This year, celebrities and attendees alike dazzled at the 16th annual Unforgettable Gala at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Honoring Asian-American trailblazers in their respective fields, the Gala awarded the likes of Daniel Dae Kim, Chloe Kim, Justin Chon, and more at the stunning event. With performances from stars such as Judith Hill and Kinjaz and presenters including Harry Shum Jr. and Karrueche Tran, we couldn’t have anticipated a bigger night. However, the Hallyu Wave came in with a force; Epik High delivered an indeed epic performance, whilst Cha Inpyo, Michelle Lee, and Seohyun of Girls’ Generation graced the red carpet. Check out our interviews with some of the honorees, as well as others on the star-studded guest list!
David Lim (S.W.A.T., Quantico)
Q: Do you still get starstruck by your coworkers?
A: Yeah, definitely! After you spend 14-16-hour days with them every single week—it’s a lot of work and you’re just in it and it’s more like family. So, at first, you’re starstruck, but now we’re a very close-knit family because we’ve been working together for so long.
Q: Do you have a particular moment when you were starstruck that you can tell us about?
A: I’ll say, in regards to S.W.A.T., the first time I showed up to tactical training was my first time meeting any of the cast, and Shemar Moore comes up to me like I’ve known him for years. I’ve been watching this guy on television for years in The Young and the Restless and Criminal Minds, and he comes up to me like, “David! It’s so good to finally meet you!” And I was like, “Whoa, whoa, what’s going on?” and I was a little starstruck. But, best guy in the world to work with and it’s been a lot of fun.
Q: What’s your biggest tip for aspiring for Asian-American actors?
A: I think, you know, study or find a good class or respect the craft. You know, that’s how we were raised—to study hard, work hard, get a good education, and that’s what I took into the business. I didn’t have a lot of experience acting, but I knew if I worked hard, if I studied my tail off, that I believed I could have some success. That would be my tip—study hard and let the rest fall into place.
Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda, The Darkest Minds)
Q: If you were given the opportunity to play the lead in a remake of a popular film, which film would it be and why?
A: I wouldn’t do it because I like being behind the camera, not in front!
Q: Let me rephrase the question then. What popular film would you like to direct?
A: I would love to direct a movie that’s all action, all the time!
Q: What can you tell us about your upcoming film, The Darkest Minds?
A: It’s based on a young adult novel and it’s amazingly fun and heartfelt. The cast is amazing, really a fun time shooting in Atlanta. It’ll come out next year!
Q: In terms of Kung Fu Panda, how important was it for you to participate in a film that was centered around Asian culture and history?
A: I think it was very important. Not only for myself but for a lot of people in the production—we wanted to make sure it was authentic as possible and not told so much from an outsider’s point of view. Because of that, I think that there was a particular sense of detail and thoughtfulness about the setting and the culture and the history of kung fu that we really thought about and researched. So, I think that it was important.
Q: How has the reaction from the Asian community been from a film like that, to see such genuine Asian history in it? What reactions have you noticed?
A: The reaction from the Asian community has been immense. I think that, not only is it great for people to see the culture centered in a not only respectful but totally entertaining way, but that it sort of encourages them that history is not trivial. It’s important and it’s interesting, so that’s why I think the response has been very positive.
Awkwafina (Bad Rap, Ocean’s Eight, Crazy Rich Asians)
Q: How are you feeling tonight?
A: I’m feeling great! I’m amped—a little nervous, as one would be.
Q: What are you nervous about?
A: I don’t know, I think it’s the fact that I have to make a speech! But I mean, it’s cool, this is really cool. I’m really nervous, but I’m running off of it.
Q: So what can you tell us about Crazy Rich Asians, which is coming out next year?
A: Crazy Rich Asians was a trip. I haven’t seen it, but from what I gathered shooting it, it’s probably gonna be a really crazy movie. I think it’s a very important movie, and I think that it’ll set a precedent for future minority-driven movies.
Q: Were you starstruck by your coworkers when shooting the film?
A: Um, yeah, I’m starstruck by everyone—my whole life is being starstruck and being like, “Oh my God!” Like going home and then sitting, thinking like, “Did I say that? Did I really say that to this person?” But the truth is that, starstruckness is a state of mind and everyone’s a human being, so eventually they just become normal people, and it’s cool.
Q: Have people been starstruck of you? Is that kind of mindblowing?
A: You know, there was this one weird dude at 7-Eleven. He loved me, he was like, “Dude!” and I was like, “Dude!” Yeah, it happened to me once.
Q: So what can we expect from you as a musician and as a rapper?
A: I’m releasing a new song and new music video next month! I took a long break from music, obviously, so I hope to get back into that.
Michelle Lee (Korean Singer/Rapper, K-Pop Star, Tribe of Hip Hop)
Q: How does it feel to be here today?
A: I feel good tonight! I feel so excited!
Q: What can we be expecting from you in the future?
A: I’m preparing a new single right now and I’m going to shoot my new music video as soon as possible.
Q: Are you filming here?
A: Yup, in L.A. at Santa Monica Beach! And I’m going to release my new album and new music video in the middle of January.
Q: What American pop star would you like to work with?
A: I love Beyoncé and Charlie Puth and India.Arie. I love them! I really want to make a song with India.Arie.
Q: Would you like to choose your last question?
A: “What’s something that annoys you or you don’t like?” Ah, snakes? I hate snakes! I don’t like them at all.
Jaeden Lieberher (It, The Book of Henry, St. Vincent)
Q: How are you feeling tonight being here?
A: Very good! It’s nice seeing a lot of people and it’s just fun being here.
Q: You were in It, which is such a big movie! How has your newfound fame affected you and your family?
A: Obviously, it’s affected my life in different ways, but it doesn’t really affect me as a human, I guess. So, it’s not too different. Walking the streets is kind of strange when people notice you, but it’s nice to know that other people are enjoying your work and are excited to see when you’re up to something.
Q: When you look at the box office, would you believe that It has been at the top of the Korean box office for quite some time! So how do you feel knowing that audiences in other countries are enjoying your work?
A: That’s amazing! I’m a quarter Korean, actually. My grandma is Korean and we have Korean family so it’s really nice to know that. It’s kind of incredible to think about people watching you that speak different languages and live in different cultures. I find that amazing.
Q: So we want to know, do you listen to K-Pop at all?
A: Um, not really. I’ve heard some of BTS’s songs.
Q: Would you like to pick your last question?
A: “If you could eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?” I’m gonna have to say one of my favorite Korean dishes, Dduk Guk (떡국). Yes, I’m gonna go with that for sure.
Q: Do you eat a lot of Korean food at home?
A: Oh yeah, of course! My grandma cooks a lot of Korean dishes.
Check out even more interviews in the second part of our Unforgettable Gala coverage!