, it’s an Asian story. Not just a story about a woman. It’s difficult because I don’t want the world to be colorblind. Our differences are what make us unique and that’s a beautiful thing. But I dream of a day when being Asian won’t define me as a performer. I was feeling really frustrated a while ago with the opportunities I was being given by Hollywood. That’s when I turned to independent film. Hollywood pays the bills, but for me the real character work and creative satisfaction comes from independent movies. If you’re not getting offered the parts you want, create them for yourself.

You worked with some great actors – Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly on There’s Something About Kevin; Jeremy Renner and Edward Norton in The Bourne Legacy; James Spader on The Blacklist – what have you learned from working with them?

I’ve noticed all the great actors I’ve been lucky enough to work with all stay true to themselves. They take the space they need. They speak their mind. They respect their craft and the whole filming process.

Are there any projects you’ve done over seas in Asia that you’re particularly proud of?

I haven’t had the chance to work on any foreign movies, but I hope to one day. I really admire Hong Sang Soo. It would be such a treat to work with him. But I definitely have to work on my Korean.

My story line in The Bourne Legacy shot in Seoul, Korea. It was a real treat to be working in the city my parents came from. I visited many times growing up, but being there for work was a dream come true.

Who have you met over the course of your career that’s taught you the most or made the biggest impact?

Shooting the independent feature First Winter with my friends was the most influential film experience for me. It was my first time working with friends and that really opened up a whole new world for me. It was just like the collaborative experience I loved when doing plays as a child. And because everyone involved is already a close friend, there’s so much love and creativity that gets channeled into this one work of art. Seeing your friends do great work is so inspiring and rewarding. And at the end of it all, you have this beautiful film that everyone has contributed to.

That shoot also influenced me off camera because it showed me a new way of living. The film is about the path towards enlightenment, the return to nature, the death of the ego, the higher purpose. I started meditating, practicing yoga, and deepening my awareness ever since the shoot.

What advice do you have for kids with a dream that was similar to yours years ago?

Make your own art. Keep working on your craft. Deepen your awareness. Meditate. Don’t compare yourself to others. Do what makes you happy. Be kind and loving. Live your life. Be present. You can’t show the universe inside you if you haven’t cultivated it. Explore your interests besides acting. That’s what makes you interesting and interesting people create interesting characters.

What do you like to do when you aren’t working – hobbies? What music is on your playlist?

I try to learn how to make something with my hands each year. This year I want to learn how to make lace as well as learn how to re-wire a lamp. Someday I’d love to re-wire a motorcycle, but I’m taking baby steps. I also enjoy taking photographs, crocheting, indigo dying, reading, watching films, painting, practicing yoga, pottery, reiki, the list goes on.

My best friend introduced me to East Village Radio. So I’ve been really into listening to that on the internet. So many good shows! When I don’t have internet access, I’m listening to Arthur Russell, Fleetwood mac, Willie Nelson, George Harrison, Cat Stevens, and John Phillips. But also I’ve recently discovered my love for pop music. I don’t know if it’s something that happens as you get older, but that’s a new development.

What are your can’t miss TV series?

I really like Louie, The Fall, House of Cards, The Larry Sanders Show, Eastbound and Down, True Detective, World on a Wire.

Films: Walkabout, The Mirror, Scenes from a Marriage, L’atalante, Black moon, Valerie and her week of wonders, The jerk, Beau Travail.

What other projects have you been working on lately? What’s next for you?

Mozart in the Jungle, a new amazon series, will begin shooting later this year. I’m very excited to be a part of that show. Everyone involved is wonderful to work with as well as just to be around. Being on that set reminded me of being on set with my friends. I think it’s a very special group of people that I’m super excited to get to know better.

I have a few independent films scheduled to shoot this summer as well. Both films are female driven so I look forward to those. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to divulge at this point, but it should be a very exciting year acting-wise.

I’m also writing a few screenplays. One is a character study for a part I’d like to play and the other is a film I’d like to direct starring my friends.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.
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