André Dae Kim
André Dae Kim is going to set the internet ablaze with his exciting portrayal of Christian Ozera in Vampire Academy.
For André Dae Kim, dabbling in the world of fantasy is a familiar feat. Over the years, Kim has appeared in numerous projects set in fantastical realms, including American Gods and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. His passion for exploring the genre stems from an early introduction to cinema through his wonderful parents. As Kim discussed during the interview, his parents were the first ones to spark his interest in becoming an actor—they’d all sit down together to watch Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones, and Kim walked away from those experiences with the desire to become involved in the entertainment industry.
Since making that decision, Kim has continuously added to his resume. His first role in Degrassi: The Next Generation led to a string of other exciting projects, like Netflix’s Locke & Key, and The Hardy Boys. His latest project, Vampire Academy, is based on a series of popular novels by Richelle Mead. The books, which come with their own passionate fanbase, have been consumed by countless readers since the early 2000s. In the upcoming screen adaptation, Kim takes on the role of Christian Ozera, a pyro-loving vampire who’s deeper than he appears on the surface.
For Kim, the opportunity to play Christian in Vampire Academy was one that immediately drew his interest. Though the idea of taking on such a beloved character proved daunting at times, Kim was ultimately motivated by the existing Vampire Academy fanbase and shouldered the challenge with devotion.
In conversation with 1883 Magazine, André Dae Kim discussed his preparation process for Vampire Academy and shared hilarious anecdotes from the set. He also spoke about his love for the fantasy genre, his experience working with CGI-rendered effects, Lord of the Rings, Studio Ghibli, and much more.
When you received the script for Vampire Academy, was there a particular scene, or maybe a character description, that convinced you to audition for the part?
I think the character description is more accurate for what really drew me into the whole thing. I really like playing characters that I think are more than just surface-level, in some ways. I like characters that are more of a human being, which is ironic since Christian is a vampire. [Both laugh]. But I feel like Christian has a lot of human elements people can relate to. And there are so many ways you can play him too, which is something that really drew me into him. When I first read the pilot script, I remember there was a scene in the very first episode where he holds up Lissa while she’s in the library and makes a bunch of fire come out of nowhere. He comes out of the shadows and he’s like, “Do you need a light?” And I thought that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard or seen. So, I was pretty excited to play that out.
That’s such a genuinely cool way to be introduced to the character.
It’s very dramatic, too. I feel like it’s a very dramatic way to make your entrance to just cut off all the lights in the room and then suddenly make magic appear. But I like the flare.
Absolutely. That’s something I’ve always loved about certain characters. A little drama, a little intrigue—I’m here for it.
Just making my grand entrance, basically! [Both laugh].
He definitely seems the type. I was trying to read a little bit more into the character as well. With Christian, there’s this very interesting duality to him, because he’s intelligent and he’s thoughtful, but he’s also dramatic, and he’s a little abrasive. He almost exists on the periphery of things. That must have been fun for you to play through that and play both sides of his personality.
There’s a running joke between our cast where everyone calls Christian the Batman who talks too much. [Laughs]. He comes out of the shadows, out of nowhere, very mysterious, and then he hits you with a three-page monologue. [Both laugh]. That’s the duality right there! I feel like he is really thoughtful, though. He has a lot of things that I think he would like to express, but the interesting part about playing him, kind of going back to the first question too, is the idea of how much of his personality has been suppressed by the Moroi society he lives in. How much of that is suppressed by the fact that he has been outcasted for most of his life? It’s almost like, in some ways, seeing a star that’s been diminished for so long. How do you play him finding his light again? And how do you play into the levels of anxiety and fear he has with stepping into himself more?
I was really interested in exactly what you’re saying about his background. He exists on the outskirts of things because he’s essentially paying for the sins of his parents and trying to shoulder that while also finding his own way, and while he’s trying to establish his own relationships with people.
And what I really liked about him when I read the first book was the idea that Christian tries his best to show everyone that he’s totally not that way—he doesn’t fall into the trope of being like, “Everyone hates me, so I hate everyone,” you know? In the book, he tries his best to not be what everyone tells him that he is. He attends all the masses and all the churches in the book, he tries his best to show people that he’s not what they think he is. I thought that was a really interesting way to depict someone like that, and in some ways, it’s what drew me to him as well.
