Sophie Kim is a 13 year old junior high student. She sings in the school choir and enjoys spending time with her friends and her dog, Kiwi. Sophie’s life changed last year when she suddenly became a professional actress. Netflix decided to cast a young actress, who authentically uses a wheelchair, in one of their new series. After a worldwide casting call by us (this is explained in the article), Sophie won the role.
“The exec producers of the show, and everyone on the production were so mindful and accommodating and always wanting to make sure that Sophie had everything that she needed to be comfortable on set and off set. There was one day in the beginning where the primary entrance to the eating area for lunch was inaccessible because there was a curb. I mentioned this to the producers because I knew we were going to be shooting at that location for a couple of weeks. When I got there the next morning they had poured an asphalt ramp so that Sophie could get in. I was blown away that they had taken care of it so quickly. That’s how they were with everything. It’s really a credit to them as they were really conscientious about making sure that everything was accessible and that Sophie was included in everything. Really can’t say enough about Erica Spates, Sam Littenberg-Weisberg and Dan Lubetkin and everyone there.” stated Andrew Kim, Sohpie’s dad.
ABILITY Magazine had been in touch with Andrew Kim and for the first time had the opportunity to chat with Sophie. At the age of two Sophie was diagnosed with Ullrich Congenital Muscular Dystrophy. She has been using a wheelchair since the age of four. Sophie is a sweet, smart, articulate young lady, with a fun sense of humor. She tells us all about her life on set as an actress. Sophie also talks about why it’s important for the TV and Film industry to cast actors with disabilities.
Melinda: Hello, Sophie. I’m excited to meet you.
Sophie: Hi! I’m excited to meet you.
Melinda: I watched the first two episodes of The Healing Powers of Dude.
Sophie: Oh, you did?
Melinda: Yes. I laughed. I even cried at that scene where Noah is so nervous about being at school that he literally starts to sink into the floor and suddenly Dude (his dog) comes running down the hall to save him.
Sophie: Oh! That’s awesome!
Melinda: They are such a great duo. And you are amazing. Is this really your first acting job?
Sophie: It is, yeah.
Melinda: You never did any theater before?
Sophie: Oh, it’s my first professional acting job. I did two school plays before this.
Melinda: Do you have an acting teacher?
Sophie: Do I have a personal acting teacher? I do not.
Melinda: I’m only asking you this because I saw you on The Healing Powers of Dude, and you’re really, really good!
Sophie: Thank you!
Melinda: You look like a seasoned professional with lots of experience acting.
Sophie: Thank you so much!
Melinda: This does not look like your first time at it at all. You were great. You’re very strong, grounded, confident, very real.
Sophie: Thank you, that’s so sweet of you!
Melinda: You’re very welcome. How did you prepare for the role?
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Sophie: The acting coach, Beatrice, helped me practice some of the scenes and get into character. I don’t know. I would say Amara is not too far of a cry from my personal character, so it wasn’t too difficult for me. But yeah, I mean, in Vancouver, we did a couple weeks of team-building and exercises. Before that I just had school and I had to leave school two weeks early, so I didn’t really have a ton of time to prep. But yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Melinda: You did great. Did you have an on-set tutor?
Sophie: Yes. Beatrice was the acting coach for the kids.
Melinda: She was the acting coach and was she also the on-set teacher? You had to have school time, correct?
Sophie: Oh, yes. The on-set teacher was Jenny—I forget her last name. We just called her Miss Jenny. She was the on-set teacher. She’s really sweet. Beatrice was the acting coach.
Melinda: OK. You had an acting coach, and then you had your schoolteacher on-set.
Melinda: How old are you?
Sophie: I’m 13.
Melinda: So you’re in junior high?
Sophie: Yes. Eighth grade.
Melinda: Awesome! Tell me the name of your character again.
Melinda: You said you have a lot in common with Amara, so it was pretty easy to get into character. What do you have in common with her?
Sophie: She cares a lot about her friends. She’s kind of sarcastic at times, a little sassy. But she does have a really sweet side. I like that about her.
Melinda: Yeah. I liked the little sassy edge you gave her.
Sophie: Yeah. (laughs)
Melinda: But a lot of heart.
Sophie: She does have heart, yeah. She’s very multidimensional.
Melinda: I like that. Tell us how you got the part.
Sophie: I think it all started in February of 2019. My aunt, who lives in New York, saw, well, I don’t know if she saw the casting call directly, but she might have seen an article about the casting call. They had called for an authentic wheelchair role. There was an article about that and she sent it to my dad via email. She was like, “Sophie would be really good in this.” She said it kind of lightly, like, “Yeah, that would be cool.” And my dad sent it to me. He was like, “You know, you should maybe try out for that.” I said, “OK.” I had never auditioned professionally for anything before. I didn’t know how to do it. I’d never looked for that kind of thing before.
I was like, “Ha-ha, I’ll do this for fun, sure. Might as well. It won’t take long.” I did it once with two of my friends. Basically, we were supposed to self-tape some of the scenes and then send them in online. And then I redid it because I had more time on a sleepover with my best friend. It was pretty fun to do. We had a lot of fun making them. We were like, “OK, we made some chill tapes. Let’s just send them in.” That was pretty much it. And then we heard back maybe within a week or two. They said to my dad, “OK, we really liked her. Could we do a Skype call in person and have her run her scenes with us?” So, I did a Skype call with the casting directors and the producers. They said, “OK, that was great.” They also made me sing something. I sang, “Somewhere Only We Know.” It’s a really nice song. I’ve liked that song for a while. I am in chorus at school. We were having a concert that same day. I chose to sing “Somewhere Only We Know”, because I was going to be singing it in the concert. I think it went pretty well. Then I got an email a little while later, and they were like, “We really like Sophie.” They wanted to do an in-person audition for real in LA.
