Actor Tim Kang takes a less-than-appealing role and turns it into what may be the studliest Asian American character on TV.
ISSUE: Fall 2011
STORY: Han Cho
With a season-to-date average of 14.4 million viewers, CBS’s highly rated show The Mentalist begins its fourth season this fall. The crime drama follows Patrick Jane (Simon Baker), a specialist hired for his “psychic” abilities, and a team of top-rate investigators, including Special Agent Kimball Cho, played by Korean American actor Tim Kang.
Viewers may find it hard to believe that the levelheaded, deadpan Cho was originally written as a socially inept, slightly overweight married man with two kids. Instead, the character has morphed into a former teen gang member with the brilliant mind and athletic physique of a Green Beret, a strong, silent type with a new girlfriend (played by Chinese-French Canadian beauty Sandrine Holt). So what happened?
“It took some juggling to shape him into something that I could believe in,” says the 38-year-old. Growing up as an avid TV and film fan in San Francisco, Kang was always bothered with the lack of positive representation of Asian Americans in the media. “They were never the heroes. Bruce Lee was the only ‘Asian American’ hero that we could look up to and not be ashamed of. And that was a little disconcerting.”
When Kang first read the script for The Mentalist, he realized that Cho “was just yet another example of not seeing a potential in a certain character. I thought, ‘Wow, some of this is really funny, but stereotypical.’ So I took some of it, kept some of it, and changed it around.
“He is certainly all the things the producers had originally envisioned,” adds Kang, “but he’s not just a book- worm. He’s a little more than that.”
Kang’s fresh take on the character can be attributed to his training in Off Off Broadway shows and the America Repertory Theater’s M.F.A. program. However, he sees “nothing sexy” about his role or his big break as a series regular on a hit show. In fact, he sees it as a “gift and responsibility.”
“To this day, I have not figured out the rhyme or reason to this business,” says Kang. “But I have certainly been afforded the kind of success that you should be proud of. And I am proud of it. I get to do something that I love every single day.”
— Han Cho
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