Jin Ha stars in the Apple TV+ drama Pachinko as Solomon Baek, the grandson of our main protagonist, Sunja (Oscar winner Yuh-Jung Youn). Solomon, a sharp and shrewd businessman, serves as the embodiment of the first-generation experience—socialized and raised in one country with roots and a culture that pulls you in sometimes contradictory directions. The beauty of a character like Solomon is that alongside the business shark is a tender soul— a man aiming to make the most of the sacrifices that have been made for his well-being— and a grandson protective of his grandmother. Ha’s empathy and deep understanding of Solomon makes his work in Pachinko a revelatory watch.
As Ha says, every family has a Sunja, a pillar whose hard work we all build upon. But, we all have a bit of Solomon within us, too—someone searching for a place in a world that seems all too focused on pushing us into boxes.
Here, in an interview with Awards Daily’s Shadan Larki, actor Jin Ha offers up a candid and in-depth conversation on how Solomon’s journey of self-discovery relates to the themes present within Pachinko and in the actor’s own career—one rapidly on the rise.
Awards Daily: I know it’s been a long press tour. You have spoken about how special Pachinko is, how connected you felt to the character, and how important it is for you to be a part of the show. I just wondered if you could tell me why it was so important to you and what it felt like to be on set knowing that this project was coming to fruition?
Jin Ha: That’s a great question. I’m thrilled that people enjoyed the show that we worked hard on. As a consumer and audience member, I was ecstatic to see the news that Apple TV+ and Media Res had picked up the adaptation rights. I was a huge fan of the book and excited that the show would be made. First of all, I didn’t think I would book this job at all from the beginning, mostly because I don’t speak Japanese, and I knew that they would do the authentic language for the characters and storytelling. I figured you know what, maybe I throw my hat in the ring, see what happens. I wasn’t expecting to book Solomon, and it didn’t matter because I couldn’t wait to see the show. So in that sense, because in Western media, in American TV, we’ve never seen this narrative of Zainichi Koreans told before, it didn’t even really occur to me that I would have an opportunity to be a part of the project myself. Cut to five months after auditions and callbacks. Suddenly, I was in Korea in the middle of the pandemic, on set with Youn Yuh-Jung acting in a scene where she’s playing my grandmother. Do you know what I mean? The reality of it was compounded by the fact that we were shooting in the middle of a pandemic. This was pre-vaccinations too, and so many new things were happening on set. Shooting in different countries and traveling during the pandemic, I remember a flurry of shock and awe as I saw this enormous multinational, multilingual production come together. Then, being a part of it was the quickest seven months for me. It was the most personal project that I’ve ever been a part of. The work I had to do for Solomon felt enormous, but the experience of shooting it didn’t feel like work. It felt like we had all become deeply invested in telling the story to the best of our abilities. We all came in with a shared goal with the shared background and heritage that informs the relationships we made on-screen and off-screen. I feel grateful that we can look ahead to Season Two to continue telling this story because I think there’s so much more to show about this family.
AD: Have you heard anything about season two? Are there scripts yet? Do you know what season two might look like in terms of your work?
JH: Well, season two writers’ room is currently in session. I just got dinner with one of the writers yesterday. We were catching up, and I heard a little bit about the arc for season two, but I’m not at all at liberty to share them because I believe they’re still in development and they’re still in outline form. It’s especially exciting, though, because I can say that for my character’s timeline, the first season covered everything written in Min Jin Lee’s book. So moving forward, even though we know what to expect, somewhat structurally from the earlier timeline stories, with 1999 and Solomon, it’s all-new material. Even as a fan of the book, I’m excited to see what will happen to my character.
AD: I got to speak to Ms.Youn; she’s the most delightful person ever. I think I told her I loved her like five times, and I meant it each time. [Laughs]. She’s wonderful, and she spoke a lot about working with you and how she learned so many things from you. What was that relationship like from your perspective?
JH: I need a minute to process what you just told me; she said she learned a lot from me. It was remarkable, and I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to work with her in this context. It was immediately an easy and comfortable relationship. I mean, you get the sense when you talk to her briefly she is just always one hundred percent her honest self. We just established a real shorthand and trust with each other. I think maybe we have similar personalities. We share the same birthday. Fun fact. My full name is Yoon Jin, so I also go by YJ in my own life, and she goes by YJ. So I thought there was this instant cosmic connection between us.