Melinda: They were in LA. Where were you?
Sophie: I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. We decided to drive to LA. I went with my dad. We got to the Netflix building. Everyone was really nice there. I met the candidates for the other roles and the other girl who was there for my part.
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Melinda: Uh-oh, you met the competition?
Sophie: Yeah, but she was really sweet. It was cool. There was another girl in a wheelchair there. I wished her the best. It was really cool. It was just kind of a cool experience.
Melinda: Were you nervous at all?
Sophie: Oh, I was really nervous! It’s not even like I had been looking for this all my life or anything. It was just like, you know, I’ve gotten this far and I really hope I get this. When I’m nervous I talk a lot. There were people who were managing the kids there. They were really sweet and I was talking to one of them nonstop, rapid-fire, the entire time until it was my turn. I went in a couple of times to run scenes with the other candidates. They were doing a kind of chemistry test. That was interesting. I had never done it before, so I didn’t know what it would be like at all. It was really new to me.
Melinda: It was a whole new experience?
Sophie: Yeah. It was entirely new.
Melinda: When did you get the phone call that you got the part?
Sophie: I didn’t get it directly. My parents got it. I was in Disneyland.
Sophie: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy, right?
Melinda: Where dreams come true!
Sophie: Exactly! I was there on a school trip. I was in the hotel room with one of my best friends and I got a text from my parents. It was a picture of them pouring champagne.
Sophie: I was like, “Oh, OK.” And then they video-called me. They said, “You got it!” And I was like, “Whoa!”
Melinda: So you just went straight to the top, you didn’t mess around. You just went straight to one of the biggest streaming platforms out there.
Sophie: I know, it was really crazy!
Melinda: You didn’t do an independent film first, or theater, or a little web series on YouTube. You just said, “You know what? I’m just going to do Netflix!”
Sophie: Exactly, yeah, I guess so!
Melinda: Did you know ABILITY Magazine helped out with casting your role?
Melinda: Yeah. When Netflix casting was looking for a young girl, who authentically uses a wheelchair, between 9 to 13 years of age, they were having a problem finding young talent. They came to us and asked if we could help. Through our network and connections, ABILITY Magazine and abilityJOBS.com put the word out and your father, along with hundreds of others, sent us requests to learn more. We then gather the hundreds of submissions and sent them to Netflix casting, and you got the role!
Sophie: I didn’t know that. That’s really cool.
Melinda: Because from that effort, we’ve created abilityE, which will be the new pipeline for the entertainment industry to find talented actors with disabilities and talent behind the camera.
I’m an actress myself. I’ve had opportunities in the past to intern for different agents and managers, and learned quite a bit. Here’s the deal. Lots of times in LA when agents submit for a role, many actors are submitted. Sometimes 500 to 1,000 actors will be submitting for one role. In the case of your role, it was about 500. They narrow it down to a few actors to come in and audition. Then one of the 500 gets to have the role. You were the one. How does that feel?
Sophie: That’s crazy, that’s really crazy! And I’m so grateful.
Melinda: You earned it. You’re a good actress.
Sophie: Thank you so much!
Melinda: You know what I loved about this? Netflix could have chosen any actress. An actress who maybe doesn’t necessarily use a wheelchair. They could have cast a typical actress and had her sit in a wheelchair and do the part. Sometimes that happens. But Netflix decided to really go out and search for a wonderful actress who authentically uses a wheelchair every day and gave the role to her. What do you feel about that?
Sophie: I thought that was really great of them. I think it means a lot to the community, because it means that they really care. To do that, it makes their option a lot smaller. It’s true. When I first read it, I thought, “That’s the first time I’ve ever heard of that.” There has been a couple roles with authentic disabled people playing them, but it’s the first time I’ve ever heard, “This role is just for authentic wheelchair users.” That’s really great. I’m really happy that they did that.
Melinda: Kudos to Netflix! They’re pretty big. What would you like to say to other production companies, other networks, to encourage them to do what Netflix did? Use more actors with disabilities.
Sophie: I would say that it’s the best thing you could do for young viewers, because it would mean so much to so many people. It’s just, when you’re part of a really small community and you don’t see others like you out in the world or even on the screen, it can be hard to relate. You feel alone sometimes, you know? And to see someone who goes through what you go through every day, that means a lot.
Melinda: Very well said. Speaking of young people, many of the young people I know may be aware of the disability community, but they have very little contact or experience with this community. When they do, it’s not badly intended, but some may feel… awkward. Simply because they are not quite sure what to say or do, so sometimes they avoid it. What do you have to say to those young people?
Sophie: I would say, try to remain really open-minded and try the best you can to be informed. Don’t make assumptions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Melinda: I’ve watched the first two episodes of your show. I’m going to binge-watch the rest, because I love it. So, I’m just speaking of the first two episodes. In the first two episodes it appears that Amara is your everyday kid going to school and she just happens to be in a wheelchair.
Sophie: Yes, and I think that was a good thing.