There’s no denying that Kevin Kreider of Netflix’s Bling Empire is one fine looking man. In fact, in the series, he’s portrayed as this happy-go-lucky Asian male model who moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of furthering his dreams, but in reality there’s so much more to him than just that.
In an interview with BAZAAR, the reality television star gets candid and shares with us why he decided to join the cast, his adoption story and why his hair was falling off at some point.
Tell us about your friendship with Kane Lim.
We actually met through Kelly Mi Li. She reached out to me and complimented me on one of the Huffington Post videos I did about my life as an Asian male model and what it was like dating in America. And she encouraged me to move to Los Angeles saying things like ‘Hey, things are changing and you should come out here. I’m well connected and I can probably help you get into the world of acting.’
So I took a leap of faith and moved there.
The first person she introduced me to was Kane Lim, and I remember thinking: ‘Who is this guy?’ because he had red bling-out shoes on. Then we started talking and connected on spirituality, fashion, fitness and he has become my best friend in Los Angeles ever since.
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How has your style evolved since meeting Kane?
I mean, I wear Dior Men now—that’s how my fashion has evolved. But those are things Anna Shay gave to me during our fashion trips and whatnot. I will say that I’m now more conscious about what I wear, and by that I mean I don’t shop alone. I will now go shopping with Kane, Anna or with a girl who’s got a really good fashion sense. I would definitely describe my personal style as street/preppy, which I don’t think is awful; it’s just not high fashion.
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What motivated your decision to join the cast of Bling Empire?
A huge motivating factor for me was changing the narrative and perception of Asian male masculinity. Back in 2011, when I was pursuing modelling in Singapore, I remember being shocked that even in Asia there was still a preference for ‘white beauty’, and that made me feel really insecure about myself. Which is basically the story of my life as an Asian adoptee growing up in Philadelphia—facing Asian stereotypes and developing inferiority complexes.
One of the show-runners of Bling Empire (he’s half-Asian) really resonated with my story and shared with me that his parents also went through the same thing. He said to me: ‘I want you to be that leading Asian man that you wanted to see as a child.’ And now I get to be him—an Asian leading man, which is a rare occurrence, especially in reality television. It’s not something you see very often.
Tell us about your experience dealing with alopecia areata.
Alopecia areata is a very unique autoimmune disease whereby stress causes your immune system to attack your hair follicles, making your hair fall out. It was a really scary experience because who expects a whole chunk of hair falling out when you’re combing your hair? It was traumatic for me because as a model, my hair was part of my identity—which stressed me out even more. Because my hair loss resulted in fewer modelling jobs, there was less money coming in and I had to move into an apartment with six roommates in the middle of Harlem.
I think it was my body’s way of telling me to stop with all the drugs and alcohol. So I did, and started meditating as a way to destress. That led me to become a more spiritual person—something Kane and I connect on. I also started working out more, eating better and slowly my hair began to grow back. My advice to anyone dealing from it is to reduce stress in their lives.
What made you decide to share your adoption story with a global audience?
I didn’t actually plan on sharing my story as I thought it was a cliché, and also because I love my parents and didn’t feel a need to find my birth parents. But as the show went on, the producers told me that Kim Lee was looking for her biological father, and I was like ‘holy cow, that’s cool!’ Also, seeing Cherie and Christine being new mothers made me think ‘You know what, it’ll actually be nice to know who my real Asian parents are.’ So I think the cast really helped me open up to the idea of sharing my story.
My goal in sharing the story is that hopefully someone in South Korea or Southeast Asia—who watches the show—knows about my family origins will be able to reach out to me with more information.
As for the experience, I’ve received so many messages from adoptees telling me about their stories—even my landlord. Stories like ours have never really been told like this before, and I didn’t realise the impact it was going to have. It’s empowering people to go and search for their birth parents to find closure.
In 2018, your TED Talk titled ‘Redefining Asian Masculinity’ went viral on the internet. What motivated your decision to give that talk?
I’ve always wanted to do a TED Talk, I just never thought I had anything important to say. But I think what really motivated me to talk about it was this video I did with American basketball player Jeremy Lin in the locker room, where I asked him a question about Asian stereotypes and how he had to deal with them. When I posted his response on my YouTube channel, so many people identified with it and I thought ‘Okay, it seems like the world might be ready to hear this now.’ So I applied to TED with my proposed topic, they picked it up and said ‘Go for it.’
I think they found it interesting that an Asian male model felt emasculated or had difficulties growing up because of his looks. That’s because they don’t see the struggles I went through as a skinny, nerdy, Asian kid growing up who faced a lot of racism on the sports team—they only see the end result. So I hope the biggest takeaway for anyone watching those videos is that you get what you put out in the world. So start creating what you want to see.
What are your hopes for Asian representation in Hollywood?
I hope Hollywood realises that Asians—especially Asian men—are desirable. And that they have a place in the world and in Hollywood. The industry talks with numbers right? Be it money or the number of people watching a show. So the more we get seen, the more it’s normalised for an Asian man to play a leading role in Hollywood but not in a stereotypical, degrading way. Challenging Asian stereotypes and redefining Asian masculinity are what I would like from Hollywood as an Asian actor.
What did it mean to you when you saw Henry Golding, an Asian man, play a leading role in Hollywood’s Crazy Rich Asians?
It was so meaningful to me, especially the diversity of the Asian male cast who came from different cultural backgrounds and sexuality like Nico Santos who played Oliver. It was really cool and I loved it. I think it’s something very special that the Asian community can be proud of, because it’s more than just spending money and has so much more depth to it.
What can we expect from you in season two and what are you working on outside of the show?
I’d like to explore more of what it’s like to be of South Korean-descent in season two. Maybe even going to Seoul to look for my birth parents or grandfather or even go to Singapore. I’d also love to explore more of what’s going on with Kim’s life.
Apart from that, Kane and I are actually going into business together. We’re creating a supplement line. Also, I’m just writing and going behind the scenes more to create roles for Asian male leads, especially Korean adoptees—which is something I hope to bring to the big screen one day.