Beaten, kidnapped and tossed in a pit, Jin Soo Kwon hasn’t had many pleasant days on ABC’s hit drama “Lost.”
He’s stranded on a mysterious island with dozens of plane-crash survivors who don’t speak his language and carry way more baggage than the suitcases they brought on ill-fated Oceanic Airlines Flight 815.
In real life, actor Daniel Dae Kim, 37, who plays Jin, the Korean tough guy, couldn’t be happier.
He’s enjoying living with his family in Hawaii, where the show is shot; he’s earning a regular paycheck doing what he loves, and a day at the office means getting into filthy clothes and hitting the beach.
“I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity,” Kim said in an interview. “It’s the most stability I’ve had in my career. I have a family, and to think about the fact that we’re living in Hawaii and I have a fantastic job, I can’t think of anything better.
“Every day I’m at work and I look out at the ocean and see the crystal blue waves crashing on the beach, I just look up and thank the universe for putting me here.”
Working on “Lost” (Wednesday, 9 p.m. ET) wasn’t always so smooth for Kim, however.
Warming up to JinIn the series’ Emmy-award winning first season, Jin was portrayed as a detached and chauvinistic thug who was overly protective of his wife, Sun. The character drew sharp criticism from some Asian viewers, who accused Kim of perpetuating stereotypes on national television.
“Initially, I was stung by it,” he said. “I rejected a lot of roles that were one dimensional and put Asian Americans in a bad light, so to receive the amount of criticism I did when the show came out, was hurtful.”
But as audiences learned more of the character through flashbacks, and as Jin warmed up, so did his critics.
“All these characters have layers, secrets inside of them,” he said. “It was difficult, but the thing that kept me hopeful was my trust in the producers.”
Other characters started out in a positive light, but their dark pasts are being divulged this season.
“I really like Jin. I don’t think he’s the hard, stern character that he was initially laid out to be,” Kim said. “I think he’s very complex. I think he’s very human.”
Besides Koreans, “Lost” also features an Iraqi, blacks, a Hispanic, an Australian and a Brit among the large, diverse and mostly unknown cast compiled by creators Damon Lindelof and J.J. Abrams.
“In a way, this show has an opportunity to make a lot of commentary on politics, human relations, human rights,” Kim said. “For Koreans, I think it’s the best opportunity that American television has ever had to be visited by Korean characters once a week and learn what it is to be Korean.”
Lindelof has said speaking English was not an option for Jin and Sun, who exclusively talk to each other in their native language (although Sun, it was revealed, speaks English). He noted that subtitles are not used when Jin speaks to other castaways, because he wants the viewer to share the frustration of trying to communicate.
The show is making a commentary on language because of “this sort of interesting American conceit, ‘Everybody else on the planet should speak English,’ “ Lindelof said.
Kim, trained in classical theater, said acting in Korean has been a challenge and an opportunity.
Not only did he have to master the language quickly, but he tried to shed his rural Gyeongsang-do accent from the southeastern region of the peninsula, from where his family emigrated.
Jin did speak perfect English in a short scene in which Hurley, played by Jorge Garcia, was dreaming and speaking Korean.
“His pronunciation was fantastic,” Kim said. “I was going around, saying maybe he should be the one speaking Korean and I’ll speak English and say, ’Dude,’ a lot.”
As Jin starts to communicate more with his fellow castaways, Kim is now practicing to speak broken English with a Korean accent.
Born in Busan, South Korea, Kim grew up in the blue-collar steel town of Easton, Pa. He was on a path to becoming a lawyer but decided to pursue an acting career. It was an unpopular decision with his family.
After earning a masters from New York University, he had recurring roles on “24,” “ER,” and “Angel.” He had small appearances in “Seinfeld,” and “NYPD Blue,” as well as on the big screen in “Spider-Man 2,” “The Hulk” and “Crash.”
“It’s not about money or fame. I really enjoy the craft of acting,” he said. “Whether it’s on a small stage in front of 50 people or on a television screen in front of 20 million, it’s still what I enjoy doing. It’s the same.”
Even the actors don’t know what will happenUnlike his character, Kim is easygoing, educated and quick to smile. Some fans have approached him with caution, however, fearing he’ll be like Jin.
“One of the great things about being an actor, you get licensed to be people who you would never be in your real life,” he said. “I think it’s a real compliment when people come up to me and say you’re nothing like your character.”
Recently, Kim was featured as one of People magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive.” Not bad for a married guy closing on his 40s with two sons, ages 9 and 4.
“It’s flattering,” he said. “It’s something you can’t ever take seriously. On a larger level, for Asian Americans, I think it’s really a fantastic step.
“Asian-American men are not historically considered to be sexy. They’re considered to be anything but — the nerdy, geeky guy who never gets the girl,” he said. “I’m really happy that America is changing to include Asians in that way. ... I think it’s a nice testament to how far we have come as a society.”
As for “Lost,” Kim said he’s just as anxious as devoted fans are to see how the stealthy story unfolds.
“We don’t have answers as actors,” he said.
He does promise many more surprises and turns.
“One thing viewers will be reminded of, the stakes are very high on this island. It’s always life and death,” Kim said. “They may have been lulled into a sense of security in the past few episodes. That may change again soon.”