Trinity graduate represents Korean-American community on hit show This Is Us
by Nicolette Good '07
Tim Jo ’06 was home in Los Angeles when his manager called, saying, “This Is Us is asking about your availability.”
For actor Jo, working on NBC’s hit television show was a dream. The diverse character drama is known as an intimate, raw, tear-jerker unafraid of depicting topics such as grief, transracial adoption, racism, and weight and body image issues. This Is Us debuted in 2016, premiering to more than 10 million viewers and earning a 2.8 demo rating, according to TVLine, making it that fall’s top-rated series launch.
Jo responded to his manager asking, “When is the audition?”
Only, there was no audition. His manager replied, “Dan Fogelman and the show runners wrote you into the show, so it’s an offer.”
This Is Us creator Fogelman had previously worked with Dallas-born Jo on ABC’s sitcom The Neighbors (2012), where Jo played Reggie Jackson. Among other projects with Fogelman, Jo was a series regular in Pitch, Fox’s single-season baseball drama about major league baseball’s first female player, written by Fogelman.
The opportunity to appear on This Is Us was unique, though, because it dealt with the issue of representation, which hits home for many underrepresented groups.
“As an Asian-American fan of the show, I relate to the story in many ways—we get to see ourselves and our stories told through a single family—but I hadn’t see my face on the show yet,” Jo says.
Viewers meet his character in episode six of season three, when African American Randall Pearson (played by 2018 Golden Globe winner Sterling K. Brown) is running for city council but struggles to connect with Black voters. So, he decides to court the powerful Korean demographic instead. To do so, Randall takes advantage of his wildly famous brother, who stars in a TV sitcom popular with—you guessed it—Korean audiences.
Local resident Jae-Won (played by Jo) sees through this political charade and confronts Randall. After a meaningful dialogue, though, the two develop a rapport, and Jae-Won decides to become Randall’s campaign manager.
“It was beyond just Jae-Won calling Randall out on representation,” Jo says. “It was a Korean-American actor getting to play a Korean-American person, speaking on behalf of the Korean-American community.”
In the same episode, Randall asks for his name, and Jo’s character replies, “My name is Jae-Won, but most non-Koreans call me John.” Randall then thanks him genuinely, usin
“Randall chose to call me by my given name," Jo explains. "That was a very delicately played and beautiful moment. That kind of sensitivity encapsulates the beauty and awareness that the writers on the show have.” Jo’s own given Korean name is Woong-Jeh, which translates to ‘noble bear.’
Even in the face of his recent success, Jo is humble and self-deprecating.
“I left Trinity a terrible actor, I came to L.A. a terrible actor, and I still tell myself I’m a terrible actor,” says Jo, who moved to Los Angeles shortly after graduation. “The challenge is to find my light, and stand in my presence.”
Being able to move through those inner challenges is a testament to how far the once-timid Trinity graduate has come.
“I was told by a professor he would have to fail me unless I started speaking up in class—I was that shy,” Jo remembers.
Jumping from one major to another, Jo took an introductory acting class with Stacey Connelly, associate theatre professor at Trinity. Suddenly, he was unafraid to speak up and began to come out of his shell.
“That’s when I realized, maybe there’s something about acting I could connect with,” he says. “I decided I needed to know what I looked like on camera, so I started hosting Studio 21 on TigerTV for the rest of the time I was at Trinity.”
It was uncomfortable at first, but he began to learn which angles looked best, and how to be alive on screen. That learning still continues today.
“I never stop training. I’m always in a class or working with an acting coach,” Jo explains.
“There’s a real sense of gratitude and excitement, of enjoying the present situation,” Jo reflects. “With Dan Fogelman, I’ve done so many projects that didn’t fly. To finally work with him on a project that is soaring, I almost am not looking too far forward. I’m just saying, ‘I can’t believe we did it!”