From the Poker Table to Hollywood, Douglas Kim, on Acting, Writing, & Creating Original Material.

February 6, 2016

I’m originally from Westchester County, New York, the suburbs north of the city.  It’s a mostly quiet well to do neighborhood, and education was highly emphasized. 


I wasn’t originally geared towards entertainment, I had started a career in finance and consulting, as well as having a semiprofessional poker career throughout college. 


However, my background in entertainment officially started in 2008, when I started taking acting classes in New York to pursue my passion.





First Job in the Entertainment Industry


My first actual paid job was when I was held on reserve as a body double for John Cho for Harold and Kumar 3


Although I ended up not being needed, it was pretty cool even going in for that as I was a huge fan of the original (my friend and I are exactly like the characters on screen, he’s an Indian doctor and I used to work and finance and still drive that Toyota Camry).






I think I am most inspired creatively by classic American literature from the early to mid-20th century. 


This was the end of the era where the written word was how you communicated to the masses. 


But stories like The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath really conveyed to me the feel and the ideas of their respective times, made me aware of how it felt viscerally instead of just reading about it in a history book.


I want to be able to eventually write and create projects that will live on and be something that future generations can watch and appreciate.




Experience with Poker


My experience with poker started after I graduated high school. 


A friend of mine had been reading up on it and taught me what it was about. 


At first I thought it was silly because I had heard that everyone loses at gambling, that’s how casinos make money.  But what I realized is that in poker, you play against people, and your edge comes from how much better you are than others.



My freshman year at Duke, I actually lost money, and my studies suffered as a result of me playing poker. 


Fortunately, I was able to regroup afterwards in poker and academics by studying the game and managing my time more effectively. 


I read books over the summer, joined an online forum to discuss hand histories, bought statistical poker software to analyze my play, and started playing online. 


By the end of my senior year, I was a semi-professional, but I had lined up a career in management consulting. 


However, I decided to take a shot at the World Series of Poker that summer before work.  I wanted to just play to take home a story, but I ended up winning a bit more than that.


I think people believe that poker is about “acting,” because you try to misdirect people and act in a certain way, but I think playing bad poker and acting poorly are more similar than actually using one skill in the other. 


In poker, “Hollywooding” is when someone is acting super depressed when they have a monster hand, but professionals never really fall for something like that and use intuition and deduction to more figure out what someone has. 


Bad acting is when someone telegraphs their intention instead of letting the moment happen to them organically. 


Neither are productive.


In poker, you try to kill your emotions and look at the game from a long-term perspective to play well. 


It’s never about one hand, it’s always about staying focused and playing well no matter what the result. 


If you let your emotions get in the way, you’ll never play to your full potential. 


In acting, you actually always want to focus on how you feel in the moment and go along for the ride in where the story is taking you. 


The moment you start thinking about the actual scene itself, the less the scene becomes real to you and by extension the audience.  So I think there are no real overlapping applications in that regard.




Why Acting?


I was first attracted to acting as a kid, watching movies and reenacting scenes I would see. 


I think it was the idea of heightened drama that I loved, something that would serve as an escape from the mundaneness of normal life. 


As an actor, you get to feel the depth of the human experience, the fantasies and the frontier of what life has to offer.


It wasn’t hard for me to drop into that sort of thing, I wasn’t the most popular person, so I was constantly reading, watching movies or playing video games, getting immersed in story. 


It wasn’t something I addressed seriously, however, until I was older because I wasn’t really seeing Asian Americans on screen, and didn’t think it was actually a job that was anything more than a pipe dream as a result.


I’m inspired to continue by great performances by actors in movies that I love and also by fellow actors and teachers within the field. 


I’m also inspired by Asian American artists, those who fight to make our story known within the fabric of our society at large.




Experience with the Upright Citizens Brigade


Improv has helped mostly with the skill of listening. 


Because there is no script, there is no way to know what’s going to happen next, and listening becomes paramount, because you have to build off of whatever your partner is saying. 


It really emphasizes the spontaneity aspect of acting, and trains you to react instead of think.




How has your field changed because of improvements in technology? 


It’s hard to say how technology has changed things because I don’t have a clear idea of what it was like prior to a lot of it.


I believe, however, that the better the technology, the more the playing field is leveled because there is greater transparency in casting seeking talent. 



Any actor has the ability to make their own content and be known and heard, and there are more platforms on which they can build and find audiences. 


I think that people do need to be able to adapt to technological trend in order to keep up with the business, as the entertainment industry has shifted rapidly in the past 20 years.






I would tell them (aspiring performers), the biggest thing for them is to know what they want. 


If they’re not sure, they should work towards finding that out for themselves first.  Once they have a good idea of that, then they can work towards bringing that goal to fruition. 


So many people in Los Angeles have a vague conception of working in Entertainment that they come here for a few years aimlessly and don’t really get anywhere and blame their circumstances. 


The Entertainment Industry is rife with competition, you don’t have the luxury of feeling your way through and seeing what happens if you want to succeed.


