'Insurgent' Actor Daniel Dae Kim on Diversity in Science Fiction

Daniel Dae Kim Jack Kang Insurgent

Lionsgate's sci-fi thriller franchise The Divergent Saga takes social cliques to a new level, with an entire society built around segregating people according to a few key personality traits. Those who don't fit neatly into one of the five factions - Erudite (intelligence), Abnegation (selflessness), Amity (peace), Candor (honesty) and Dauntless (bravery) - are called 'Divergent', considered a threat to society, and treated according. Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), the protagonist of Divergent and this year's sequel, Insurgent, just happens to be one of those dangerous individuals.

One man who does fit neatly into the system is Jack Kang, the leader of Candor and a paragon of honesty and fairness. Jack is first introduced in Insurgent, when he is called upon to pass judgment on Tris and Four (Theo James) for the alleged crime of attacking Abnegation. The character is played by Daniel Dae Kim, who starred in ABC's mind-bending drama Lost and is currently filming the sixth season of Hawaii Five-0. Kim will reprise the role in next year's sequel, Allegiant: Part 1.

With Insurgent arriving on Blu-ray and DVD this week, Screen Rant got a chance to talk with Kim about his experiences working on the film, and what he thinks of the dystopian world created by "Divergent" author Veronica Roth.

Which of the factions do you identify with most - or do you think you'd be Divergent or Factionless?

To be honest, I don't think I identify with any faction solely. I think people have parts of every faction inside of them. One might be more dominant than others, but I feel like one of the points of the movie is that we shouldn't be divided and segregated.

Do you think there's any merit at all to the faction system?

I think a lot of socialist countries tend to identify certain skill sets within children and funnel them into certain systems, i.e. sports. If they show a certain skill level in gymnastics then they get put into the national gymnastics program, and that's what they do until they're 13 or 14 years old and start competing nationally and internationally. So I think it already does happen in societies around the world, to a certain degree. But I don't think there's anything wrong with identifying certain abilities at a young age and trying to nurture them.

Insurgent official still

Do you think that's why the Divergent series has proven so popular with teens, many of whom don't feel like they fit into any particular clique?

Yeah, I think it really resonates with teenagers because... I know that when I was a teenager, I was desperately seeking an identity and a group to identify with, and high school can be a pretty segregated place. You have your jocks and you have your nerds and you have your student politicians, so everyone is looking for an identity. It's where we start to define ourselves for the first time in our lives.

Had you read the books before you starred in the film?

No, I didn't actually. My participation in the film was my first exposure to the book.

How were you first introduced to your character? Was Jack 'pitched' to you?

When the offer came around I went back to the book and looked back at what was in the book about him. And I give a lot of credit to Veronica for including an Asian-American male in her book series, because not many authors actually do that who aren't themselves Asian-American.

Insurgent certainly has a pretty diverse cast. Was that one of the things that drew you to the film?

It absolutely was. You know, diversity is more than just a buzzword to me in my career, because I live and die by the industry's attitude towards diversity. And so when I saw a young author like Veronica be so inclusionary in her vision of the future, I was really encouraged by it and I thought that it was a series I wanted to be a part of because of the statement it makes empowerment of women, empowerment of a minority. It's a world that I would want to be a part of, in that sense.

Insurgent Movie Cast

Do you feel that studios often just make protagonists white and male by default?

Yeah, I mean I don't think they actively say, 'Well, I don't want an African-American person or a latino person or an Asian-American person as the lead for this movie.' I think they just go to the lowest hanging fruit and who can bring them box office, and at this point the question of being inclusionary is secondary to who can help their movies make the most money. It's understandable, I mean, show business is a business. But at the same time, I think moviegoing audiences are a lot more savvy these days. They're not going to not go and see a movie just because a non-white actor is the lead.

So you think perhaps studios right now are just sticking to what they know?

Yeah. Basically, Hollywood and show business is a fear-based business. Everyone is worried about losing money, so everyone flocks to the same people because it mitigates their risks the most. So it makes it harder for anyone who's not established to break in, regardless of color, but if you are a minority in some way, it makes it doubly as hard - if not more.

Perhaps movies like Insurgent will help to break new ground, in that respect.

Right, and it's not just about race, it's about gender. If you look at the series, the leaders of the factions are... there are as many women as men, and as you watch the series progress the two primary - what do I call them? Not antagonists, but the primary leaders are both women. Jeanine, who is the leader of Erudite, and Naomi Watts' character. So that's also a forward-thinking way of looking at the future.

Insurgent cast banner

Do you think the sci-fi genre offers more opportunities to get creative like that, because futuristic worlds don't have to stick to the some social rules as our world?

I think so... I mean, I credit Gene Roddenberry with a lot of that. He created Star Trek and he created a really diverse cast, he was the first person to do it in television or film, and I think it broke open the doors in science fiction from that point. But not all science fiction is like that. I think if you look at series like The Lord of the Rings, or any movie that implies intelligence by having a British accent, all of them are filled with white people. And I would say in that sense the fantasy genre is pretty woeful when it comes to diversity. There are very subtle messages communicated in those kinds of stories about who is smart and who is not, and they all have latent implications.

You have quite an intense scene with Shailene Woodley in Insurgent, where Tris is confessing to Will's murder. What was it like to film that?

To say it was fun isn't quite the right adjective [laughs]. But I will say that it was such a pleasure, to work with Shailene and to work with Robert and to work with Theo because, as young as they are, they have such a strong perspective on the business and their work, and it's rare to find that in actors who are in their twenties. So many of the actors I've come across, who are just starting their careers and have hit stardom in a way that's unexpected, have been unappreciative of where they are. I don't get that sense at all with the two of them, and they take their work very seriously, but in a way that is not precious. And I really, really enjoyed working with the entire cast. In fact, it was probably one of the best experiences of my career, doing these two movies.

Insurgent Daniel Dae Kim Jack King trial
Daniel Dae Kim in 'Insurgent'

The nature of the faction system is such that certain characters - like Jack - have to be the embodiment of particular traits. What kind of direction were you given to become the paragon of Candor?

I think the thing I focused on was this idea of just searching for the truth. Whether you're smart or kind or charitable, that's irrelevant when you're actually trying to discern the truth of the situation, and that is the thing I was looking for in almost every scene: what actually is the truth, and what can I separate out from your agenda?

Would you describe Jack as a good guy, a bad guy, or somewhere in between?

I would describe Jack as neither a good guy or a bad guy. I would say that in his pursuit of the truth, there's nothing else that really matters. Everything else is secondary. Some people would consider him a good guy, some would consider him a bad guy. Much like Supreme Court justices today, people ascribe certain characteristics to them, and I think to a certain degree they are true, when people say that they're affected by politics. Jack is someone who tries very, very hard not to be affected by politics or the sociological climate in order to make the right decision. I also think that now, with the factions crumbling, he doesn't know what role he plays in the new society, because in a lot of ways the truth doesn't matter. If you look at our society, we seek the truth but the truth is often below a lot of other priorities.

Insurgent is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.

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