At the Bar with Peter Jae
~ Very Special Edition ~
Peter Jae (a.k.a. Pedro Kim) is an extremely fascinating Los Angeles-based actor best known for his role on Ktown Cowboys. As he is busy with his upcoming film Ktown Cowboys the Movie, it was an incredible privilege to complete this interview with him on July 22, 2011.
So what do we call you here at the bar? Peter or Pedro?
People at the bar mostly call me Pedro. It's one of my nicknames. Back home in NY, I have a huge diverse group of friends. I have many different nicknames depending on which group of friends I'm with. "Pedro," "Peedy," "P," etc.
Tell us a few things about yourself. How did you get into acting?
I've always wanted to Act since I was a little kid. When I was 5 years old, I watched a Japanese action movie that inspired me to transform myself into a robot by drawing all over my body with a magic marker. My grandmother nearly had a heart attack when she walked into our apartment and saw her grandson butt naked, running around, jumping off couches pretending to shoot lasers out of his little wee wee. My pops came home and beat the living day lights out of me that day.
Growing up in the Bronx, broke, and the only Asian kid amongst all Blacks in a tough neighborhood, you learn at a young age not to trust everyone. With that comes a lot of observation and studying behavioral traits. "Why did he say that? In that way? Why did he do that? What is he smiling about? Why is he walking so fast?" Little nuances meant everything. With that said, you always had to have on your best poker face walking around in the streets. I tried my best to fit in and play the role but deep inside, that wasn't me. I was an Artist. Movies were my inspiration, and I would spend hours on in watching them. Although I learned at a young age not to design all over my flesh, I continued in my attempt to transform myself into the characters. It was my escape into my own fantasy world.
As time went by, I started getting into trouble, doing what young inner city kids do, but one of my teachers saw talent in my drawing. She got special permission to pull me out of my classes because she didn't want me to go to my local high school. It was one of the worst in NYC. She helped me develop a portfolio and made me take the test to go to Laguardia High School - a specialized Music, Art & Performing Arts HS in the city. The school the old show, Fame is based on (our alumni include- Robert Deniro, Al Pacino, Jennifer Aniston, Nicki Minaj, Marlon Wayans, Omar Epps, Q-Tip, Slick Rick, etc.). I was accepted in. That school changed my life. It was the perfect environment to inspire and nourish the creative spirit within. I continued with my Visual Arts but every so often I would go downstairs to the Drama department to watch what the drama majors were doing.
Also around this time, things weren't too good at home so I began bouncing around living with different friends. When they got tired of me, I kept it moving. Eventually, I began secretly living at a Church that used to be a hotel. It was huge. So huge that I could temporarily stay in different rooms without ever getting caught. Plus, I had the skeleton key, LOL. Not one to take advantage of God's house, my way of giving back was doing volunteer work with the little kids and youth group. Everything from puppet shows to plays. The more experience I gained, the better the quality of the productions became. A few years later, I was producing and directing full blown productions with over 1400 kids, ages 5-17 and touring puppet shows all across the tri state area.
As I got older, I went to Rutgers for a couple years but dropped out because it wasn't for me. That's also where I took my first Acting classes. I fell in love with it but never really believed I could become an Actor. A year later, I enrolled in FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) and studied Menswear design (I know I don't look like the typical fashion guy, I hear it all the time. You should see how ridiculous I look behind a sewing machine, LOL). I designed and freelanced for a couple of years after graduating but Acting was always in my heart. One day, one of my good friends, gave me the book, The Alchemist, and it changed my life. From that day forth, I knew what I had to do. Follow my heart. I had my friend take some headshots of me, looked on backstage and online for auditions, took various acting classes, worked on numerous student films, off off broadway theater, and within a couple of years I was a member of SAG. Now, here I am in LA.
Ktown Cowboys, in particular, was an immediate success. The series was popular from the get-go. Has your life changed in any way since it came out?
Ktown Cowboys has been great. Honestly, it was just a project that we worked on as a bunch of friends frustrated with the industry, wanting to have fun and be creative. We didn't think it would snowball into what its become. But now, I get stopped at airports, bars, clubs, restaurants, public bathrooms. Just last week I got stopped back in NY by two little kids that were at their families' grocery store. The brother was about 15 and the sister was about 9 years old. They saw me pass by and go to the bagel shop next door and I guess they waited for me to come out because they were holding a big old school camera. First thing I thought was, "What are you little kids doing watching this vulgar show?" But I was completely flattered. That same week, I broke up a fight between two groups of young Asian guys and when they saw who I was, they were like, "Hyung!" And suddenly the two guys that started the fight both wanted to take pics with me. It's a very humble feeling.
