A New Beat
Daniel Dae Kim moves behind the camera to produce ABC's The Good Doctor.
TV viewers have come to rely on seeing Daniel Dae Kim.
For six years he was the beloved Jin on ABC’s Lost. Then for seven seasons he kept Oahu safe as Chin Ho on CBS’s Hawaii Five-O. But this fall, for the first time in 13 TV seasons, Kim, who departed Hawaii Five-O over the summer, won’t be in front of the camera. He’ll be behind it as an executive producer on the new ABC drama The Good Doctor.
The story follows Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), a brilliant young surgeon with autism. In the pilot Shaun comes to St. Bonaventure Hospital where not everyone is thrilled about his arrival. The show is based on a South Korean series of the same name.
Emmys.com recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kim, who formed his own production company 3AD in 2014, to talk about what it’s like to be working on the other side of the camera.
How did you find out about the South Korean version of this show?
Daniel Dae Kim: Korean dramas are popular in America. They’re very easy to find on streaming services. Even Netflix has a number of them. I actually wasn’t in Korea when I watched it. I was in America.
What about the show caught your attention?
A lot of Korean TV shows, as entertaining as they might be, don’t necessarily lend themselves to be transferred to another country because of cultural specificity or the very fact that they’re built to be close ended. Korean shows tend to be about 20 episodes and then they’re over.
So when you think about trying to bring a show to American you have to think about an engine for a show that will last multiple seasons. And you know one of the tried and true genres is the medical drama, and so that’s one of the things that made me think maybe this show could work in America.
But the more important element is I was attracted to the main character. Part of what I’m doing as a producer is trying to tell stories of the underrepresented. And I thought the challenge that Shaun faces is a specific one, yet it’s really prevalent all over the world.
Why did you want to tell this story?
People have notions of what autism is and people know people that are living with autism but we’ve never seen a character like this lead a story on broadcast network. I have a couple of friends whose children are living with autism. Even though I knew about autism in the general sense I didn’t know the specifics of it. I didn’t know how it affected their lives on a daily basis.
It was a combination of having personal experience and having the curiosity to find out more about this condition that affects one in 68 children in the US. It’s easy to overlook people with this condition to kind of say, "Oh he’s quiet or shy. We don’t need to worry about him."
But to me the story of the show is to look twice at people like that. To really ask the questions of how can they contribute? Not if they can contribute. That’s a story of inclusion that’s right in line with what I’m trying to do. We may make mistakes along the way because we’re not experts. But we really think this is a conversation we’re starting and we know our hearts are in the right place.
How hard was it to cast this show?
It wasn’t easy. There are very specific challenges to playing Shaun, you need to be able to convey the intelligence that Shaun has—the encyclopedic knowledge of medicine. There needs to be a believability and Freddie does that without question. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met let alone actor.
The second thing is because of Shaun’s specific challenges, the actor needed to find a way to communicate non-verbally and make this character human. One of the many traps of this role is that you turn him into a robot or a rain man and we wanted him to be a fully realized human being and Freddie is able to bring all of those things.
The other thing I think is so important about the character is he’s a prism of other people’s opinions. He’s a central character that doesn’t really have opinions of others but everyone has an opinion about him. And so you reveal a lot about the supporting characters in general by learning about their opinions of Shaun.
I’m sure in your career you’ve been on countless auditions. What was it like being on the other side of the table?
It was exhausting, I have to tell you. Not because there was actor after actor coming in. It was exhausting because any time someone came in the room I was rooting for them. And I was like, "You can do this!"
Sometimes when we were running late with auditions I would feel the anxiety of the actors who were waiting outside understanding that they probably had everything timed out to arrive at a certain point, get ready, warm up a little bit. I felt all of that for them
But that’s one of the nice things about being a producer now. I think it’s helpful when a producer understands what an actor goes through and understands the process in that way.
How else has being an actor informed your work as a producer?
There’s a trap in producing in thinking everything happens and that actors are just a small part of it. I will never feel that way as a producer. Producers are really dependent on the actors to elevate the work that we give them.
What surprised you about being on the other side of the camera?
There are many things. I guess the way I would answer that is to quote Spiderman “with great power comes great responsibility.” Most of the things that happen on set happen from the top down.
The tone is set from the top down, so it means you have the responsibility of setting that tone for the rest of the cast, crew and everyone involved, and so that’s a responsibility I take very seriously, and I will do whatever I can to make sure the projects I’m working on are harmonious.
How has being a producer informed your work as an actor?
I think I will understand better the context of what an actor does vis á vis an entire production. That there are a lot of people who worked very hard to even get to the point to where the camera rolls. I think I will also understand better that there’s a lot that happens after we finish our work in post in terms of people who provide feedback and people who then go out and promote the show.
There’s a machine behind all of this and it’s good to keep an awareness of the whole of it.
You’ve talked so much over the course of your career about the importance of diversity on television. Now that you’re on the production side of things how important does this become?
Next to telling interesting stories with well-developed characters and working with good people, that couldn’t be more important. It’s one of the biggest priorities of my company. It’s one of the reasons I started it. You can make the point that we’ve heard every story before but there are people we haven’t heard from before. There are perspectives we haven’t heard from before.
And the reason I started the company is I wanted to hear those stories from a new perspective. We're focusing of telling stories of the traditionally underrepresented whether that’s about race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, gender identification. I want to hear those stories from these people because that hasn’t happened.
How proactive do you have to be to achieve this kind of diversity?
We’re very aggressive in finding intellectual property that fits with our mission statement and will also just create stories from scratch and hope we can collaborate with the right person to bring those stories to life. We’ve had maybe nine projects in active development in the last three years.
We have several that we’re pitching right now. Most of which feature a minority lead or a female lead or someone who is LGBTQ. These are the stories I’m interested in. I’ll do whatever it takes to try and bring them to the screen. Now as a producer I can only do some much. The shows still need to be bought.
It just so happens that The Good Doctor is the first show that has made it to the airwaves and he is a white male lead. The thing I’m proud of with this show and what we’re focusing on is that he’s a man living with autism and that’s something we haven’t seen before.
What are the other projects your company is working on?
Re Jane being developed at TV Land. It’s an adaptation of the Jane Eyre story. It’s taking a classic story, updating it and putting a female person of color in the lead and telling it in a whole new way. It’s project we’re really proud of.
And when will viewers be able to see you in front of the camera again?
I will say I’ve received several offers in the past few weeks but my emphasis now is on The Good Doctor. I’m really putting all my energy to helping support the show and hoping it gets off to a really good start.
The Good Doctor is in, Mondays at 10 PM on ABC.