Cool, calm and collected are probably the most fitting words to describe Claudia Kim, so it’s convenient they typically come in a neat package. The South Korean-born, American-raised multi-hyphenate isn’t one to rush, which is probably why she’s excelling on both sides of the world as a model and actress, making appearances in both indies and Hollywood blockbusters.
Before settling into thespian life, Kim took three years after picking up her first series in South Korea to decide it was the art-form for her. All that careful consideration seems to have set her right and after a role in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron as Dr. Helen Cho, she went on to voice a part in Drake Doremus’ Equals, starring Kristen Stewart and Nicolas Hoult.
Then JK Rowling came knocking, and Kim won a part in every millennial’s dream series, the Harry Potter universe. Playing Nagini in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Kim joined a cast including Ezra Miller and Jude Law, as the cursed human destined to be Voldemort’s serpentine companion. Before filming resumes for the third instalment of the series, luxury Italian fashion house Max Mara invited Kim to the Women in Film Annual Gala where Elizabeth Debicki received the Max Mara Face of the Future Award back in June. We spoke to Kim about the power of seeing your peers celebrated, what it was like being the first South Korean actress at the awards, and of course, all things Potter.
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Hey Claudia! So you grew up between South Korea and America. Did you always want to be an actor?
I was drawn to creative arts from a very early age. As a kid, I spent almost all day singing, putting on plays with friends, watching movies, pretending I was a TV presenter, and recording my voice. My father always had a huge love for film so he bought tonnes of video tapes and CDs every week.
I think everyone pretended to be a presenter in the mirror. Once you had decided you wanted to give it a try, did acting seem like a realistic career choice? Were you supported in your decision?
My parents were worried, as most parents would be… but of course, still supportive. For me in the beginning, it was only exciting. I realised shortly after though, that everything was happening so quickly. I was still exploring different career paths and I felt that I was, in a way, being pulled into the industry so fast so I decided I needed time to consciously decide to commit to acting. So after my first show in 2006, instead of jumping into the next project, I stopped to do some identity searching. After three years of intense thinking, soul searching and praying I was able to finally say, ‘I think acting found me for a reason and I’m willing to seriously dive into this.’
So that first series you mentioned was Queen of the Game, a Korean drama. Was that the kind of thing you grew up watching? Weren’t you interested in becoming an anchorwoman, too?
My mom tells me my favourite movie as a kid was Braveheart. I also watched The Sound of Music literally every day, I loved fantasy like Alice in Wonderland, Beetle-juice, The Addams Family, James and the Giant Peach and watched badass girls in shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and lots of samurai and kung fu action films thanks to my dad. I read Marvel comic books, X-Men and Batman too, and music-wise, Madonna and Mariah Carey were my idols. I think through music or movies, I was already admiring smart, influential, powerful women.
When I moved back to Asia, as a way of studying English, I watched global news every day on TV. I instantly fell in love with the Japanese-American CNN anchorwoman Karuna Shinsho. I was so captivated by this Asian woman being the face of CNN News so I wanted to become similar, perhaps try to become an anchorwoman myself and grow up to have a strong voice as a woman like she did.
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Well you might not have become an anchorwoman but you certainly have the global reach now, thanks to your role as Nagini in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Were you a fan of the Harry Potter universe before you became involved?
Yes I’ve always loved the books since they were released. It was such a shock that JK created this vast magical universe on her own… I was reading the English versions in Korea before they were translated into Korean, I felt as though I had earlier access to the Potter world!
Was it intimidating to join such a huge franchise?
I knew the audition was for the Fantastic Beasts film so I just remember wanting it so badly. I loved the first film and the complexity, vulnerability and beauty of the character.
Similarly a huge franchise, another of your biggest projects was Avengers: Age of Ultron – do you find yourself drawn to fantasy films? Why do you think they’re so popular at the moment?
I think they are such a good representation of our time. Not only are these stories based on comic books we’ve grown up with but the way they are shot and graphically put together is so technologically advanced that they continue to surpass our expectations.
With so many traumatic and catastrophic global events taking place, I think people seek the supernatural, the spiritual… a higher force!
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You’ve partnered with Max Mara recently and attended the Women in Film Gala that the label has supported for the last 17 years. Why do you think it’s important for women to have celebrations of their achievements in the industry that are solely for women?
When I sat there watching the video clips of women and their achievements, listening to the speeches of women who were awarded, it felt as if we were all coming together as one. It didn’t matter so much who I was, which other particular actress was there, what roles we each have in the industry. We were all just exchanging the same desire and merging into one collective voice.
I think I’ve been blessed in that I’m experiencing new movements of change both for women and for minorities in the film industry today. Also, crossing over from Asia to Hollywood and back really makes me feel the responsibility to understand and embody both cultures well and continue to challenge my boundaries in order to become a good example for younger women. I think working together with Max Mara, a brand that has a history of celebrating women and continues to support women’s movements, is such a wonderful collaboration.
You were the first Korean actress to attend the Gala as well, what did it mean to you?
I’m honoured… It was such a beautiful celebration in hopes for a better future. I hope there will be many more to come and I truly think it holds so much meaning to bring together women in our industry, create networks, and help encourage each other to bring forth change.
For those of us who aren’t on the guest list, can you tell us what these kind of events are like? What’s the purpose of events like the Max Mara cocktail evening and WIF Gala: do you get an opportunity to network?
Yes, meeting old friends and networking with new friends too. I’m especially happy to have spent quality time with Maria Guila Maramotti and her team on this trip. She is even more down to earth and lovely than I thought she would be. Their passion for what they do and interest in meeting new people around the world was very inspiring. They are also huge K-pop, K-drama fans!
So many incredible women have received The Women In Film Max Mara Face of the Future Award® since its launch in 2006, of its winners, are there any in particular whose work you admire or identify with?
I think all the winners are such good examples of women who continue to take on challenges and explore diverse roles as actresses. It was great to see Elizabeth Debicki receive this year’s award. She exudes such an elegant and confident beauty that represents Max Mara women.
With the #MeToo era, now it feels like more women in film are being given the opportunity to speak on a platform, but also highlights those who aren’t speaking out, and how much work there still is to be done. Do you feel supported in the industry? Do you feel your voice is listened to?
Yes, of course there is so much change that needs to take place still in film in terms of gender and racial equality. In the past two or three years, I have been given more opportunities to speak not just to press about the film roles that I took on and issues surrounding them, but in general my personal story and message to younger generations.
I may not yet have the full maturity and knowledge to speak to them about how they need to change, but I think it’s an amazing start to get to be completely honest and share my journey and perspective on things.
What’s next for you? You’ve split your time between studying, acting and modelling as your career has progressed — what would you like to do next?
I want to continue to work in both Hollywood and Asia successfully. Balancing my schedule is challenging at times but both industries are so unique and equally valuable to me. I am currently filming a Korean TV series called Chimera. It’s been a while since I’ve done a show here so I’m working very hard on it and I can’t wait to work on the next Beasts film when I’m done!
Watch the BTS video of Claudia in the Autumn 2019 issue…