I feel like that’s not always common in those instances where people have a chip on their shoulders. It’s more often the opposite way where they’re taking it out on everyone else because they’re like, “I don’t have to prove myself to you,” but Christian wants to be involved. He cares about being involved. He cares about showing people his true nature.
Exactly. But he’s being a little bit conservative about it because he’s afraid of how people would react. And I get it, too. I think any of us, in that situation, might have come out of that and been like, “Screw everyone, you guys are so mean. I’m going to be exactly what you tell me to be.” I would probably fall into that, too. But I think that is what makes Christian really interesting is that he doesn’t fall into that trouble.
It’s so easy when you’re hurt to hurt other people in the process and take it out on them, which then allows it to become cyclical because you’re being mean to them because they were mean to you. So, it’s nice to have an example of someone who’s shrugging that off and doing their own thing.
Totally. It kind of really shapes your reality, and who you are, and in some ways, it’s nice that Christian defies those expectations.
You mentioned the books, and Vampire Academy is a depiction of this beloved series of novels. As a performer, do you feel like that adds pressure on you to be depicting something that already has a really passionate fan base? Or do you find it motivational?
I think it’s a little bit of both in some ways. There are a lot of people who have such a deep connection with this source material and you want to make them happy as well. But I do also believe that every adaptation that comes from one type of source material to a totally different one, like from a book to TV, or a book to movie, or even movie to TV, I think there are going to be a lot of differences there. And our job as actors and creators is to take as much of the original essence as we possibly can, while also making sure it’s adapted well enough for the new medium, which, for us, is television. So, as much as there was pressure, I do feel like we had a good team. Julie [Plec] and Marguerite [MacIntyre] made a really nice environment where you could explore the things you wanted to explore, like I did with Christian. It’s hard, because I think with books, especially every single person who reads a book, will take a character and have a different idea of what they look like, what they sound like, and who they are. It’s so individualized. But I think with this cast, I can truly say everyone did their very best to try to keep the essence of every character as true to who they were as possible.
That’s all you can really ever hope to do, right? And I think as a viewer, that’s all you can ever hope to experience on the other end of that. I’m such a big reader, so, there’s always that hesitation when you see the screen adaptation of a book you love. Because you’re thinking, “Is that part I really love going to be in there?” Ultimately, though, I think the experience is less about the details and more about how it makes you feel. If the screen adaptation makes you feel the same way you did when you were reading the books, you’re in good shape.
Of course. And you would know this as a book reader too, but the best part of a book is when you put it down and you have the longing to read it more, to have some more content from it. And then that feeling leaves you with the desire to pick it up again. I think if people come into our show with that kind of mindset where, as you said, it’s just about capturing that same feeling that you had from the books, I think they’ll be pleasantly surprised.
It seems like everyone’s really excited so far! I’ve been looking at everything on social media, and it seems like the fans are really dying for the show to come out.
Which is also a lot of pressure, too! [Both laugh].
Does that add its own pressure to things once you’re separate from your performance of it? Does it feel like now the promotion of the series is sort of its own weird demon?
It’s totally weird. I think the weirdest part I’ve realized is that you get all this feedback and all this promotion and hype that happens, but it happens months after you’re done shooting the show. So, then you’re thinking, “Could I have done this better? I wish we could go back and do this again. I wish we were still filming it.” But at the same time, I am very excited for everyone to see what we’ve done.
It seems like it would still be hard to disconnect from that and end up in a place where you’re second-guessing the way something was portrayed or the way you maybe did something. But I think, you know, you’ve made some great choices and you obviously really care about the character. Plus you read the books!
I read one book! I read one book. [Both laugh]. I don’t want everyone quizzing me about the fifth or sixth books just yet! I read the first book. [Laughs].
There are so many of them! And I’m sure it doesn’t help when you’re trying to play the character to know things that happen beyond the events being portrayed in the first season. That might muddle how you’re interpreting what Christian is doing.
And I’m such an overthinker. If I had read five books, I’d be thinking, “Okay, so he technically knows this in the fifth book, but how do I play this out in the first episode?” And then my director would be like, well, we’re just having you do this one episode, so maybe don’t overthink it. [Both laugh]. That would be me!
