"There are people whose work I greatly admire who just don't write to my experience in any way," Kim tells PEOPLE
In an exclusive chat with PEOPLE, the actor, 46, opened up about his first time directing (“It was a real eye-opening experience”), the importance of diversity in Hollywood and whether he still gets accosted by Lost fans demanding answers.
“It’s something that I was really glad to be able to do,” Kim tells PEOPLE of his first time directing. “It was great to learn so much about different sides of the business and it was something that I think I might want to do again, under the right circumstances.”
After a long and varied career both as an actor and producer, Kim’s time behind the camera was not necessarily so much about a “yearn[ing] to direct” so much as a desire to “learn as much about the business that I work in as I can. I feel like I’m getting a 360-degree view of the work I’ve chosen to do with my life and I do think it’s made me a better actor, as well.”
Not long before Kim spoke to PEOPLE, he posted an image on his Instagram of “the only Asian face in all of Middle Earth. She is nameless and voiceless, but appears for a glorious 3 seconds at approximately 41:55 in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.”
“I’m such a fan of films and books like Lord of the Rings and even Star Wars, despite the fact that, as an actor, I’ll never be employed by them,” Kim tells PEOPLE of his decision to speak out about the lack of representation in big-budget films.
“There are people whose work I greatly admire who just don’t write to my experience in any way,” he says. “I don’t fault them for it; writers tend to create and write to their own experiences and to their own circle of friends and if they don’t have people in their lives who are ethnically diverse, then there’s never really much thought to making roles ethnically diverse.”
“At the same time, there’s nothing to preclude a minority from being in those projects – 90 percent of the time – because they’re not about something that would exclude them such as language or a different experience of growing up.”
Kim, who was born in South Korea but moved to the U.S. when he was 2 years old, considers himself an American. “Most of those movies and roles call for Americans; they don’t call for someone who is white, or someone who is black or someone who is Asian. They mostly call for Americans,” he says. “It requires is a little bit of mindfulness to be inclusive. That is something that takes an extra step of thought, but I think it would really help integrate what we see on our screens and also integrate our lives as Americans in general.”
The actor says that he is certainly not making any demands of these big-budget, “top-notch” filmmakers. However, “all I am saying is that that I’d like to see is people asking the question, ‘Why not? Why not hire a minority in these roles?’ ”
Adds Kim: “If there is a reason based on a historical figure or a certain subculture of America where it’s important that the race is white, then I’m all for that kind of authentic casting. But if there isn’t a reason, then why not?”
Though most of his career is spent in front of the camera, Kim enjoys producing partly because he can “create things from the ground up” and be mindful of more diverse and representative casting. As a result, he finds what most people consider to be the more “business” side of the industry to be “extremely creative.”
“It’s not lost on me,” says Kim – before laughing and adding “no pun intended, that there are very few Asian-American directors out there. In fact, I can count the number of Asian-American directors I’ve worked with on one finger. I think that representation is not only important in front of the camera but also behind it, in every aspect of the business.”
Speaking of Lost … we had to ask Kim whether he still has to fend off fans unhappy with how the series ended in 2010. “What’s interesting is that because of Netflix and iTunes – and pirating, let’s be frank – there are so many new fans of Lost, ones that I never expected this late into the show’s life,” says Kim.
Because fans are no longer watching on a week-to-week basis, it no longer “sets an expectation, because they watch it at their leisure. So, they’re not as angry when the show doesn’t fulfill what they expect to see happen,” Kim adds, laughing.
To catch Kim’s directorial debut, Hawaii Five-0 airs Friday (9 p.m. ET) on CBS.