On a more technical level, the conversations we could have about our characters were seamless. She was always open, engaged, and looking forward to discussing the scenes. She was excited to talk about my thoughts and what I was working on in the scene. For me, frankly, I felt like every time I got a chance to work with her was a masterclass, especially the scene with YJ and the landlady. I was like, most of that scene at the beginning was me eating and listening. I had to ensure that I kept my facial expressions to a minimum because most of the time, I was staring at them, watching how they were doing what they did. There was such ease, simplicity, and rawness to their performances and delivery that I’m always striving to get closer to. Also, YJ’s really funny. I think we know that from her many speeches and interviews now, but she’s one of the funniest people I know.
AD: Your character is so multifaceted, but one of the things that I found so interesting is that he’s this like board room executive, sort of badass businessman, and then there are like his softer moments. How did you approach that business shark and then find balance with these other elements?
JH: That’s a great question, because that’s the question I was holding on to during the shoots. I think a lot of it was trusting the work I’ve done with the writers, Soo, and the directors in terms of crafting all the different personalities and identities of Solomon Beck. Trust that the work done to build up each persona and mask will come through in the specificity and detail of the performances. Then not to mention the linguistic work of two dialects in Osaka and Tokyo, delicate Japanese and Japanese accented Korean then even slightly period, New York City 1980s English as well. Those pieces made up, what I hoped, was a fully three-dimensional character human being. In the different contexts that we see Solomon, whether it be with family, old high school Japanese friends, or American colleagues, each of those characters may feel a bit different because he is code-switching and wearing different masks in each of those contexts. Through the honesty and authenticity of each of those performances, I hope there would be a clear through-line among all of those parts of Solomon that can come together to string this one beautiful, complex human tapestry that makes up his identity.
AD: Can you tell me a little bit more about that? How did you decide on these subtle differences between each persona and who he is with the different people? What conversations were you having with Soo and the directors and deciding what that would look like?
JH: I think there are a lot of different layers to it. The first, most obvious layer would be the language portion. For me, having grown up in a multilingual home, you know, there is oral posturing that is affected by the languages. So in certain languages, our literal mouth and lip shape are affected by what languages we speak because of the placement or type of phonemes or sounds. So much of that work was digging into the specific details of the dialects and languages Solomon had mastered. Trusting that if I worked on a language component to the best of my ability, those differences in how I hold my face or the resonance in my voice would affect the energy of the character. That was the first sort of craft-centric way that we tried to approach it.
There’s more emotional and psychological work in how his guard is up with his family versus when he’s speaking Japanese to a co-worker or Naomi. What is the history these people share? For example, with Hana, who comes in suddenly as this disembodied voice, there has to be this feeling of the years of history we share that isn’t immediately shown to us in the show. That comes from conversing with Mari, the brilliant actress who plays Hana. It was necessary to come up with our own stories, even if they’re not in the scripts or shown in scenes, for that sort of background work and connection. When we’re acting on the phone for the first time, all those years that we had a childhood friendship and those years that we weren’t in touch have to come through in those phone conversations. I think the final piece may have been; what are my connections to Solomon?
I was not born and raised in Japan and am not Zainichi. Still, there are a lot of elements to his lived experience that deeply resonated with me and my Korean American immigrant experience. He and I both went to Chote. He went to Yale, and I went to Columbia, obviously decades apart. However, there is still a similar experience of being the foreigner that has moved into this new country, a new city, and being a new student or co-worker that’s dropped into a new company. I’ve naturally become familiar with that sense of survival because I’ve moved a lot growing up and had to assimilate to different communities pretty quickly. That skill, for me, was one of the biggest hooks into how Solomon thought and interacted with people because he’s even better at it than I am. Not necessarily that it’s out of malice; it’s just out of necessity to learn how to fit in wherever he finds himself. Whether that’s home in Japan, whether that’s in New York City, whether that’s, you know, in his Korean community in Japan. It’s such a blessing even talking about it now, and it’s incredible to reflect on how truly complex of a character Solomon is because of how incredibly deeply complex the people and the community we represent are. I feel really lucky to have this opportunity.
AD: I’m a first-generation myself, and to see that sort of code-switching portrayed on-screen was something I’ve never seen before. I feel like that’s the part of the first-gen experience that isn’t said out loud. So, I just felt seen by that, and I wondered how you brought your own experiences into it, or as an actor, you have to put on certain masks to give interviews or whatnot. What are your thoughts on that aspect of it? It felt so real to me. Even though my parents are Persian, I’m not Korean or Japanese, but I knew those feelings exactly. Do you know what I mean?
