You were so great in the movie. I thought this was your life that you’re living, but you’re playing a character. That’s awesome. That’s great acting.
I guess it’s a version of me. Actors always tap into a version of themselves, right?
On a Wednesday night, you’re not putting your head in Cheetos?
No. Or looking for social validation. Well, I do check my Instagram. It’s private. I think it’s private. Literally a thousand of my close friends.
It’s a gnarly world we live in. Did you see that movie Searching?
Yes! I just saw it last night.
I thought it was really smart that the audience is building the story off the computer screen. The way that we do in real life with social media. But it’s so skewed and you’re only getting part of it. It’s interesting. This kind of voyeurism. We dealt with that in White Rabbit, too. That idea of feeling connected by your phone.
What was it like working with [co-writer/director] Daryl Wein?
He was so receptive to everything and working with him was pure joy.
That scene with the character who’s the white director was so funny.
Did that actor totally understand everything?
He was so uncomfortable. Nico [Evers-Swindell] is a great actor, obviously. I think a lot of people who watch that scene feel very uncomfortable, you know? I’m just like, “That’s my day-to-day. That’s our deal on a day-to-day basis.”
What’s the process of putting together an art piece, like the one at the center of White Rabbit?
After the election, I was really down. I think the rest of the world was. And we’re all kind of looking for ways to make a difference. So I wanted to talk about history and asking who gets to tell history? And with the Wall and all of these issues. Korean Americans are fairly new immigrants. We came in the 80s and so by the 1990s most of the Korean Americans that you saw had only been in the U.S. for 10 years. We could be in the very same position. I felt this need to look back at history.
Even just doing research for six months. I was just kind of digesting the complicated thread of causing a riot like this. It doesn't just happen overnight. It's many years of being abandoned, impoverished. It's a social, economic, political dialogue. It's not just racism.
I didn't know how I was going to tell it. It's also kind of funny -- the idea of performance art. It's been around since the 60s, but when I was doing performance art in New York years ago, we didn't even call it performance art. It was this guerrilla punk show.
It’s just putting on a show for whichever audience is there.
Yeah. And I feel especially in the last 10 or 15 years, there's been an emergence of performance art and giving it this kind of space. So now it's really being studied and defined and embraced by galleries, museums, art shows. It's really being looked at as a legitimate art.
I feel like years ago, the first performance artist that I was aware of was Miranda July.
It's so difficult to define, “What is theater? What is show? what is performance art?” There's always an interesting dialogue. Someone said, “In theater the blood is fake. And in performance art, the blood is real.”
And I get it. You use your body as a medium, as the tool, so nothing is fake. didn't really know how to approach it. After six months, I studied these interviews and I went to K-town and I tried to interview people who lived during that time.
I gathered a bunch of interviews. And then I was like, “How do I form this? What do I do with it? Why is it my story to tell?” I started to think about Shamanism. How artists are sort of shamans, guides to the spirit of truth. I do believe that artists are the ones who ask questions. And it’s not their job to answer them, but it’s their job to create space for the dialogue to happen, like mediums and shamans. To create the space for truth or some worldly dialogue.
So I thought of that and those images were going through my head for White Rabbit. Usually with the artist, you think of the color white and it's always reflective of light and it's a sign of clarity and trees and purity and all these things. In Korea, white is a sign of death and rebirth and it has these powerful connotations. So I dressed myself all in white, a white jumper, and I went to K-Town, the markets, and just started performing a couple of the characters.
Sometimes during your performance, you see the people and they look surprised. Did you guys get everyone to sign releases?
Well, but we have signs that said, “We're going to be filming in this space.”
One thing that White Rabbit touches on is the way that we all relate to our phones. There’s something so sad about that. I think about that a lot.
I think just being human is so lonely. My mom is always saying, “You're born alone and you die alone.” I don't think that needs to be necessarily a bad thing. One of the things I had for Sophia was that she's always trying to find connection. And she feels that if she finds connection, that's her way of feeling validated and it legitimizes her art.
I feel like we're all searching for this connection. You spend a lot of your time alone. It's easier to be on your phone and see what is going on and how people are reacting to whatever you put out versus being alone with yourself.
I think what you see in White Rabbit is that constant pursuit of looking that really translates to this kind of loneliness. It shows that void very well. It is lonely.
