When Emily Kuroda attended college in the 1970s, she was discouraged from pursuing her acting ambitions. There weren’t many Asian people in the industry, she was told, and it would be safer to acquire teaching credentials instead. But after discovering an Asian-American theater organization, Kuroda chose to follow her passion, and she has gone on to have a lengthy career on stage and screen.
This sense of determination is shared by her “Gilmore Girls” persona, Mrs. Kim, who will appear in the first episode of the series’ revival, “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.” Though her character often comes across as exceedingly strict, Kuroda says Mrs. Kim’s behavior stems from a loving concern for her daughter, Lane — in some ways similar to the relationship between Stars Hollow’s resident Gilmores, Lorelai and Rory.
While in town for the Huntington Theatre Company’s run of “Tiger Style!,” a comedy that explores the experience of Chinese immigrants and their first-generation American children, the actress sat down to discuss Mrs. Kim’s motivations and her presence in the Netflix series, set for release Nov. 25.
Q. Let’s start with “Gilmore Girls.” How involved were you in the revival?
A. I’m just in one episode [of four]. But they had to get people from seven years of the show. It seems like they got almost everybody. We had a table read and it was heaven, it was so nice. Everybody’s the same, everybody’s so supportive. A lot of the people have gone on to do pretty good work. A lot of them have their own series now, but they still came to do our four little shows of “Gilmore.” One of them has a private jet now. But he said he bought it used.
Q. What was it like to return to set after so long?
A. I was very happy because Dan Palladino directed the episode, and Dan and Amy [Sherman-Palladino] were both on set. They have amazing quality control, so everything went smoothly.
Q. Were you always on board for a revival?
A. Sure! Yeah. It was a great seven years, actually.
Q. Mrs. Kim is portrayed as an overbearing mother, but there’s reason behind her behavior. What’s your take on the character?
A. It’s really funny, because it’s actually very similar to the play that I’m doing now, “Tiger Style!” It’s because Mrs. Kim’s upbringing, like so many Korean-Americans, was very difficult with the war and everything. They were used to being on the move and working hard, and the community [was] very tight once they immigrated to the United States. I think that kind of survival instinct kicked in — such an intense love and a mother-bear feeling about her only daughter, wanting to protect her and wanting only the best for her.
Q. Do you think Mrs. Kim exists as a contrast to Lorelai?
A. I think so. In fact, there were a few episodes where Lorelai would come to me and I would totally disapprove of her parenting styles. One time I remember I went out in search of Lorelai to give her a piece of my mind because I thought her parenting of Rory was affecting my daughter in an adverse way. That was pretty cool.
Q. Outside of Mrs. Kim, which character do you connect with the most?
‘I think by embracing your heritage and your history, it just serves you so much more, and you become a deeper and more powerful person by embracing them.’
A. Probably Lane. My mother came from Japan, and I really didn’t understand her often. Now that I’m older, I do. I think I understand some of Lane’s confusion and getting mixed messages as far as what Mrs. Kim thought she was saying, and what Lane was hearing. That’s not an abnormal thing. It’s a generational problem.
Q. There seem to be parallels between Mrs. Kim and the mother you play in “Tiger Style!”
A. The characters, the parents, actually are kind of like me. I had to work two jobs to get through college and then you work really hard to provide for your children and give them a good education, and they start bitching. And you just want to slap them upside the head and say, “Grow up.” I just want them to see their place in the universe as not just them, but all of the ancestors that came before them and their sacrifices. I think by embracing your heritage and your history, it just serves you so much more, and you become a deeper and more powerful person by embracing them.
Q. Going back to the “Gilmore Girls” revival, do you think that is something Lane has come to acknowledge?
A. I do! I do. I love Lane.
Q. In addition to your work on “Gilmore Girls,” you’ve portrayed a great number of Asian-American characters while working with the East West Players theater organization. What was it like to bring the Asian-American experience to such a prominent television series?
A. Oh my God, it was great. Seriously, how many times do you see Asian-American characters that have an actual family, feelings? You don’t see them love and be sad and have all the human emotions. I think that “Gilmore Girls” is one of the very, very few where we were offered a chance to explore these characters multidimensionally.
Q. What’s next for you?
A. Nothing! I’ve got a couple whatevers, but nothing for sure. It’s fine. Of course I’ve [had] a lot of things come up while I’m here which I couldn’t do. But it’s all right. I’m very happy.Interview has been condensed and edited. Sonia Rao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @misssoniarao.