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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Janice Jann first interviewed Lynn Chen last year when White on Rice was releasing in theaters. Here, she talks to Chen about an insidious disease afflicting so many young women.
Hollywood actresses with eating disorders are a dime a dozen. The constant scrutiny under a harsh camera lens that adds 10 pounds, the competition to out-thin the other skinny minnies, the acceptance of the fact that a big part of your job revolves around how you look — and you better look good.
After a successful debut with a starring role as a ballet dancer in the 2004 romantic comedy, Saving Face, Lynn Chen’s career seemed to be taking off. But her struggle with food was spiraling down. “When I stopped the dieting, I naturally gained the weight back. But my managers weren’t happy. My fans called me chubby,” she says. After hitting an all-time low battling anorexia, Chen decided to take time off from acting and focus on her addictions. “I wanted to address that and really deal with it and not have the pressures of Hollywood knocking on my door and telling me I had to look a certain way,” she says.
So Chen and her friend, Christy, started a blog, The Actor’s Diet, in which they post what they eat every day. Serving as both a log for the two to take note of what they put in their mouths on a daily basis, as well as a way to demystify the crazy celebrity diets found in magazines and on television, the blog is a way to show readers that “actors’ diets come in all shapes and sizes,” says Chen.
“People think that actors all eat the same thing and they don’t. I think it’s important to talk about that. Especially Asian women. People say, ‘oh, Asian women, we don’t have to worry about what we eat, we’re a size zero’ and that’s just not true.”
This issue is also addressed in Chen’s contribution to Secret Identities, the anthology of Asian American superhero comics. Chen created a female superhero who is dealing with bulimia.
With scrumptious food pictures and contributions from guest bloggers like Gilmore Girls’ Keiko Agena, Chen has managed to create a blog that both entertains and informs. “I think if we can embrace that Asian women come in all shape and sizes, we struggle, we’re human, we’re not superstars, not freaks — that’s what I want to do with the blog.”
By Janice Jann.