I love that scene with Sophia’s ex. It was so heartbreaking and very funny. How did that come about?
That was a conversation that I always dreamed in my head I would have with an ex. People always look for closure, but you can’t always find closure. Sometimes closure is something you have to find for yourself.
She thinks if she finds this connection, if she finds this closure, that's what she’s sort of looking for. That's the white rabbit falling into the rabbit hole. She's constantly looking and searching for this connection, but it's not going to go as she planned. It's painful.
We’re with that character for so long that you're able to express a lot of emotions that I never see in movies. I’m thinking of that scene where Sophia is pushing and biting the boyfriend. I feel like I've never seen something like that where I'm so sympathetic to the main character. How'd you guys figure out the right level for that?
It actually happened very organically and that was very improved. We said that there be a conflict with the boyfriend, but we didn't say what. Just in the moment -- and it's not me, it’s the character. I even used language that I'm not used to. I never use the ‘C’ word. It's not in my vocabulary.
It just naturally came out in the scene. Sometimes you're also playing this character for so long. When you're working on it, you forget what part is you and what part is her.
Did you really bite him?
He seemed pretty chill about it.
He was like, “She bit me!” He was so shocked. It was done in one take. We also didn't have permission to shoot on that street. We had this way of guerrilla filmmaking. A lot of permitted space would fall through. We had to figure out what else to do. Sometimes those accidents are like the jewels.
I also feel like you guys really captured L.A.
Yeah I think L.A. really plays a big character in the film.
It feels isolating in the way that your character feels isolated.
Yeah, like the place that they go to connect is this taco stand in the middle of a parking lot. In Europe, you'll have sidewalk cafes, but no, they're in the parking lot. And some of the fanciest restaurants in L.A. are in strip malls. You’ll go to a fancy party and it's in the back of a lot.
It was important to try to capture an authentic L.A. I think that's kind of the luxury you have when you’re more of an indie filmmaking crew. You have accessibility to really capture this authentic place.
How big was the crew?
Sometimes they were five of us and sometimes there were eight. Sometimes I'm carrying the boom. We’re wearing many hats: costume designer, location scout.
How many days did you film?
We shot for two and a half weeks for the first bit and then we took a little bit of a break. And then we shot for five more days.
Do you want to write more?
Yeah, I've written a couple of scripts but I tried to make this one film that was kind of ahead of its time. It was this fusion film about a Lyft driver and it was going to take place in L.A. in one day and it was an LA. love story. I tried to do that. I was going to do that with ten female directors and they each take a segment of the script, kind of like Holy Motors. Anyway, I tried to raise money and do it through Kickstarter and it was so embarrassing.
Kickstarter feels so intense.
I had no idea. I was so naive. I want to say this was five years ago, six years ago. Crowdsourcing is its own thing. It's a full-time job. You have to do it every day. And have content for it and have a narrative everyday.
That’s another thing. it's so weird to try to connect on this virtual platform. You're trying to forge connections with people. To ask them to believe in this project and they're like, “Who are you? Why are you in my email?”
It must be nice in that way working with Daryl. He’s done this before.
I was lucky that he had had so much experience. In the initial dialogue between Daryl and I, it was really funny because I barely knew him and he presented what the story could have been. And I said to him, “I'm not really interested in a trivial love story. I would like to look at art and commerce.” And he was like, “Yeah, I do too.”
And in our first meeting, there was an openness to be confrontational and to say, “Hey, that's not my story. This is the story that I'm interested in.” And it was like that both ways. I had this whole scene with a landlord in the apartment and he's like, “That's just been seen so many times.” We shot this whole 20 minute scene. And I freaking found this great neighbor to help me. And it was such a fun scene and he cut it. I was like, “No, why did you do that?” I think, in the end, it definitely makes it better not to have it.
How was Sundance?
Sundance was just a deadline that we had. You can work on an indie forever. I didn't think we could make it by that day, let alone get in.
It was summer 2017 when you shot it?
It was actually more like fall.
Wow, so you were right next to the deadline.
Yeah, we got it in the late deadline. So when we heard we got in, it was just mind-blowing. I only dreamed that I'd get into Sundance with this proper film. We agreed to just make the movie that we want to see and not care at all about marketability and making money. And when we took that out of the equation, we had so much more freedom to do what we wanted. And it was such a validation that if you don't worry about getting into Sundance, you might get into Sundance.