Photos: Jeremy Choh @jeremychohphoto
Fashion: Jess Mori @jessnmori
Makeup: Michaeline @mickbeauty
Hair: Eduardo Mednez @e_mendez
Photo Assist: Chir Yan Lim @chir_yam_lim
It’s 4 p.m. on a Friday in downtown Los Angeles and actors Minyeong Choi and Gia Kim have spent most of their day shooting their cover photo for Timid Magazine, celebrating the upcoming release of their new Netflix series X.O. Kitty. The two had just spent the week doing non-stop press interviews and promotions. The red carpet premiere was the night before, but Choi and Kim show no signs of slowing down as they pose for the camera in-between outfit changes and boba breaks.
For fans of Netflix’s To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before trilogy, X.O. Kitty continues the story of Kitty Song Covey (Anna Cathcart) as she studies abroad in Korea to learn more about her mother and, in turn, learn more about herself. It also helps that her long-distance boyfriend Dae, played by Choi, is at the school she’s attending. Kim plays the pretty and popular Yuri, who is secretly gay, but must keep up appearances for the sake of her family’s reputation. She hires a begrudging Dae to pretend to be her boyfriend, demanding he tell no one, including his beloved Kitty.
In real life, Choi and Kim are good friends. Their friendship shines through as each takes their individual photos with the other cheering them on.
“That looks so good,” Kim calls out to Choi, as he does his solo takes. He smiles shyly.
After their shoot, they sit next to each other on the couch, reminiscing about the night before at the premiere and their plans for Disneyland the next day with the rest of the cast. “Everyone [really gets] along and actually like each other, which the crew members told us [is rare],” says Kim. “This is rare. It’s been a huge blessing.”
Timid Magazine sat down with the duo during their shoot to discuss their American television debut, their character’s journey in the series, and how Korean culture is influencing the industry.
Gia Kim best describes herself as a “TCK” aka “third culture kid” when talking about her upbringing. The 30 year-old actress grew up in Korea and Hong Kong—and like her X.O. Kitty character, she attended international school. After working in theater in Seoul, Kim eventually moved to Los Angeles to train at the Art of Acting Studio in 2019 and, a few years later, was cast in X.O. Kitty as closeted queen bee—and Kitty’s potential love interest, Yuri Han.
“People assumed I grew up [in the States], but I didn’t,” Kim shares. “So coming here [to America] was also in itself a new learning experience for me because being Korean [in] America is a whole other experience than being Korean from Korea. I always feel like I’m kind of in between those two worlds too [like Yuri].”
Kim empathizes with Yuri’s struggle between being her true self as a queer teenager in love and keeping the image of being this perfect daughter for her conversative Korean family. She feels like everyone has been in this sort of situation where they’re trying to figure out where they belong, especially during their teen years.
“Yuri is desperately wanting to break out of that box [that society puts her in],” says Kim. “It was easy for me to find a connection [with her] because I grew up in a similar environment of having my two feet in both different worlds and trying to figure out how to balance both things.”
When Kim first saw the open casting call, she found herself drawn to the breakdown of all the characters and knew the series was going to be “refreshing”. She’s never seen a character like Yuri on television before—a popular closeted Asian teen who ends up being a leading love interest.
“She is a different person than I am, but I was able to find common ground [with her],” Kim explains. At the core of it, we’re both human beings. I’ve been in high school. I’ve had struggles with my mom. We both just want to be seen, heard, and appreciated for the person [we] are and be loved for who [we] are. Once I connected with her, everything fell into place more naturally.”
Kim loves the “enemies to lovers” trope that the series dives into between Yuri and Kitty, especially the twist in Kitty’s feelings towards Yuri. Kim giggles at the idea of these two women initially arguing over a man, but end up potentially falling for each other.
“I like their dynamic because it’s breaking their initial judgment,” Kim explains. When you make this initial judgment on a person, then you realize [you] shouldn’t have judged this person this way. You get to know them more and you find you have more in common and you can love the other person.”
Kim is also particularly proud that X.O. Kitty takes place in Korea and is heavily influenced by Korean culture. Like Choi, she is proud that Korean content is well known around the world, especially thanks to streaming platforms like Netflix, where people can enjoy shows with subtitles. Although K-culture plays a big part of the series, she says the story is universal.
“I think the thing that is great about this show is that it’s not about being Korean,” Kim explains. “It’s not about being a certain race. Culture is going to be a part of it, but it doesn’t have to be the main focus. It’s just telling a human experience through all these different characters from different backgrounds and ethnicities. I think that’s what makes this show special too.”
Minyeong Choi is no stranger to the entertainment industry in Korea. The 20 year-old actor has appeared in over 10 K-dramas since his debut in 2014, including the popular series Itaewon Class and Twenty-Five Twenty-One. Choi always played in supporting roles for these romantic dramas, but all that changed when he answered an open casting call for Netflix.
“I went for it,” says Choi. “Thankfully, I got it. I was excited about Dae and to join Kitty’s journey.”
Choi now makes his American debut as Kitty’s boyfriend Dae Heon Kim. After she decides to surprise him by attending the same boarding school he attends, things don’t go as planned for the reunited couple. In fact, things go completely wrong for the two lovebirds. Struggling to pay tuition, Dae is hired by the rich and popular girl, Yuri, to pretend to be her boyfriend in front of the entire school—hiding it from the love of his life, Kitty, who thinks he’s been cheating on her this entire time.
A romantic at heart, it was difficult for Choi to see Kitty and Dae be torn apart. As a believer in first loves being always and forever, Choi believes love will prevail. “Personally, I really do believe in first love always and forever. I really do like love like that. I feel just so warm-hearted.”
Choi is so thankful for all the layers the writers gave Dae, ensuring the character wasn’t just a “love interest”. Instead, Dae’s relationships with his father and sister were highlighted, especially after the loss of his mother. Dae felt a responsibility as the oldest and only son to provide for his family, even if it meant hurting his “one true love”.
“I am more interested in playing a character that’s not one-dimensional,” Choi explains. “So I was happy [that] Dae not only had his friends or Kitty, but he had stories with his family too, which really helped create Dae.”
As one of the only actors born and raised in Korea, Choi had a lot to learn working on an American series, which was more open about sexuality than Korean shows. The series openly portrays queer couples, including Kitty’s sapphic awakening towards Yuri.
“I have lived in Korea for almost all my life,” Choi shares. “I didn’t know too much [about these terms]. So I’ve learned a lot of things [about American] culture. I learned a lot while I was preparing and shooting the show. It was a different experience for me. I’m so thankful that I got to experience this and I really hope this show can help a lot of people like me think about these kinds of things.”
With the help of his castmates, who he’s grown close to despite their physical distance, Choi felt at ease in the series. As a young actor in the industry, he would come and go working on sets, but never really established friendships as many moved on after the project. That all changed with X.O. Kitty.
“It’s amazing,” exclaims Choi. “Everybody was actually surprised how we [all got] along like this. Anthony [Keyvan] and I talked about this, as he [too] worked in this industry for a long time as well.”
Choi is also excited that American audiences are opening themselves up for Korean content. With the success of Korean films, K-dramas, and K-Pop idols in the US, stories like X.O. Kitty and Pachinko allow for Korean actors the opportunity to star in American series.
“First of all, I am glad about this change,” Choi admits. “I feel lucky that I’m working and getting opportunities and help from that situation. But, at the same time, I feel like I always want a little bit more. I don’t feel like this is the end of what we want. I just want to contribute to change a little more.”
X.O. Kitty was released on Netflix on May 18, 2023.