During our introductions, you mentioned knowing Bobby Choy since you were about four years old. Tell us a little more about your relationship with your castmate.
Bobby and I have known each other since we were little kids. We met at a Church camp when I was about 4 years old. I didn't grow up in the church but my aunt would send me to this Korean summer camp every year with my cousin. I didn't have many friends because I was only there during the camps but Bobby was pretty popular amongst all the counselors being that he was such a cute kid. So much that even his peers would pinch his cheeks. My first encounter with him, I lifted him up outside the pool and attempted to drop him into the water. Only problem was, I dropped him too early and ended up scraping up his back on the cement. He started crying and everyone yelled at me. I became known as the kid that scraped up little Bobby's back.
We reconnected later in life, in our teens when I started bouncing around different places. That's when we got real close because we we're both the kids that always needed a place to stay. Bobby's house was also one of the places I'd stay at, especially since I spent a lot of late nights roaming around the city. I'm a witness to seeing him become Big Phony. Although, we're complete opposites, we're pretty much family.
I met the rest of the gang through Bobby back in 2007 when I was visiting LA. He had grown up in LA and NY and had been living in LA for quite some time so he knew a lot of people. Danny was the first person I met. At first I think he thought I was just some thugged out wannabe Actor meat head from NY. I don't blame him. I was very NY back then. Actually, very Bronx. LOL. I had a shaved head, was a lot bigger, more brash and my accent was heavy. It wasn't until I moved to LA that we really started to click. We have a lot of the same morals and we're both very misunderstood.
I got cool with Dpd when I was hanging with Bobby and Danny one night in Ktown. It's messed up to say but it was at the expense of Bobby. I kept doing my impersonations of him and bringing up childhood stories. Dpd and Danny we're rolling over in laughter. I was living with Bobby at the time so I heard it from him on the car ride back. Sunn is good friends with Dpd and Danny. We became close because he's just an all around cool guy. For the longest time I thought Sun was a FOB but then I found out he's just confused. lol. But these are the guys that I rock with in LA. I don't have many close friends in the west coast as I do in NY but I get a sense of back home when we're all together. That's why the chemistry in Ktown Cowboys feels so natural because what you see is pretty much us hanging out in real life.
In your latest news video you stated you did a lot just to get to L.A. What did that entail?
Wow. The question you should be asking is, "What didn't I do to get to LA?" I bounced at a lounge for 4 years, promoted parties, freelance designed clothes, worked retail. I started up an urban greeting card company called, Corner Store Greetings - sold it all over the streets of NY - Harlem, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, Ohio, Florida, Oakland, Atlanta, etc. These are only some of the things that did that I can mention. Obviously, there are a lot of things that I have to keep on the hush but just think, "How to Make it in America" on steroids. LOL.
Mm-hm...you also said you were almost ready to start stripping. Would you ever make good on that threat?
LOL. I was only joking about the whole stripping thing. I guess its because ever since Ktown Cowboys came out, girls always joke around asking me to take off my shirt. But anyone that knows me, knows that's not my style.
Pedro, you're breaking our hearts here! But on a more serious note, you also brought up the difficulty Asian Americans face in the industry. What difficulties have you faced?
There isn't a lot of work for Asian Americans in the industry in general. But it's been a particularly tough road for me because they don't create a lot of roles for my type. Most of the characters they create are either the “All Asian American Average Joe Lee,” I like to call it, or the short, funny looking Asian guy that's going to fulfill every negative stereotype that the industry feeds. They create roles for the average Asian American guy to fill quotas, I guess so that the diversity advocate groups don't come knocking at their door and for the comedic Asian guy so that they can get a quick laugh. Us, Asian Americans hate it, but the rest of America eats it up. It's a business at the end of the day. It's all about numbers. I personally don't fit into either category. Most of the roles that come my way require me to stand in the back, look cool, don't speak to add to the mystique of the character and eventually kill or get killed. I've probably killed over 20 men on film and died 30 times. Lol. But that's why we're taking it in our hands to do what we gotta do with Ktown Cowboys the movie. We're creating our own characters that everyone knows in their circle of friends. And none of us are speaking broken English, doing flying kicks, or acting timid, except for maybe Robby, of course. Lol. But the point is, you can't sit around complaining about the industry not creating roles because before you know it, you'll be 50 years old singing the same old song. Gotta make it happen by any means necessary.
Amen. Speaking of making it happen, what’s the current status of Ktown Cowboys the movie?
