It’s half-hour to curtain, and I am sitting in the dressing room of Daniel Dae Kim, watching him get ready for this past Sunday’s matinee. Normally, I observe him presiding over the royal palace of Siam, surrounded by courtiers, wives, and children who do his bidding. Here he is alone. Like most stage actors, he applies his own makeup. Though The King and I finishes its run this weekend, in Kim’s domain there is no sense of any winding-down.
“I’m only in New York for a short time,” Kim says, “so I want to take advantage of every opportunity.” On this particular Sunday, that means: giving his performance as the King, which The New York Times praised for its “self-delighted intelligence”; appearing at a comedy club, which returns Kim to the improv work he did after getting his M.F.A. at NYU; and taking part in the annual charity strip-athon known as Broadway Bares – both the 9:00 p.m. and midnight shows. (He removed his shirt, to the delight of fans.)
Kim feels an urgency for at least two reasons. “I’m not in New York much because my family and I live in Honolulu,” he says, referring to the place where he films his role as Chin Ho Kelly in the hit CBS series “Hawaii-Five-0,” about to enter its seventh season. “And I’m very aware that The King and I may offer the only chance for me to play a leading role on Broadway.”
Great parts are rare enough for any actor, regardless of reputation, but for someone of Kim’s stature to make the statement has to do in significant part with what has generally been available for Asian-American performers. “I love Shakespeare,” Kim says, “especially Henry V and the Scottish play, but will I ever get the chance to do them on Broadway?”
Kim isn’t sitting back and waiting for significant roles to roll his way. He has started his own production company, 3AD. “Our first goal is to make quality entertainment,” he says. “If by doing so I can tell stories about the under-represented, that’s an additional benefit.” The company has six projects in active development.
Kim’s life is a continuing exercise in artistic evolution. “I grew up on the East Coast,” he says, “and went to Haverford and Bryn Mawr as an undergraduate.” The Sound of Music figures heavily into his childhood. “That was my gateway drug to musicals,” he jokes. “I’ve seen the movie at least 50 times.”
He was only vaguely familiar with The King and I. “I was in a junior orchestra, and maybe we played some of the tunes there, I’m not sure.” Kim’s first exposure to Yul Brynner came not with the movie of The King and I but through a public-service announcement on TV. “He made an anti-smoking ad,” Kim relates. “It said: ‘By the time you see this, I’ll be dead of cancer.’ That made an impression.”
Kim had some experience with cabaret as part of his NYU training, but he had never done a musical before The King and I. “I can carry a tune,” he says, “but you don’t have to be an operatic virtuoso to do this role.” He previously played the part in 2009, in London, on hiatus from the popular TV show “Lost,” in which he was Jin-Soo Kwon. “Between the production in London and the one here in New York,” Kim says, “I’ve been extremely lucky.”
Of the Lincoln Center Theater incarnation, Kim expresses gratitude not perfunctory but passionate. “Bart Sher has been the guiding light of this production, and I really appreciated the work we were able to do together.” As for the actors and crew, Kim says, “There are too many to single out by name, but they have all been wonderful.” Of his leading lady, Marin Mazzie, he says, “She has been a joy to work with. I am so fortunate that we were able to come in to the production at the same time. Our partnership has been a very important and positive part of this experience.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.