Once they do that, they should figure out how they fit into the current entertainment environment. 


Are they better suited for theater or film?  Comedy or drama?  What show or movie can you picture yourself in?  What actor do you resemble? 


Of course everyone loves to believe that they are unique in their own special way, but I think when you start, you begin where the industry can picture you, and then you develop enough of a resume to branch out.




What have you learned in the past year that informs your plans for the next year?


I’ve learned that in creating content, the script is paramount


It sounds simple enough, but even as a writer, it’s something that gets lost in trying to get something produced. 


Another writer once told me that paper is the cheapest thing in a production budget. 


The phrase “we’ll edit in post” should not be heard on set.


So this year, the project I’m producing has gone through many iterations and many revisions to make sure it’s perfect. 


Hopefully it will show in the final product.




Ultimate Professional Goal


My ultimate professional goal is to be able to write and act, and hopefully produce as well. 


As I do have a business background, I believe that one day it may be possible to run a production company, but we’ll see if I go in that direction. 


Ultimately, to be a writer and an actor as my sole professions would be great, anything on top would be gravy.


I’m taking the step in producing my own pilot TV show to see if I can be successful in this endeavor.






Some of the more difficult things I had to deal with were just relationships within the industry. 


The entertainment industry is something that is very subjective, a lot of it can be who you know or what influence you have. 


I think being naive, I was ready to believe that a lot of people are have similar artistic vision and goals, but there are many people in the industry who are strictly about appearances.


Going forward, I think I can overcome just by trusting my natural intuition about a person’s work, and growing my network of contacts so I can deal with people I know are trustworthy and likeminded. 


Ultimately, there are going to be a lot of people in entertainment that talk a big game, but not many that can play it well.




Favorite  Moments in the Entertainment Industry


So far I can really only list 3 – I’m still growing as an actor so my next top 2 moments are yet to come!


However, in no particular order;


  • Making my first music video was a top moment, I definitely had a lot of fun producing "I’m Asian American."  It was a great learning experience working and seeing how a project like that all came together.


  • Meeting Bryan Cranston after a performance on Broadway.  Breaking Bad has been my favorite show so meeting him was a surreal moment.


  • Acquiring representation seems like a small thing but it was a cool moment for me, because it means you’ve found people that actually believe in your career as well




What is something about your career that you’d like people to know?


As an actor, it’s a winner take all compensation structure, higher profile actors will not only get more jobs but they’ll get paid a lot more. 


Some people buy into this wholeheartedly and become ugly in that they will try to sabotage other actors in order to win out. 


And there are others who then put auditions in such high regard that they act in a way they believe the casting director is looking for instead of putting out the best possible versions of themselves out there in the piece.


Booking that first big job becomes a big deal.


There’s a lot of stress involved in not working, even without the financial strain. 


I constantly worry if I’m “running out of time” as an actor being able to play certain roles because of my age or if I don’t make it by x date will casting pass on me in the future.




In what ways do you challenge yourself to grow as an artist?


I try to pick up new skills or talents occasionally if I have time, or try to record myself performing some music. 


I will probably try something new after I’m done working on my pilot, such as playing the drums something I’ve always wanted to do.




Current Projects 


I’m currently working on a TV show for myself. 


It’s semi-autobiographical, but it’s scripted so the stories are going to be fictional but based in my own reality. 



It focuses on the challenges of not only being an actor, but being Asian American as well.


It’s similar in concept to Master of None, the Aziz Ansari show on Netflix


I was actually a bit taken aback when I heard about the show back in July (when I was still writing the pilot to my own show), because it sounded exactly what I wanted to create! 


But after watching the show, I think my show focuses on different aspects of what Asian American acting life looks like, and can benefit from other storylines stemming from my experiences as a management consultant and a professional poker player. 


And although Aziz says, “There can be one, but there can’t be two.” 


We both believe there SHOULD be two!


My inspiration for the show comes from Louie. 


I’m always amazed how he can turn the smallest moments into big revelations or ideas.  I love the hyperrealism of his show and have tried to emulate the type of cringe comedy he creates from everyday life.




 Time Management


I mostly use Google Calendar to keep track of appointments and things. 


I’m actually keep a pretty poor schedule, as I work best at odd hours of the day (I’m writing this at 4AM). 


I’m mainly trying to schedule things to avoid as much traffic as possible.




Career Preparation


Before even starting, I read books on acting, to research it as a career. 


Afterwards, I took a two year Meisner program at the William Esper Studio in New York. 

I took UCB in New York and continued UCB training in LA, and took various classes on comedy, auditioning, etc.


I took sketch classes at UCB and did a screenwriting summer program at Act One.






I don’t have a mentor or any one person that I would say has helped me specifically, partly because when I started out I didn’t know many people in the industry. 


There is one person I did reach out to before I even started thinking about acting, who was a friend’s cousin. 


He’s an actor Eddie Shin, and he gave me a lot of advice about the question of is acting even the right path for me. 


I think the main takeaway was that you can’t half ass this profession and it has to be something you love.




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