JH: Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I truly appreciate it. I mean, these are the responses and stories I care about most. That’s exactly right because we have such authenticity and specificity with our storytelling about the Zainichi community; I think those details resonate even more with all different communities and experiences because so many of us in this world have experienced displacement, whether forced or by choice. That is such a shared experience and also with generational trauma. How that’s passed down or how somebody in that line chooses to make a difference or change. Very much in the Baek family story, they chance upon choices or opportunities that suddenly drastically change the fate of their entire family, their children, and their grandchildren. That’s what our story roots itself in, and it’s encouraging to hear that even with your experience and your family’s background, there is a deep sense of seeing yourself because truly, what else could I hope for in making art? To answer your question, you know, it makes me think about something one of my grad school professors would always harken back to in acting work: you are enough. It’s quite dramatic, but it’s a phrase that stuck with me, especially in my acting work, but it applies to everything truly of the concept of you are enough.
So similarly, with acting, it’s because you and I have shared these experiences as immigrants or as children of immigrants in this country. That experience I’d like to believe will come through in my work if I trust myself to be as honest with myself as possible in front of my scene partner and in front of the camera. I have these experiences within me. With so many different projects that I’ve been a part of, I feel so lucky that they spoke to me personally.
I am thinking back to M. Butterfly on Broadway when David Henry Hwang has this incredible monologue at the end of the play. It’s calling out Orientalism and the modern-day prejudices that have come into the preconceived notions of gender norms but are also rooted in this sort of fetishizing of East Asian women. I remember loving being able to speak those words every night for the run of that show. Similarly, it feels like so much of this Pachinko story and Solomon’s character feel deeply close to my own experiences in some ways. So I’m hoping, looking forward to Season Two, that I can find more or trust my own experiences coming through in the performances and not feel like I have to put on much.
AD: Your story with Pachinko isn’t over, you’re going to come back, but it’s interesting to you because you’re so reflective. It’s a good thing because that’s what you want when speaking to somebody, but I wonder how you take what you have and move forward? It’s cliche to be like, well, how has this experience changed you, but it sounds like it has.
JH: Yeah, absolutely. I believe that every experience changes us to wildly varying degrees. Every job for me so far has been an incredibly life-changing experience. Frankly, if only because I’ve learned so much from each job. This first season of Pachinko was the hardest job I’ve ever had, but at the same time, it was also the most fulfilling job I’ve ever been a part of. I feel like every job I’ve had so far, whether it be Hamilton, M. Butterfly, Devs, or Love Life, even though they’re all different genres and characters, each of those jobs and experiences has been leading up to this Solomon character. This gargantuan task of becoming fluent in Japanese, for Season Two, I’m studying Japanese more now because I needed help from my dialect coach. I think that’s the nature of this work that we’re doing. I’m always showing up to every job with a couple of answers, but mostly questions. I think that curiosity is maybe the strongest tool that I have.
You know, with any project, but especially this one, I let my curiosity lead. Whether that’s starting my research with the music that I imagined Solomon would have listened to as a baby or as a kid growing up, you know what I mean? I started with Enka music, which was like the 40s and 50s in Japan. Then like, what would be the music he would hear playing as he’s walking down the street growing up, you know, going to middle school or something? There’s no set equation at all, but I have so many questions surrounding the character and the content that I feel there’s no end to how I can research and approach this project.
Similarly, the reflective nature, I feel like that’s a part of my job. As an actor, I have to absorb and engage with society. Then hopefully, through my work, I reflect, respond, and present. I feel like with Pachinko, it’s been one of the most beautiful mirrors to have access to show back to society, this incredible story that I feel like we haven’t been able to see at all in America.
AD: I wanted to ask you about a couple of scenes. One is the death of Hana with all of that emotion and complexity. What was it like to be in that moment and have a scene that was so gut-wrenching?
JH: Can I be honest with you? It was terrifying. I’m interested in and curious about how can I allow myself to get to a place on set where it suddenly no longer feels like work? I was talking about this with one of the writers yesterday; that’s why it’s on my mind. As a person, I feel like I’m very just generally emotional and open in a way. Then kind of like you said, you know, when actors are on interviews, in press conferences or panels, there are different sides of us that we have available for these different settings or conversations. One of them is, you know, my professional self as an actor on set. I always want to be incredibly easy to work with, incredibly grateful, and gracious because I’m happy to be there. At the same time, I realize now that there must be another step to maintain that professionalism, completely forget I’m at work and allow myself to go back to my general sort of open emotional place. It’s the sort of impossible task that we have as actors, whether on stage or on-screen, having to somehow ignore that, in a theater, there are 3000 people silently staring at me on stage. Or if it’s on set, there are 40 crew people around me, and there’s a camera pointed right in my face, that’s a paradoxical nature of acting that I’m infinitely fascinated by. It’s essentially imagination work and, ultimately, just trying to tap into more of that child self. How can we return to that instant imagination where we’re just suddenly thrown into our own world of play?
