The Mentalist star Tim Kang talks death defying hobbies and Kimball Cho
March 16, 2011 by Bill Palmer
by Bill Palmer
“Fans of the show come up and are very surprised that I have the muscles in my face to actually construct a smile,” says Tim Kang lightheartedly at the top of our conversation, a joke which already puts the actor in direct contrast with his own best-known television persona. When not on set portraying Kimball Cho on the hit TV series The Mentalist, Kang is usually skydiving or riding motorcycles or out having a laugh with friends, the latter of which has on more than one occasion tripped up fans who weren’t initially sure whether it was him because they’ve never seen him do that on air. With just a few episodes left to shoot in his show’s third session, including a two-part finale, Tim used one of his off days to chat with Beatweek. It begs the question of how an actor who sees significant screen time in every episode of an hourly drama finds time to do anything but be on set.
“Most of the time we get weekends free,” he says of The Mentalist’s shooting schedule. “Every once in awhile there’s an Amanda heavy episode or Owen heavy episode, and we’ll have two or three days in the week off and vice versa. There’s episodes where I’m working every day and there are some episodes where I only work two or three.” Those off days are usually spent outdoors with a series of seemingly death defying hobbies, which the actor who just turned thirty-seven this week has largely been partaking in since his younger days.
“I started skiing when I was five years old,” says the San Francisco native who’s since found his way to Hollywood. “I started snowboarding in high school. Scuba diving, I’ve been doing that since ’96. I did my first skydive in ’96 as well. So these are all things that I have lived with for awhile. The most recent thing that I think is relatively new, although I did do that in high school as well, is motorcycles. I learned how to ride a motorcycle when I was in high school, but they were more dirtbikes, they weren’t street bikes.”
So is there a pattern in that most of his hobbies can get someone killed if they don’t know what they’re doing? “There is something that does attract me to some of these sort of sports. But I go into it with my eyes wide, wide open. For example when I started skydiving, I was on the internet for an entire week, for hours on end, looking at statistics and fatality reports and malfunctions and what happened, and read all these different sort of incidents. The United States Parachute Association, the publish incident reports every month from different drop zones around the country and around the world, and I would research all that stuff and really look at what it was that was causing fatalities. Now first of all there weren’t very many fatalities, and when there were, the cause in skydiving for fatalities really is operator error.”
That kind of thinking ahead had Kang still pursuing other potential acting opportunities even after he initially landed the Mentalist gig, just in case. Upon learning that he’d been hired for the pilot episode, which was only guaranteed to be a two week gig, “I got on the phone with my manager and my agent and I said okay, so after these two weeks, let’s set up a whole string of auditions and let’s get back in the game, the whole thing. At the end of the two weeks they sold the pilot.”
Even after the first thirteen episodes were picked up, he was still trying to line other things up just in case the show didn’t last long term. “There’s really just no rhyme or reason, so I don’t put any sort of stock in making any kind of a prediction for myself in anything that I’m in. And that tends to keep me sane in this insane business.”
As the only one of the Mentalist’s five main actors whose character has never seen even a whiff of romance or romantic tension, Tim is surprisingly not bothered by it. “That kind of stuff, unless the show or the movie or whatever is about love and is about the relationship between two people, it’s just not that interesting to me.” Although he does say that if the show’s powers that be came to him and said they were going in that direction, “I would totally pipe in and be like let’s do this, this, and this.”
Not that Kang doesn’t want to take his character further. “Bruno [Heller] and I have had this conversation, we’re gonna actually have a meeting towards the end of this shooting schedule, about something along those lines but maybe not a love interest. Basically what you’re talking about is a season long sort of arc,” which he says comes down to a matter of pulling off Cho’s character development in such a manner in which no one in the audience reacts along the lines of “Ah, that was really cheap, he would never do that.”
As far as the enduring secret of his show, the identity of the Red John villain, Tim says he’s heard it all from fans, from wanting to know the secret to insisting that a crooked picture hanging on the wall of a character’s office might be a clue. “What? How did you get from there to there,” he jokes. “But yeah, we do get a lot of that.”
So what of when The Mentalist someday ends, as all television shows eventually do? While there’s a chance we may eventually get to know Tim Kang the race car driver, that won’t keep him away from his first love. “Pretty much I’m gonna be doing this for the rest of my life. Will I be doing other things? Possibly. But I will always be an actor for the rest of my life.”