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?
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.
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.
Melinda: They’re not making a big deal out of it, right?
Sophie: Yeah. That’s true.
Melinda: She’s just one of the kids.
Sophie: Yeah, she is. There are a couple of story arcs that do address some of the struggles that she faces that some of the other kids don’t face, just like with Noah. But she is at her core just another one of the characters and she has a unique personality. She has the same struggles that an average middle schooler might face. I think that was one of the best things they did for her character.
Melinda: Mm-hmm. I think that the writing is really good and strong. They brought in two characters, Amara and Noah, who both have their own challenges. Tell us a bit about Noah.
Sophie: Noah has social anxiety disorder. He’s been dealing with it all his life. It makes it a little more nerve-wracking for him to interact with others.
Melinda: What does Amara and Noah have in common? What’s their bond?
Sophie: They both know what it feels like to be a little bit on the outside sometimes and feel a little bit alone. They show each other how to be brave in different ways. That was the foundation of their friendship. They help build each other up, because they understand how it feels to be a little bit down and a little bit cast off sometimes.
Melinda: Noah has a very unique friend, a buddy, who helps him out. Talk about that.
Sophie: Yeah, Dude, I assume that’s who you’re talking about?
Sophie: Noah has been home-schooled his whole life, up until sixth grade. His therapist thinks it’s time for him to start public school. Noah is a little bit afraid of this, but he’s willing to give it a try. The first day he goes, things start off a little rocky. The suggestion was, “Maybe you should try an emotional support dog.” At first he’s a little reluctant, but then he gets one, and his name is Dude. (laughs) He was a lot of fun to work with on set. Dude helps Noah calm down when he has panic attacks. He’s a really good friend.
Melinda: What was it like to work with a dog?
Sophie: It was so much fun. Can you imagine my first show I got to work with a dog? I’m a big dog fan.
Melinda: Your scene partner was furry and had four legs.
Sophie: It was so fun.
Melinda: What was his trainer like?
Sophie: His two regulars were a couple, Steve and Gwen. They were the sweetest. I love working with them. They were a lot of fun. Steve would always do magic trick and stuff. I was kind of curious how they would handle the dog, because like I said, I don’t have any experience. Murphy, in a lot of ways, is just like a regular dog. He loves to cuddle and he sometimes licked me. It was really cute. He was fun. When I was in Vancouver, I didn’t have my dog with me. I missed my dog a lot, but I got to hang out with Murphy. Basically, during scenes, you could see Steve or Gwen off to the side of the camera with a long stick, with a treat at the end of it. They used it to make Murphy look in certain directions. Sometimes they’d do a certain hand motion and he’d do a trick. He was really well trained.
Melinda: He was definitely a very strong character in the show. They have him doing so many neat little things that went along with the story. How about the man who does Dude’s voice, actor Steve Zahn?
Sophie: I haven’t met him, but I have seen him in a couple of films. I believe he was in Daddy Day Care. That was one of my childhood favorites. He played the dad on the original Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies. I watched those, and I read the books. That was one of my favorite series as a kid. When they cast him, I was like, “Wait, I know that name!” I believe they casted Steve Zahn after I left on tour, so I never got to meet him.
Melinda: Oh, so they did the voice of Dude later?
Sophie: Oh, yeah.
Melinda: They didn’t even know who was doing his voice at the time of filming?
Sophie: No, they didn’t cast him until after. On set, they had a guy fill in for Dude’s lines. His name was Ed Witzke. He was a lot of fun to work with. He never played any of the human characters. He actually does play Stinky Pete on the show. There’s one part where there are all these dogs that Murphy used to hang out with before he became domestic. One of them was named Stinky Pete. That’s who Ed played. He filled in for all of Dude’s lines temporarily while we were running scenes. He did the voice. He was a lot of fun to work with.
Melinda: It seemed like fun. In many restaurants around LA, I have seen service dogs and comfort dogs. What do you think about the role of those dogs?
Sophie: I think it’s really important. In a lot of ways, any dog provides emotional support, but these dogs are specially trained to give you as much care and love as you need. They help people every day. I love that there’s a show made about an emotional support dog.