I do the same thing. I overthink everything to death. And I’m always like, If you just breathe, everything will be fine.
Yeah, exactly. I would be trying to play Christian as if he already knows everything from the next five seasons. When in reality, I should probably just be playing the character for who he is then! So yeah, you’re right. I think reading more into the books might have muddled it a little bit. I’m happy that I read the first book, but if the second season and third seasons come along for Vampire Academy, then there are more books for me to read, which is awesome in itself.
That’s interesting to have that content to pull from as you’re preparing for the character. I’m always interested in that when I speak to actors—I love knowing how people prepare for roles, especially in an instance like this where you have all this existing source material to pull from, but you want to make it your own. Was there anything specific you did that helped you get into character or helped you get into Christian’s mindset? Did you make a playlist? Were you reading fanfiction?
I did read one fan fiction, but it got a little sexual, so I stopped reading. [Both laugh].
They always do!
They always do. But the funny thing about the playlist is that before we started filming in Spain, some of the fans made a Christian Ozera playlist because they saw that I started making one, but I was very slow to add songs. [Laughs]. I had Slow Dancing In a Burning Room by John Mayer and a few other ones. I had a lot of songs related to fire because that’s really what the character is about. But then I wanted some stuff that was more metaphorical, more philosophical, about who he is. So, the fans made a playlist for me and it really helped me. Shoutout to those fans who made the playlist because it was such a huge help to listen to this music that other people had for Christian and to bring that into my process. There was a lot of heavy classic rock in there with a lot of really sultry blues tunes. And I know Christian is a bit of a loner, so I tried to take some days away while I was filming to do things that I thought loners would day. I’ve had my moments like that, too. So it’s not super foreign to me or anything, but I would try to take walks at night alone and listen to the playlist and take notes in my notebook. Those were just a few of the things I tried to really get into the character of Christian, along with reading the first book as well.
That’s nice to have the fans interact with you in a way that was really constructively helpful and opened your mind to seeing Christian in a different way than you were seeing him when you were building your own playlist.
It was really nice too because…there can be people out there who tend to tell you, “Oh, he should be more like this or more like that,” and it’s tough because I can’t take all of that and put it into my performance. There are so many processes at work, but it was really nice that these fans of the show were just like, “Here’s a bunch of music we think Christian would like, feel free to listen to it and make up your own mind.” And I thought that was really sweet. So yeah, it was actually very helpful.
That’s really kind. That’s a nice approach as well for them to be like, “You don’t have to listen to this, but you could and if you did, that’d be cool.”
Yeah, like, you could, and we’d think it’d be great if you did! So I wanted to give it a shot, and I still have it on my Spotify. I listen to it sometimes because it’s a really good playlist. They did a great job.
I love a good playlist. I make playlists for everything. I think a good playlist is cathartic.
You have a playlist ready for just every single mood? Cool! That’s nice.
Yeah! I do. I enjoy the process of putting the songs together in one place.
That must take a lot of work, honestly. I just throw a song on and I let the radio skip through new songs whenever I’m in that mood. But the playlist, maybe I’ll have to get on that a little bit.
I do like a shuffle moment as well sometimes when I’m sick of listening to the same 20 songs. [Both laugh]. Sometimes I expand my horizons!
It’s pretty nice! On Spotify, if you go into your “liked” songs and you throw it on shuffle, you can get a nice throwback and be like, “Oh, I remember this song! I actually did really like that song!” I love those moments.
I love that about Spotify! Because then there will be songs that show up and I’m like, “I forgot how much I loved this song.”
And now I will listen to it a hundred more times again! [Both laugh]. Yeah, it’s perfect.
In addition to Vampire Academy, many of your recent acting projects have existed within this fantasy genre, even though they’re not the same exact elements. Do you feel drawn to fantasy projects? Or is there something that interests you most about acting in these worlds that are almost parallel to our own, but not because they’re fantastical?