AD: What was the most fun work that you had to do? You did have a dancing in the rain scene that felt like a lot of fun to watch.
JH: I’m so glad; that’s entirely what we were hoping for. That shoot, dancing in the rain and running out of the conference room scene, was my first day of shooting, and it was in Pusan. We had rented this enormous office-like entertainment complex, and I spent hours sprinting. My legs were jelly by the end, and Eun-Chae Jung’s, like, think Tom Cruise, pump your arms really fast. So I sprinted for my dear life for hours, and right around two am, we started the dancing sequence shoot. So I was utterly exhausted and fully released in that dance sequence because it was so late at night, and I had just been running all day. Then Justin was like, do you mind if we make it rain, like, it’s not in the script, but I think we should have some rain coming down.
I was like, let’s do it. It was a joy because we also had that live band playing. I thought that was the best way for me to be introduced to Solomon and for Solomon to be introduced to me. It was like a meeting of this character, and to not have any lines and to be just as fully in my body as him was, I think, a real gift that worked out with scheduling and was lovely. The opening title sequence was also a joy to shoot because I think Soo just wanted to use that beautiful space designed and built for us regardless of timeline. So he and I danced with Yu-na, who played the very young Sunja, and it was great. A little easter egg; there’s a brown faux fur coat that Mozasu wore in the middle of that opening title sequence; that was the coat I wore to set that day. Soo was just like, wear it, and so he did.
AD: I have to let you go, I only have a minute with you, but there are two quick questions that I want to ask. If there’s a scene that we haven’t talked about that you think perfectly encapsulates your experience in season one, I’d love to know. Also, I’d love to know if there’s anything that I haven’t asked you about that you wanted to mention or reflect on.
JH: Thank you for those questions. I have exactly two things. To answer your first question, I think there are so many. I love the show. Something that comes to mind is the scene with YJ and me; it’s late at night, she’s sat on the back patio of the family home in contemplation, and then Solomon comes down and joins her. They share a silent moment between them. If I’m not mistaken, I believe Kogonada thought of that shot while we were shooting and said I want to add an extra moment for you two to share a breath, but no dialogue. I really loved that moment, not just for what it represents in terms of our relationship as grandmother and grandson but of the unspoken understanding that they share and the comfort of the silence that they both share. In addition, there’s such incredible cinematic storytelling to have those two people sitting next to each other in their own struggles and challenges at that moment and yet so many years apart. They’re so deeply connected, not just because of the bloodline, but also, I don’t know, their experiences, history, everything, like how different and how similar they are. It’s kind of a fascinating paradox of family and generations.
It shows the contrast like, what was her youth and what’s his youth? Even within one family’s lifetime, there’s such a stark difference in experience and opportunity. Then for your second question. Yeah, I think the thesis of our first season is the final interviews with the Zainichi women at the end of Episode Eight. For me, that is such a brilliant ending to our season and a poignant reminder of what this is all about. Why are we telling the story? What were the eight hours we had all just experienced together as an audience? Why is the question, and it’s answered so beautifully and delicately, I thought with those interviews of the Sunjas in real life who have brought us to this moment. Got us to the hidden treasures book about the Zainichi to women, and then that’s one of the things that inspired Min Jin Lee to research and write her book. I’m so grateful that even in the middle of a pandemic, they could connect with these women and document their answers in their own words because I don’t want us to lose sight of the purpose of this art; you know, the story is amazing. Everything we’ve worked on is incredible, and in addition, it’s these women’s stories that we mustn’t forget and overlook. These are the most important people. More than that, I think it’s the Sunjas of everyone’s life that is the most important for us to reflect on. Everybody has a Sunja in their family’s history.
AD: Yeah, absolutely. Jin, thank you so much for your time. It’s so wonderful to talk to somebody and then actually have a conversation, not a script that they’ve memorized. I just really, really, really appreciate your honesty and your willingness to kind of dig deep with me on some of this stuff. I’ll treasure it. Thank you so much.
JH: Thank you so much, Shadan!
Pachinko is available via Apple TV+