Right now we're putting the finishes touches on the script and about to have our first casting call. We're planning on shooting in September. There's a whole lot of buzz and excitement with this project. We're also getting a lot of support from the Asian American leaders in the industry. I think people are going to be really impressed. We're continuing to challenge ourselves because we know that there's not only a certain level of responsibility to the Asian American community but also as creative artists. We don't want this to just be a good Asian American film but just a great film in general. If we can accomplish that, we'll break through to non Asians and break stereotypes.
What are your hopes and goals for your career?
Well, first off, I just want to work. It's been a struggle coming out here from NY. Most people that move to LA want to move here. I didn't. I solely came out here for my career. I'm a hardcore NY'er, born and raised. As long as I can work and be creative, I'm happy. But eventually I want to create my own projects. I'm currently writing a script that I've been working on for the past few years. My goal is to get that produced. I know that everyone has to believe in what they're creating but I really think it's a story that people will gravitate towards. If you look at a lot of Asian films these days, they're a little too preachy. Its always about, "this is the Asian experience." It's like everyone's trying to make Joy Luck Club Pt 7. No disrespect to the movie itself but it's been done already. I really think this script is a powerful engaging story that people have yet to see.
Morally, I hope that I can excel as an entertainer to encourage young people. Especially the young Asian brothers. I know how it is to be a young Asian kid growing up with no role models, hating who you are. Any other race can grow up being a minority in there neighborhood, facing racism but all they have to do is turn on the TV or turn on the radio to find hope. Right then and there, they're instilled with pride and inspiration. For me, growing up where I grew up, I didn't have any of that. Why? Because any Asian person you saw in the media was a mockery. I always joke about this but I just recently discovered my Asian pride and I feel like a Yellow panther these days. Martin Luther Kim style. I want to do my part and represent for the movement.
In our interview, Bobby talked about how, for a while, he wished (a little) to be other than Asian. Before your Martin Luther Kim awakening (loving that!), did you grow through something similar?
Absolutely. I was born in Brooklyn, lived there til I was 8 and then moved to the Bronx. I pretty much moved from one hood to another. I grew up a minority amongst minorities in a not so nice area. And you know how kids are, snaps all day. And in the inner city, it can be brutal. It's fair to say, I became very self conscious and insecure. I hated being Asian. So much that I would pray every night that I would wake up Black. In fact, I had dreams that I was black. I was so embarrassed to be Asian that I wouldn't even walk within 100 feet of my younger brother just because we both had yellow skin. I'm ashamed to mention these things now but I just look at it as my journey. I had to experience what I experienced to discover my pride now. Working in the industry, opened up my eyes to the reasoning behind my insecurities as an Asian American kid. It's because the media portrays most Asian men in a negative light, which results in the lack of cool role models. It's like I mentioned before, any other race growing up under similar circumstances could just turn on the TV or Radio and find hope through their role models. We had none. But today is a different day, with different players. I'm proud to say that Ktown Cowboys is a part of that movement.
In regards to seeing Asian men in a positive light, you’re gaining quite a group of fans on the Blasian Narrative. If you could do a film with any black actress in the industry, who would it be?
I'm humbled by all the support I receive on the Blasian Narrative. Most people don't know but I grew up dating nothing but Black women. My first girlfriend was Jamaican. I've dated Haitian women, Trinidadian, Guyanese, Southern, St. Lucian, etc. In terms of who I would love to work with, that's a hard question to answer being there's so many talented Black actresses. I almost got a chance to work with Meagan Good. I auditioned for her back in NY for a movie she was involved with pretty much playing a character similar to myself. I was ecstatic when I booked the role but don't know what happened to the project. I would also love to work with Taraji Henson. I think she has a lot of depth. So do Sanaa Lathan and Gabrielle Union. I had a chance to work with her on Perfect Holiday but playing a dry cleaner. I would love to be opposite either one of them playing a different character. Damn, Morris Chestnut, can an Asian brother get some shine too? He takes all the leading male love interest roles. LOL
You in a movie with Meagan Good? Hot!
Pedro...words cannot express the pleasure it was having you here at the bar. I really commend you and your castmates on what you’ve accomplished. Do you think your take-charge attitudes and methods will inspire others to do the same?
I really hope that it does. I really feel like there's a Yellow Movement going on in Entertainment. FM are doing their thing. Countless others are doing their thing on Film & TV. Although there's still a long way to go, I think we're showing the industry that we're resilient. The internet has opened up a whole new world for us to display ourselves in a whole new light under our own terms. There's a whole new generation of young guns on the come up. Ktown Cowboys are the little sekkie's (young punks) on the rise. We feel blessed to have the older established guys in the industry showing us their full support. Shout outs to all those that reached out.... KTOWN COWBOYS the MOVIE Coming Soon. The Movement is HERE.