I’m definitely drawn to fantasy, even in just my everyday life. I would say that fantasy has been something that I’ve been a huge fan of ever since I was younger. I would watch Lord of the Rings when I was younger, and I would read these old, really nerdy fantasy novels that were about dwarves that would go on adventures. And I was obsessed with those as well. But in my acting career started more leveled in realism. I started on a high school show, Degrassi, which in some ways was a little bit of a fantasy since no high school is that crazy [Both laugh]. There’s a little bit of fantasy in there, but I think after four years of that and then moving onto a few different shows after that, like American Gods, Locke & Key, Stark Trek, and now Vampire Academy, has been really fun for me. Honestly, I would not be upset if I continued down the fantasy genre path for a little longer because it’s really fun. There’s something really, really rewarding and fun about playing some leveled characters dealing with interpersonal relationships. And there’s something really fun about being a vampire that gets to shoot fire out of your hands. [Laughs].
It’s such an interesting world to live in because you do have those really cool elements of things you’d never be able to do in your real life, like being a vampire.
Yeah, I don’t do that in my real life, unfortunately.
We’ve verified it here first! [Both laugh.]
Yes! I’m sorry to disappoint everyone, but I did not get this job because of my fire skills.
You might be a pyro, but not in the same way.
Right? I have nothing against lighting stuff on fire, [both laugh], but I’d need a lighter or something to do it.
I’ve always been a huge fan of fantasy as well, but I think it’s because there’s so much humanness at the heart of everything—the interaction between characters, the lessons you’re learning and taking away from it. You do get distracted, I think, by the fantastical elements, but at the end of the day, it is just another depiction of these really beautiful human conditions. But you see them in a different way. It’s really eye-opening.
I think that, at the base of everything, as much as it is a vampire show, we do want to play into the humanness of it, right? The whole point of fantasy is the idea that you get thrown into this mystical world, and it’s totally foreign to you, but at the same time, it’s what keeps you invested. These stories are very much about things that everyone can relate to, like Lord of the Rings and Vampire Academy are really about friendship and the power of coming together to defeat evils, and overcoming other issues in the process. And that’s something that every human can relate to, you know? I think that’s super important—just keeping that element of: These people are real, and these problems and things they’re experiencing, are very real to everyone involved.
Especially, like you’re saying with Vampire Academy, I think there are a lot of elements of real life. There’s commentary on class and society and that general pressure of how you feel when you’re trying to make friends in a new place, and you’re doing all of these things for the first time. It’s just an interesting way of commenting on that because it’s in a world that we don’t exist in.
Totally, and it’s about identity and finding one’s own identity while growing up in this very strange world. And also not letting your identity be defined by anything besides what you want it to be. I think that’s a really beautiful depiction that our show really highlights.
I’m excited to see more of it! I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the world. These types of shows are right up my alley.
I think you’ll really enjoy it! I’m excited for you to see more of it, too.
You’ve talked about some of your incredible projects, like Locke and Key, and Star Trek, but I was wondering if there was anything, in particular, you learned during your time on those sets that you brought to the filming process of Vampire Academy?
I think every project you do garners you some experience that you can take onto your next project. I really do think it’s a cumulative thing where every project you work on makes you a better actor. I think experience is the best thing you can get in this industry. Even if it’s just being on set and hanging out with people, I think that comfortability that you gain from working on a bunch of different projects is so vital to helping you be better during these moments where you really have to show up and take center stage. I would say a very specific thing I’ve learned though is working with things that aren’t there, like CGI stuff. That’s something that I had to do quite a bit on Star Trek and had to do a little bit on Locke & Key and American Gods as well. And even Degrassi to some extent. Working with things that aren’t there is a very tricky thing. I think at first, as actors, a lot of us come from theater, and of course, in theater, all the props are there for you. Everything is there for the most part, so it’s pretty hard to be working on film and having all these people surround you and having to have this really emotional scene with something that’s not visible to you. But having that experience of working on all those shows, and bringing that into Vampire Academy, I found that really helpful. There were so many moments in Vampire Academy where it was CGI and I had to pretend something was happening, but having that experience before really helped me in those moments.
You must have to have such an amazing imagination in those moments to fill in the details of what it is you’re supposed to be looking at to help you react to it appropriately!