Melinda: You said that you have a dog. What’s her name?
Sophie: Kiwi, like the fruit.
Melinda: I love it. I’m sure Kiwi is your buddy and probably gives you a lot of support too.
Sophie: Definitely. She is not certified service or emotional support, but I love her very much.
Melinda: Does your mother have anything to say?
Sophie: Yeh. This is my Mom, Eunice.
Melinda: Hi, Mom!
Eunice: Hi, how are you? Nice to meet you.
Melinda: Your daughter is amazing. You must be so proud.
Eunice: We are incredibly proud. She did something that was, in retrospect, kind of scary and really ambitious. I didn’t know how it would turn out. She was working nine hours a day on the set in a foreign country. I’m so proud of her. It’s a new world to be a professional. She was only 12 when we started filming.
Melinda: What you did would make the average adult actor shake in their boots.
Eunice: (laughs) That’s right.
Melinda: Where are you from originally?
Eunice: Our ethnicity, Sophie and I are Korean. I was born here in the San Francisco Bay Area, and Sophie was born in Chicago.
Melinda: Chicago! I grew up on a farm outside of Chicago.
Sophie: Oh, awesome!
Melinda: Have you been to Korea?
Sophie: I am third generation. I’ve never been to Korea.
Melinda: I’m third generation from Poland. That’s something we have in common. We’re both third generation here, yay!
Melinda: Mom, did you go to set with Sophie?
Eunice: A couple of times. Sophie had a wonderful assistant, her name is Emily, who would help her on set. That was amazing to have an extra set of helping hands. The production company that produced, The Healing Powers of Dude, was amazingly thoughtful about how they adapted the set to her needs. Every step of the way they asked questions proactively to make sure everything would be accessible. They had two trailers. One trailer was where Sophie could rest. It had a big bed, a TV, and a kitchenette. I don’t think she used it too much. Then she had a hair and makeup trailer. Both of the trailers had a giant ramp going up the back. It was really interesting. We had lots of conversations about the restroom and the hair and makeup trailer to make sure it all worked. You could tell that they were doing a lot of it for the first time.
Melinda: They were learning.
Melinda: I was going to ask you how wheelchair
accessible they made everything.
Sophie: It was really good.
Eunice: They did a great job.
Melinda: So, it was definitely a learning experience for them?
Eunice: Yes. They told us that there were no trailers that are inherently wheelchair-accessible, they had to make modifications.
Melinda: That’s been an issue that ABILITY has been talking about to the industry. Sounds like Netflix figured it out. They made it happen.
Eunice: They made it work. They helped us find housing in Vancouver. That was really important, because they initially said that the filming was going to be in Atlanta, Georgia. We were getting all set to go to Atlanta. Emily, the assistant who helped Sophie out, is a nurse by trade. We were trying to get her a nursing license in Georgia, so she could come with us. Literally two weeks before we were supposed to be there, they were like, “Hey, we’re going to Vancouver instead!” We were like, “What?”
Melinda: Welcome to the world of production.
Eunice: That’s right! So of course, our first thought was, “Where will we stay?” Because finding wheelchair-accessible housing is not easy, and it’s not a town we know. They were wonderful. They found the housing for us. They were also taking videos of the whole space and everything to make sure it would work out. That was really helpful. Even on the set, they were very careful to build ramps wherever Sophie would need them. They put down things to cover the cables, so her wheelchair could easily go over them. Some of the cables are really big that they use for the equipment. They tried to make sure she could come and go easily.
Melinda: That is so great to hear. I hope more production companies follow suit. Netflix has raised the bar.
Eunice: We were truly amazed by the level of dedication to make it accessible for Sophie. We were like, “Wow, if real life were like this—” (laughs) It’s like, the minute something was a problem, within hours it would be solved.
Melinda: You were more than just a Mom this time. You were a stage mother. What was it like to be a stage mother?
