Daniel Dae Kim Says an Asian Actor Wouldn't Have Been Cast as 'Hot Zone: Anthrax' Lead 10 Years Ago

Based on real events, the star plays the lead FBI agent — a fictitious character based on real people — searching for the person who sent letters laced with anthrax to high-profile members of the media and Congress

When Daniel Dae Kim first appeared in Lost in 2004 playing Korean strongman Jin-Soo Kwon, he was one of the few East Asian faces on American TV. Seventeen years later, the actor has his first lead role, in the second season of National Geographic's reality-based series, The Hot Zone: Anthrax.

"If this show were being made 10 years ago, I could guarantee you that a face like mine, wouldn't be the FBI agent leading this investigation," he says in this week's issue of PEOPLE. "To me, that's a real sign of progress."

The actor plays Special Agent Matthew Ryker. "He is an FBI agent who tracks down the culprit of these attacks," says Kim. "My character is a fictional one that is an amalgam of different people who actually worked the investigation."

For more from Daniel Dae Kim, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, or subscribe here.

daniel dae kim
Yuri Hasegawa

On Lost, Kim's character and his onscreen wife, Sun-Hwa (played by Yunjin Kim — no relation), initially spoke only in Korean.

"I think for the majority of Americans, it was the first time they'd ever seen Asian people on TV, featured in the way that we were, speaking another language," he says. "It changed the way TV shows were cast. I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity."

daniel dae kim
Peter Stranks/National Geographic

After Lost, Kim starred as Detective Chin Ho Kelly on Hawaii Five-O for seven seasons before leaving in 2017 amid a reported salary dispute. Since then, Kim has branched out into producing, adapting a Korean drama into the ABC show The Good Doctor.

"If I can be a job creator and cast my shows in the way that I see the world and make those casts more diverse as a result, then I should do that, too," he says. "I'm thankful that people have let me do it. And it is nice to be a job creator as opposed to someone who's waiting on others to hire them."

Watch the full episode of People Features: Daniel Dae Kim on PeopleTV.com or on the PeopleTV app.

Kim says his wife Mia has been key to his success.

"When I first met my wife, I wasn't even thinking about becoming an actor," he says. "I was going to be a lawyer, like a good Korean boy. Or an engineer. I chose none of them. And my wife stood by me when I made that very risky choice. I'm forever grateful for her support and she's been the rock of our relationship."

The Hot Zone: Anthrax premieres Nov. 28 at 9 p.m. ET on Nat Geo and will stream on Hulu.

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