Jimmy Yi and Agnes Tong rehearse lines from Kim’s Convenience, which opens on April 27 at the Chemainus Theatre. (Mike Gregory Photo)

Chemainus Theatre actor only second ever to play Kim’s Convenience lead role

Long before it became a hit CBC television series, actor Jimmy Yi was in Toronto filming an episode of Flashpoint when he saw Kim’s Convenience performed as part of that city’s 2011 fringe festival.

“I thought it was just so clever and well written. It wasn’t just a funny play, I mean it is hilarious, but those moments where it deals with those family dynamics, I realized it’s not about an immigrant family, it’s about all families,” Yi told the Chronicle.

“I remember walking out of that theatre and hearing people sniffling and saying ‘I’m going to call my dad’.”

On Friday, as Kim’s Convenience debuts at the Chemainus Theatre Festival, Yi will become only the second actor ever to play Mr. Kim (“Appa”) behind Paul Sun-Hyung Lee who has filled those shoes from the fringe premiere through the Soulpepper production in Toronto and now as part of the CBC hit show, which has won countless awards as it prepares to enter its third season.

“I knew as soon as I saw that play that I needed to play Appa one day,” Yi said. “I’m the first person to ever play this role who’s not named Paul Lee. He’s the iconic guy in this role.”

Directed on the Chemainus stage by Mark DuMez, Kim’s Convenience tells the story of a store owner who has a very estranged relationship with his son who he hasn’t seen in well over a decade. Mr. Kim, faced with the realization that he could sell the store, ponders his legacy as he decides whether he should pass the business along to his children.

“I think it’s about understanding each other’s world and each other’s needs and coming to a common ground and that’s the beautiful journey that this play shows,” Yi said.

Yi gives all the credit to Kim’s Convenience writer and producer Ins Choi, who he calls a “hero” for opening “so many doors for other ethnic actors.”

“He just went out on a branch and did something so brave and gave such a great gem for all ethnic actors,” said Yi, who had dinner with Choi and the cast of the fringe festival performance back in 2011.

“He hit a home run. He’s just a beautiful human being, just a humble guy and I’m so happy that someone like him could create this baby. For me as a Korean, to be able to see something like this that’s about a Korean family, and seeing such and excellent piece of work I was immensely proud to be a Korean.”

Originally from Cleveland, but now living in Surrey, B.C., Yi’s film credits include The Interview and Crash Pad just to name a few.

He said that Kim’s Convenience steers clear of is casting the more common stereotypes used to portray first-generation immigrants in comedic films and on TV.

“You see the human behind the comedy instead of just some one-dimensional character,” Yi said. “What Ins does is he really shows the heart of that generation and just portrays them so beautifully and fairly and we have such an understanding for what their plight is.”

DuMez for his part was also key to encouraging the actors to explore their characters and the script for hidden gems.

“The rhythm and the comedy and the beat is so strong in the text that’s it’s easy to almost jump into that same track of what you’ve seen but Mark was able to move it from that track to let’s try moving on this track and see how that feels,” Yi said.

“It was nice to have different rhythms and different aspects of what sticks out and discover new things that I just never imaged that we could find. I’m looking forward to seeing how the audience reacts to it.”

Kim’s Convience is on stage in Chemainus from April 27 to May 26. For tickets visit: https://chemainustheatrefestival.ca/tickets/

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