Eunice: (laughs) I feel like I was in denial initially. When Sophie was auditioning, I was like, “I don’t know if this will work out. How will it all come together?” And when it happened, we were like, “Wow, this is such an amazing opportunity.” Our family, we don’t know anything about this industry, or we didn’t know anything until this started. It was pretty scary. There was at least one family member along to help us along the way. Before Sophie went for the final audition, they told us, “Do you have a talent agent? There needs to be somebody who negotiates her contract before the final audition.” We were like, “We barely know what a talent agent is! Of course we don’t have one!” (laughter) So we were racking our brains, because they said, “Go find yourself a talent agent before the final audition.” And we were like, “OK.” It turns out that I have a cousin in LA, whose husband is the president of Abrams Artists Agency. Of course, we called him up and said, “Hey, this crazy thing is going on.” (laughs) And he was like, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of you!”
Melinda: Wow, just like that.
Eunice: Yeah, exactly.
Melinda: So basically, you got a series regular role, an agent, and your SAG/AFTRA card all in the same year. It can take several years for actors to accomplish all that. But not Sophie. She’s like, “I’ll just do it all right now.” (laughter)
Eunice: That was really instrumental, because you had to negotiate the whole contract before going to the final audition. My biggest concern was the accommodations we would need to request as part of her employment. We didn’t even know what to expect on a set. We’d never been in that situation. We had to do a lot of thinking about that. The agency was really instrumental in that. It worked out really well.
Melinda: Does this particular agency specialize or have a division for disability actors?
Eunice: No. If they do, I’m not aware of it. They have a very strong youth department, it just so happens, so they have been working with a number of younger actors and are at least familiar with some of those needs. They worked with us to ask about accommodations for housing and travel and what we needed on the set for her to be comfortable. They asked a lot of questions to help make sure she would have everything she needs as part of her new gig! (laughter)
Melinda: And mom’s got the lingo down, the “gig!” It sounds like you had a great team around you.
Sophie: We did.
Melinda: Do you plan on doing some more acting in the future?
Sophie: I don’t know, honestly. I really don’t know.
Melinda: Is it something you like?
Sophie: I really enjoyed it. I would be happy to do it again. If there’s another season of this show, I’ll definitely be there. I’m not sure. At this point I haven’t been actively looking, but I don’t know, maybe in the future. Right now I’m just in eighth grade, you know?
Melinda: You’re busy being an eighth grader, as you should be. Let me ask you this question. The Healing Powers of Dude was a whole new life experience for you and your family. What did this experience teach you? What did you learn about yourself that you didn’t know before?
Sophie: Hmm. I think I learned that I really like being part of a story. It was really fun. I kind of got scripts as I went, so by the time I got to Vancouver, I still hadn’t read through the entire series. As I was reading, I said, “This is really interesting. I can’t believe I’m going to be a part of this story.” I’ve always been into stories in any form, like in a TV show, in a movie, in books. I like to write, too. I found it really interesting to be a moving part of this story. At its core, that’s what it is.
Melinda: What message do you hope that story conveys?
Sophie: Its main messages are be kind and friendship is magic! (laughs)
Melinda: Aw! Yes, it is!
Sophie: Yes, although I won’t be singing the “My Little Pony” theme song right now. (laughter)
Melinda: You do sing in the show. I want to hear your singing voice.
Sophie: The singing parts are in episodes 5 and 8.
Melinda: You are a talented, smart young lady. I’m glad we could meet you.
Sophie: It was nice to meet you, too.
Melinda: How can people find you? Are you on Instagram, Facebook?
Sophie: I do have social media, yeah. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. @iamsophiekim.
Melinda: Thank you again, Sophie. I gotta get to binge watching the rest of The Healing Powers of Dude.
Sophie: That would be really cool, thank you!
In partnership with Diana Pastora Carson, M.Ed.
Author: Beyond Awareness: Bringing Disability into Diversity Work in K-12 Schools & Communities, and children’s book Ed Roberts: Champion of Disability Rights, ADA 30th Anniversary Edition https://www.dianapastoracarson.com/store
DURING THESE UNCERTAIN AND STRESSFUL TIMES, ABILITY Magazine is providing FREE Premium Memberships that include all Content, Digital Flip Page ABILITY Magazine, PDF versions, plus online interactive ABILITY Crossword Puzzles. SIGN UP HERE FOR YOUR FREE MEMBERSHIP