Story by: Wilfred Lee, Photos by: Kahlid Elijah Tapia (courtesy of)
With roots in acting and film from North Carolina, Kahlid Elijah Tapia has continued to flourish in South Korea with more than 20 films to his name, five of them being Korean features. His dedication and successes in filmmaking here are testament to his philosophy to “blossom where you’re planted.” Artist’s Journey’s Wilfred Lee sat down with Tapia to discuss his acting values, his challenges as a foreign actor and his expectations for Seoul’s film scene.
Artist’s Journey: How did you get into acting?
Kahlid Elijah Tapia: I was walking down the hallway of my high school singing a gospel song. The drama director heard me singing and walked up to me and said, “I need an actor for the musical that I’m directing. Would you be willing?”
I said yes and that’s when I started doing musicals. I did musicals all through my collegiate years. However, it wasn’t until I came to Korea when a friend of mine who is an actress recommended that I put my headshot and resume on Craigslist. The calls started coming and everything pretty much started to snowball, in a good way, from there.
What is essential for becoming an effective actor?
Every actor will say something different. For me it’s about having thick skin, because you will be rejected. It’s about knowing who you are and what you want out of life in this career. If those two questions aren’t answered thoroughly, this career path will chew you up and spit you out.
Dedication to learning is essential. I read a chapter a day of something, sometimes of more than one acting book, or a book on the business of acting, screenwriting and directing. If I can be a jack-of-all-trades and master of one, I can be a more effective actor for any director or costar. I meet with my acting coach regularly, I attend any and all workshops that I can go to and I’m constantly budgeting my funds to attend film festivals.
Lastly, it’s learning how to talk to people. I get most of my acting opportunities because I know how to network. Yes, my four agents are great, but there is no better agent than myself.
How has the foreign acting community evolved over the years and where do you see it heading?
The foreigner community has come so far in such a short time, and people are beginning to take notice. Three years ago there was barely anything being done. But now, if there isn’t a production company doing a shoot, then something is seriously wrong.
What I love the most about the community is that we support each other with education, equipment, criticisms, etc. I see the foreigner community going as far as we will let it. When I do a film with foreigners here in Korea, the directors do their best to make the production as professional as possible. That, to me, is a sign of greatness. If you want the better job, then be the better job.
What kind of discrimination do you face as a black actor working in Korea?
I don’t receive discrimination on color in the movie industry. Can racism exist in the film industry? Yes, but racism can exist anywhere, no matter where you are. I’ve been thankful that I haven’t been treated with any sort of discrimination. The only thing I have to battle is the image of being a foreign actor.
There are times when casting agents, producers or directors think that all foreigners are just “happy to be in a movie.” However, there are those of us who are truly serious about this craft. Proving how hard I work, conveying it and persuading those in the industry can be a struggle at times.
What inspires you to overcome the adversities you face as a foreign actor in Korea?
Korea inspires me. Here is a country that started really gaining momentum in the film industry around the ’70s, and look how far it’s come. I know this country’s film industry is on the verge of exploding, and I plan to be smack-dab in the middle of the explosion.