“We need more people of color in leadership positions in the industry.”
Peter Kim plays Archie in Netflix’s The Forty-Year-Old Version, written and directed by Radha Blank, produced by Lena Waithe (Master of None, Queen & Slim, The Chi). Radha received the Dramatic Competition Directing Award for The Forty-Year-Old Version at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The film is autobiographical, laying bare Radha faltering as a playwright in an industry ailing from every “ism”.
Archie is Radha’s devoted agent and childhood best friend. A character inspired by Radha and Peter’s real-life friendship. Peter and Radha met a decade ago when Peter was brought on as a dialect coach for her play. “We just hit it off immediately when we met each other. She was so open with my suggestions and ideas. There was this immediate trust between us,” says Peter. Three years ago, Radha reached out to Peter about developing The Forty-Year-Old Version as a full-length feature. The project was originally a web series, that did not go into production due to the unexpected passing of Radha’s mother. Peter recalls, “there was a role in the web series she wanted me to play. That web series became a film that got into the Sundance Directors Lab, and she asked me to come out to Utah to work on it with her.”
Although Radha’s film provided Peter the opportunity to develop a character in his reflection as an “out, proud and very Korean” man for the first time, he is not naive to the fragile concept of job security in this industry. “On my last day at the Sundance Directors Lab I told Radha that I loved this movie, but I totally get it if you have to recast me with a name. I’m a producer, and I know what it takes to get financing for a film. I thought maybe John Cho or B.D. Wong could have played the role. Radha said there was no way she was making this without me. All along she kept me in the loop, with financing when it came through, when it fell through, and when it came through again. I was by her side as she was navigating these waters.”
This peer mentorship experience with Radha has inspired Peter to develop film and television projects for Asian American artists. Mentorship has been the leading force in Peter’s three-decade career in the arts. Peter’s passion for performing began when his fifth-grade teacher Linda asked him to audition for the school’s Christmas play. “If it wasn’t for Linda, I would have never pursued a career in the arts at all. Linda was a mentor, surrogate mother, manager, guiding me through my career.”
Peer mentorship in his twenties launched Peter’s ambitions for producing. Peter was one of the founding members of the Mr. Miyagi Theater Company. The “humiliating things actors go through when auditioning” inspired their acclaimed play, Sides: The Fear Is Real. The Mr. Miyagi Theater Company eventually self-produced the play for a successful commercial run off-broadway. A limited revival of Sides: The Fear Is Real is now available on YouTube, “through a grant from Princeton University, I was able to secure funding for us to adapt scenes from Sides: The Fear Is Real into a digital format.” (click here to watch the revival of Sides: The Fear Is Real)
Peter is also an associate producer at NAATCO (The National Asian American Theatre Company) led by artistic producing director Mia Katigbak. Peter reached out to Mia, “seven years ago, when I was feeling really frustrated as an actor and offered sweat equity if I could shadow her and learn to produce. That mentorship and places that provide mentorship like NAATCO, helped me hone my skills as a producer. I have been an off-broadway producer for seven years now. It’s only through that experience that I am beginning to feel confident to step into the film and television space. It’s all about mentorship and providing opportunities to flex those muscles.”
Peter also provides mentorship as a theater professor at Princeton University. Peter’s mentees have not only launched the first Asian American theater groups at Princeton and Harvard but at organizations across America. “The fact that these theater groups were not even in existence beforehand is kind of horrifying but at least they are being created now and will continue to be organizations that foster and cultivate Asian American talent. Representation matters, having someone like me teaching an acting course sends a message to other students like me that you are welcome in this department, and you are welcomed here. As Asian Americans, we don’t see ourselves in many leadership positions, so there is this subconscious idea that you are not welcome here. We need more people of color in leadership positions in the industry,” says Peter.
In the film, to make ends meet, Radha teaches drama at a local high school. A job she believed was taking away from her career as a playwright, coming to realize her role as a mentor enriched her artistic pursuits. Like Radha, Peter wants other artists not to be ashamed of having to work multiple jobs while pursuing their passion, “even now, I don’t make my living as an actor. That is something we don’t ever talk about in this business. I have other jobs that I have continued doing since I got out of college. That is what I have had to do. It is something we need to talk about because it doesn’t take away from your art.”
Many films focus on the glory of fame. The Forty-Year-Old Version is worth watching not just for Peter’s real-life prom photo but because it gloriously recognizes the journey of being an artist.
Watch The Forty-Year-Old Version now on Netflix.
Photos courtesy of ID-PR and Deborah Lopez