Oh, for sure. I mean, it was mostly fire! That was the biggest thing in Vampire Academy was that I had to pretend fire was there. There were a few times when we’d get a real flame thrower and I was like, “Woah, that is so cool!” But most of the time, it’s just my yelling and then nothing coming out of my hands. [Both laugh]. It’s kind of weird, but I think my trick is to focus on something else. Don’t focus on the fire coming out of your hands, focus on the actor who’s playing the person who’s coming to attack you or the person you’re shooting the fire at. That will help me, and I guess if anyone else finds themselves in this very unique, specific situation, that’d be my tip for them. [Both laugh]. Take it with a grain of salt! I’m not an acting coach, and this might be very, very unhelpful for you. But if it does help, that’s perfect. I’ll be super happy.
I think you have a good perspective! You’ve been in some incredible projects and keep getting these really great roles. So, I think you know what you’re doing.
Thank you. I’d like to think that I know what I’m doing, but it’s a little bit of a struggle sometimes.
I completely understand that feeling. I had spoken to Mia Mckenna-Bruce about Vampire Academy as well, and she did mention how you guys had such great camaraderie on set. Is there one moment that you really enjoyed during the filming process? Or something that feels particularly memorable about your time with your castmates?
There are so many moments! I think the one moment that Mia never forgets is, I don’t know what was happening, but she was explaining something that was going on to someone else. And then she was saying something like, “Oh, this and this and this, and then something unexpected, and now this is happening. But this is what we’re working with.” And I just kind of turned my face and looked at her with a blank stare. And I was like, “Are you kidding me?” And then for some reason that made her die laughing. She was laughing so hard the whole crew was looking at her. And now every time I see her, she turns her face to me, really abruptly, and she goes, “Are you kidding me?” That’s our thing now. But Mia and I developed a really nice friendship on and off set, which came out of nowhere because our characters aren’t really expected to interact much. But we all had such a great time. We also have a running joke about her having a little bobblehead. [Both laugh].
She mentioned that she’s ridiculously tiny. Which I am as well.
Mia is a perfect size. She’s perfect. She’s a beautiful, beautiful lady. I just love her big bobblehead. [Both laugh].
I’m sure she’s going to look at this fondly. She said it was funny to even just walk around Spain because people would point at you guys and call you vampires.
There was one time when Mia and I were walking, and we were so engrossed in conversation, and her fiancé came up behind us and he was like, “Did you know that a bunch of people just ran off the bus screaming Vampiro! Vampiro! And pointing at you?” And we were like, Uhhh…no, we didn’t know that was happening. [Both laugh]. But yeah, that happened quite a bit! Sometimes people would just stare at you, which I looked up online and is apparently very common in Spain where people like to hold eye contact. Are you from the States?
Yeah! I grew up in the States.
Perfect. So, in the States and Canada, I’m sure you’re aware that if someone holds eye contact with you, you’d be like, “Oh, that’s weird. I’m just going to….”
You have to look the other way!
Right? Exactly! You’d look the other way and pretend you didn’t see the person, but in Spain, they hold eye contact with you, even if you’re strangers. And then one time, I just didn’t let go. This one guy and I were staring at each other for the longest time until I was like, “You know what? You win.” [Both laugh]. But yes, I do think some people recognized us from the show mainly because we were foreigners there, and they might have thought we were acting weird.
That’s so funny. I can’t imagine walking down the street to get lunch and somebody’s like, “You’re a vampire!”
“Not actually, I’m not actually a vampire!”
Have you gotten weird things from fans before when you’re meeting them at conventions and different things?
No, everyone has actually been very nice and very cool! I remember when I was working on Degrassi, the cutest thing I got was a drawing from a young girl that was done with Crayola crayons. I really liked it. I think that’s probably the nicest thing! No one’s ever given me anything weird. Everyone has been very, very nice.
It seems like they’re all really thoughtful! Especially, I think, the Vampire Academy fans are going to be really passionate about this when it comes out.
They’re very, very, very passionate. Which is a little nerve-wracking, but at the same time, I welcome it warmly.
I read that, even though your parents aren’t involved in the film industry, they really instilled a love of movies in you from an early age. If you look back at that time, was there a particular movie you watched with them that was pivotal in terms of you deciding you wanted to be an actor?
