‘Pachinko’ Minha Kim Can’t Wait For Season 2

For Ofrom the third annual TV Portfolio, we asked 21 wanted names from TV to pay homage to their favorite small-screen characters by stepping into their shoes.

There is a quiet yet powerful energy to Minha Kim. You can feel it, even over the phone. She chooses her words carefully, the emotion clear in every statement. Coincidentally, this resembles the behavior of Sunja, the character Kim portrays in the Apple TV+ epic. Pachinko, based on the novel of the same name by Min Jin Lee. This probably speaks to the show’s casting, its success in finding an actor who embodies Sunja’s way so brilliantly. Kim, now 26, was brought out of relative obscurity for the role, having only a few short films and small roles to her name at the time, with no agent to push her for the role. She got it on her own, after three months of online readings, interviews and chemistry tests with the series’ antagonist, Hansu, played by Korean superstar Lee Minho. But in a series filled with overwhelming emotions, world-building cinematography and a cast that includes Oscar winner Yuh-jung Youn, Kim still stands out as the breakout star. And now, with a second season greenlit, she’ll have another chance to win over audiences with her low-key performance. Here, the Seoul native talks about getting into Sunja’s emotional mindset, talking with her grandmother to prepare for the role, and the impact Grey’s Anatomy had on her personally and professionally.

You chose to play Lexie Gray from Grey’s Anatomy. Tell me about your history with the show.

I started watching when I was 15. It was a bit shocking to me, because I had never seen this kind of show before. I fell in love with Sandra Oh, and I loved the voiceovers. A friend of mine who introduced me Grey’s Anatomy was inspired to become a nurse thanks to the show, and now she is one. We are still talking about Grey’s when we see each other.

What made you choose Lexie Gray in particular?

Lexie only appears in season 3, but I still remember when I first saw her, she was so beautiful. And then she smiled. His smile freezes me. Oh my God, she’s so beautiful, and she’s smart, she’s funny. She is fragile at times, but she is strong. She’s a warm girl, and she’s adorable. When she died in season 8, I cried a lot. I could not believe it.

Did the series push you to become an actor?

Yeah. The way Ellen Pompeo does her voiceovers influenced me a lot. It’s so powerful. Grey’s Anatomy himself is so powerful. Every time a new season comes out, I get so excited. I learned so much from the show, not just about acting and performance. It is also linked to a lot of my personal life and it has influenced me in many ways.

What was the audition process like for Pachinko?

I had no agency or direction at the time. The casting director called me and asked me to audition, so I said, “Sure, why not?” Then I saw the script, which was three scenes, and it was so beautiful. I didn’t know it was Pachinko second, because they used another title, but I read it and fell in love. I thought, I have to do this. When I received the second reminder, I understood that it was Pachinko, so I read the book right away. Then when I found out I had gotten the part, it was around my birthday. It was literally my birthday present to me.

Kim with Lee Minho in “Pachinko”. Courtesy of Apple TV+

Are there any similarities between you and Sunja?

Yes. I think we both look really fragile at first glance; we look naive, vulnerable. When people first see me, they think I’m very shy, and a quiet, shy girl. But Sunja and I have strong self-confidence. If we have to choose something, if we have to go somewhere or make a decision, we believe in ourselves. Sunja is like another part of me. I learned a lot from her, including things about myself. I learned a lot about love and how to take responsibility.

I read that you talked a lot with your grandmother while preparing for the role. What conversations did you have with her?

My grandmother is 94, so she’s kind of like a friend to Sunja. I asked her a lot of things, like, how had she suffered during that time, and how it was for her. There were details, specific things that I really wanted to know – for example, if it was normal for a girl to get pregnant at 16 like Sunja did. I asked her about the culture at the time and was a little surprised that she remembered it and was able to answer my questions precisely.

She is also a very funny storyteller. So every time she told me a story, it was so much fun that I forgot I had a question for her. Yet a lot of emotions also came out of the conversation. I wanted to know how she felt at the time. She said she was so proud of me for getting the part, but she was also sad that I had to do this, even though it was just a performance.

What was her reaction when she finally watched the show?

She cried a lot. Every time she saw my face, she cried. She said it reminded her of her childhood. And then she turned to me and said, “Minha, I just want to tell you that I love you. I am the one who loves you the most. I just want you to know that I love you the most. And that’s when I started to cry.

Minha Kim as Lexie Gray from “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Much is said about the importance of telling this story, especially since the story of the Japanese occupation of Korea is not well known to much of the American public. Did you feel that weight – of finally bringing that narrative to the screen?

Sure. First of all, our show isn’t the first on the historical event itself, but I think it’s more about humanity, and that’s what we’re trying to tell the audience. It’s not just about Korean history, but about other people’s history as well. There are so many unknown stories we should know that have yet to be explored. Pachinko is a step, and we must continue to go further so that the public can learn. I’m so proud that our show can do that.

Some scenes are very moving. What was the most difficult to film?

Most of Sunja’s scenes are very emotional, but I remember when Sunja said goodbye to [her mother], Yangjin, she goes to Osaka. It was the most moving scene I had during filming. It was a long day. Every time I had a scene with Inji [Jeong], who plays Yangjin, I got so much energy from her. Even though she’s not my real mother, I felt like she was. She reminded me of my mother and my grandmothers. At one point I was in tears and they wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t even read my lines.

Pachinko has been renewed for Season 2. Are you excited to see the character again?

I’m so excited for Sunja’s next trip. And it’s not just about Sunja, but about all the characters. I can’t wait to hear their stories, to hear their stories. I’m so happy to go back.

Hair by Ericka Verrett and makeup by Robert Rumsey.


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