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From her very first appearance, Gia Kim commands the spotlight as an ultra-rich high school student Yuri Han in “XO, Kitty,” Netflix’s hit spinoff of the “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” series. “XO, Kitty” follows Korean-American student Katherine “Kitty” Song Covey (Anna Cathcart) as she travels to KISS, the Korean Independent School of Seoul — her late mother’s alma mater — to chase love and learn more about her heritage. There she meets Yuri Han — a scion of a powerful chaebol family — and quickly learns she runs the school.
In many ways, Yuri fits the Queen Bee trope: wealthy, popular, and the epitome of fashion forward. But in an interview with The Harvard Crimson, Kim opened up about the ways in which Yuri, as a queer Asian queen bee, transforms and transcends that trope, too.
“I know instantly that Yuri is different from a Blair Waldorf or Regina George,” Kim said. “But I gave myself a lot of pressure at the beginning,” she continued. “Because people would think, ‘Oh, you’re the queen bee, oh, you're like the bitch, right? Like, oh, just play like a glamorous bitch on camera.’ And it's really easy to think that way, but Yuri clearly isn't.”
Reflecting on the first major role in her acting career, Kim said that the “challenge and reward come hand in hand.” Kim found it difficult to portray a character over a decade younger than her and with life experiences so different from her own in high school.
“I was definitely not a queen bee or from a chaebol family,” she said.
But Kim quickly realized she didn’t have to bring the character to life alone. She spoke to the collaborative power that went into creating Yuri as she crafted her own portrayal of the character on the foundation that the show writers built. “I knew that I just wanted to steer away from playing anything that's very stereotypical,” Kim said. “The writers had created this character, she already had a story that's very unique. I just needed to be her.”
Conscious of both the power and weight that comes with representation, Kim shared how she felt stepping into the role. “Obviously, this is so special, because she is the first Asian queen bee high school character that I’ve seen so far,” she said. “I knew how significant that was in terms of representation. So I was just really honored. And I know with that representation came a big responsibility.”
However, Kim acknowledges this is just the beginning for Asian queer representation in media — and for Yuri.
A huge arc in the show is Yuri’s relationship with her mother: She eventually comes out to her in a crucial scene. “I have to live a fake life so you will keep loving me, and I am done doing that,” Yuri says. Kim explained how Yuri coming out to her mom is only the first step. “There’s a lot more people that are going to have to come to terms with [her identity].”
And Yuri’s own relationship with herself is also evolving. Kim noted that her character in the show is unhappy most of the time. “I think that’s what she’s going through throughout the season; just wanting to be herself and be loved for who she actually is,” she said.
In some ways, Kim has had her own, equally tumultuous path to self-discovery in the duration of her career. Prior to acting, she worked in journalism, directing, and musical theater.
“XO, Kitty” marks her debut television performance; before this point, she was predominantly a stage actress. She talked about her passion for the arts, and the different professions she has explored within the field.
Initially, Kim pursued journalism because she loved storytelling. “I love asking people questions: What are their stories? What are these phenomena? What's the situation here that needs to be told? I love that side. I am very curious. So I love the spirit of journalism in that sense.”
While Kim always loved the arts, she initially followed a “sensible academic route for most of [her] life.” Eventually, she could not resist the temptation to pursue her true passion. “That artistic-like craving is just something that kept knocking at my door,” Kim said. “Whenever I tried to put it on the back burner, it would just keep creeping back up to me.”
Kim’s next step was music. She loved singing, performing in the choir, and playing musical instruments since she was young. But, as someone who was not a huge dancer to begin with, Kim found the Korean music industry, which is dominated by K-Pop, difficult to enter without a lot of support. So, she found herself pursuing roles in musicals while living in Beijing.
There, she fell in love with performing before finding her way back to Korea as a journalist again. But after a year of writing, she decided to dedicate herself to acting full-time.
“And I haven't looked back since,” she said. From New York to Beijing to Korea to Los Angeles again, Kim grew up moving around non-stop and now hopes that her current job takes her to more new places.
She has similar aspirations for the breadth of her future roles, post “XO, Kitty.” “I think I naturally gravitate towards a more dramatic side as an actor,” she said and expressed interest in darker roles, such as a part in a psychological thriller.
When asked about something that fans might be surprised to learn about her, Kim mentioned how her outgoing exterior can sometimes be misleading. “I can be very intense. Because I think the first impression or energy that I give off can be very light, bubbly, and friendly. But I am also a double Scorpio,” she said. I’m an extroverted introvert,” she continued. “And also, the fact that I was a journalist says something about how I like to ask questions, and dig deep into things.”
Kim has evidently enjoyed digging deep into the portrayal of Yuri, but if “in another universe” she was able to play another character in the show, Kim reveals it would be Minho. “I honestly love the comedic moments that Minho has. If I were to play the guy, a heartthrob character like that could be fun in its own way.”
There’s still a lot left to be told of Yuri’s story — especially with the show’s season 2 renewal — but in the meantime, “XO, Kitty” fans can look forward to many more incoming roles Gia Kim: Her time on the screen is just beginning.
—Staff writers Hana Rehman and Aarya A. Kaushik can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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