I think, oddly enough, some of the movies that inspired me to really go into this craft were the Studio Ghibli movies, which have more to do with animation than with live-action acting. But I think seeing someone’s mind and vision fully realized, even if it’s animated, made me realize that it’s okay to have weird thoughts and ideas and creatures in my head, too. It made me feel like less of a weirdo to know that other people think about those things as well. And I watched the Lord of the Rings movies and the Indiana Jones movies with my parents, and I was a huge fan of them as a kid. I always wanted to have a whip and a cowboy hat and be an archeologist. So, I think those movies in particular were really pivotal to me deciding that this is the career I wanted to dabble in.
It allows you to be creative in such an interesting way because you get to do all these things you maybe wouldn’t be able to do in your life otherwise, because our time is so limited. You can be an archaeologist, you can do all these amazing things, and it’s part of your job.
As a kid, I always did this weird thing where I’d watch something and I would get super excited by a scene, so I would pause the movie and I would try to imitate it and act it out. When you’re watching with your family, they’re always trying to get you to sit down and watch the rest of the movie. [Both laugh]. But I think that was also a moment where both of my parents would see that this was something that I really wanted to do. And then they decided to sort of push me toward that a little bit, and it was a good choice by them. So, I really have them to thank for all of this and for showing me this awesome world that I can play around in.
That’s amazing. It’s nice that they were so supportive and encouraging, even from the beginning, and were letting that passion flourish and really showing you more of the world, so that when you made the decision that you wanted to be part of it, you had the knowledge and the insight of being like, “Yeah, this is it. This is what I want to do.”
I’m super grateful, and I’m super lucky to have them, for sure.
And you actually helped me segue into this perfectly, because you’ve mentioned Lord of the Rings a few times. So, I always like to ask one fun question at the end of my interviews.
Okay, awesome! Let’s do it.
[Both laugh]. If you could take any character from Lord of the Rings and transport them into Vampire Academy to be friends with Christian, who would you pick and why?
Oh, that’s such a good question! That is such a good question. It’s probably a tie between Pippin, that fool of a Took, or Gollum/Smeagol. I feel like those two actually have a lot in common, as much as it doesn’t seem like it. And I feel like Christian would be one of the few people in Vampire Academy who would look at Smeagol and not just immediately think, “I have to kill that thing.” He would want to be friends with him, you know?
He sees the potential there!
He does! And also, you know, I am interested in rings and jewelry, so maybe we can play off that a little bit. Like, [imitates Smeagol], “Things in love are precious.” “I like the way you think, man!” [Both laugh].
I also love that you picked Pippin because he’s one of my favorite characters, but everyone gives him so much crap. He gets so much hate!
Yeah, and he doesn’t deserve the crap! I mean, he started this whole journey just hiding away, and then he ends up getting all the Ents to fight at Isengard. And he also eats a lot of the Elven bread—way more than he should. He’s a great character. I love Pippin.
He’s fantastic. He’s so funny, and he’s sweet. Yes, he does make some terrible choices. And yes, those choices do have a ripple effect on everyone else, but he never does it maliciously. He just doesn’t know what’s going on! He’s never been outside of the Shire. What did people expect from him?
He’s really just a small-town boy who gets thrown into the big city and he knows he’s going to make mistakes, but also that he’s going to do a lot of cool things as well.
I hate that he gets such a bad rep, and I will always say, to my dying day, that Frodo is by far the worst character. But no one wants to have that conversation. [Both laugh].
I honestly would say that too. And I don’t want to get too many people after me for this! But Frodo is definitely the worst character. I would say Pippin is my favorite of all the Hobbits, and then Samwise Gamgee is my second favorite.
I love him and his loyalty and his kindness. He has such a good gut instinct. If Frodo had just trusted Sam and listened to him, they wouldn’t have run into so many issues.
Exactly! He’s the goodest boy, and he’s a good cook. What more can you ask for? 10 out of 10.
10 out of 10. A fantastic, loyal friend who didn’t deserve to be treated like that by Frodo.
That’s absolutely right. Sam also has pretty much, I think, the best one-liner in all the films too where he goes, “I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you, Mr. Frodo.” I think that’s the best one-liner in the whole series.
It gets me every time! It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve seen those movies, I get teary-eyed every single time.
All the one-liners in those movies are great! You know, like, “Fly, you fools!” and “I am no man” as she stabs the Witch-king in the face. [Both laugh]. And Pippin helped with that! He stabbed him in the ankle first! So, Pippin did great stuff, honestly.
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