Playing the part of spirited patriarch “Appa” in Soulpepper‘s award winning play “Kim’s Convenience” is actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee’s dream job. Written by actor and playwright Ins Choi, “Kim’s Convenience” tells the tale of a Toronto convenience store and the day-to-day struggles of the Korean-Canadian family who owns it. A story that Lee says mirrors his own childhood.The Toronto-based Korean actor grew up in Calgary, his father owned a restaurant and his mother ran a Mac’s convenience store near McMahon Stadium. Besides a stop-over on a trip to Banff, the Theatre Calgary presented run of “Kim’s Convenience” is Lee’s his first trip back in 25 years.
We chat with Lee about dream parts, making his parents proud and why many audiences members might recognize him.
You describe the part of Appa as your dream role. How is it different from other roles you’ve played?
When I read the script I felt like Ins (the playwright) had been spying on my family my entire life. My memories of Calgary are helping my dad at the restaurant and working at Mac’s with my mom. I understood the part almost implicitly. There’s a lot of range to this character, from boiling in rage to shooting off one-liners, to being in tears, it’s been a chance to showcase what I can do as an actor. It’s not often that an actor gets an opportunity to do that. It’s been so gratifying. I get an immense amount of joy from playing him every night.
I heard your family has seen the show more than once. What is it like having your parents in the audience?
I really wanted to make them proud. My parents worked so hard to provide for my sister and myself. I don’t think I would have had the guts to start from scratch in a foreign land and they did. The play is their story, it’s their struggles on stage and I wanted them to feel proud of that and they do.
What do you hope Calgary audiences take away from the play?
It’s specifically about a Korean family in Regent Park in Toronto, but because we’ve been so specific it’s made the show authentic and that translates to everyone. It’s a family story about parents wanting their children to succeed. We’ve had audience members come up afterwards and say “my father had a butcher shop, or he owned a store or he was a mechanic and I remember we had the exact same conversations.” Across cultures and generations people just get it. The way it’s written there’s a lovely balance between the generations so the audience understands why the characters act the way they do. It really touches people.
You’re often recognized for your commerical work. What’s the secret to good commerical acting?
It’s about commitment to whatever you’re doing, and whether it’s a tampon commercial or one about diarrhea relief, you can never act like you’re above it. Every gig is work and as an actor you should never stop working. You could play Hamlet in an award-winning play but audiences will still recognize you as the “Pepto-Bismal guy”.
What’s your favourite convenience store snack?
I have a three- and a nine-year-old son so we go in a lot for popsicles. I have a savoury tooth so I go for the Hot Rod meat sticks.