Esther Moon is currently shining as “Mrs. Oh” in Lee Isaac Chung’s Golden Globe Winner and as of this recently, Oscar Nominee, Minari. Supporting Steven Yuen (“The Walking Dead,” “Okja”) and Han Ye-ri (“As One, Worst Woman”) Moon’s role is wonderfully memorable. Her performance was even praised by “Parasite” filmmaker and three-time Academy Award Winner, Bong Joon Ho. Moon and her castmates have been nominated for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture by the Screen Actors Guild and Best Acting Ensemble by the Critics’ Choice Association.
“Minari,” based on Chung’s childhood, follows a Korean American family that moves to rural Arkansas in search of their American Dream. Albeit being an American-made film, the HFPA has awarded it with the Best Foreign Language Film before stipulating that it would not be eligible for one of the two best picture Globes. Frustrated by the underrepresentation and often misrepresentation of Asians in American Cinema, Moon hopes to renew the conversation, inspire a community, and continue to embody strength, talent, and individuality as an Asian American actress.
Moon is known for her work in Women in Film’s, “Flip the Script,” “Joy Joy Nails,” a captivating short by Sundance nominated director, Joey Ally, that challenges the norm with an all-Asian cast, and “Moonface,” a fictional podcast by writer/director James Kim that Vulture calls, “Gorgeous.” Her work extends to writing and producing with award-winning short, “Fractured,” a fictional story based on the life of mass school shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, currently streaming on Amazon.
Born in South Korea, Moon immigrated to the United States when she was just two years old. At the age of ten, she became a “parachute kid” for a short time when her parents moved back to Korea. She soon followed, living in Korea through her early teens, until finally settling back in the U.S. with her brother and aunt at sixteen. These early experiences, in two vastly different countries, left Moon with a wonderful appreciation for both cultures and traditions.
Though always a thespian at heart, Moon is relatively new to Hollywood. She spent the last two decades as a licensed mental health clinician; work she will always be passionate about. It was not until a breast cancer diagnosis, fight, and ultimate victory in 2015 that she finally decided to pursue HER American Dream.
Moon is a wife, mother, licensed foster parent; being an enthusiastic advocate for children in the Los Angeles County foster care system, and actively supports various organizations that raise funding for cancer research and awareness.
When Esther Moon had a moment, she spoke with Gemma Magazine about Minari, her past experience within acting, and what she’s currently working on.
Can you tell us about your childhood? How did you grow up?
I was born in South Korea and immigrated to the US when I was two years old. My dad was a student pursuing advanced degrees and soon after accepted a professorship back in Korea. This event was the launch of my life as a “parachute kid.” A “parachute kid” is when the parents live in their home country, while their children are “parachuted” into a different country to either live alone or with caregivers. I lived all over the east coast (NY, VA, GA, NJ), CA, and Korea until I was about 16/17. At that time, I settled in the Los Angeles area, and I haven’t left. I don’t have a hometown because of my frequent moves, so I consider LA home.
When did you know that you wanted to pursue acting as a career? You also are in the mental health field, correct?
I’ve always loved acting. Starting in elementary school, I was in every drama class and every school/church production available. Even in college, I took every theater class open to non-theater majors (I majored in communications and sociology). Around this time is when I started to wonder if this was something I could pursue as a career – but my Korean parents promptly shut that idea down. At the time, I didn’t dare to say, “screw you guys, I’m going to pursue acting, and I will go work as a waitress to support myself.” Instead, I found a career that I enjoyed and found meaningful (social work and mental health), but I was that person who, if I heard of an open casting call somewhere, took a sick day from work to stand in line for five hours to audition.
Yes, I am a licensed clinical social worker and still work part-time as a clinical supervisor for a community nonprofit agency. I’ve been in this field for about 20 years now and mental health awareness and increasing access to services is something I am very passionate about.
How did you find the auditioning process?
The audition life for actors can be a grind, but I still love it. I love the thrill of receiving an audition notice, the exploration of character, and before covid, the excitement of going into a casting room. For “Minari,” I had helped out with casting for the child actors, so I was already acquainted with the directors and producers involved. I hadn’t thought there was a role for me, so it was a pleasant surprise to receive an audition invitation, and of course, I was thrilled when they offered me the role.
What was it like working on “Minari?” As you know, it is receiving so much well-deserved attention.
Working on Minari was a joy! From when I was helping with casting to the shoot in Oklahoma. Every single person I worked with was so kind and inclusive. I met real-life chicken sexers, and it was wonderful getting to know them and their stories. And since it was my first time in Oklahoma, it was great fun exploring a new state!
I’m so thrilled that Minari is receiving so much attention. It’s a beautifully made film, I’ve received so many teary comments about how many people relate to the struggles! It deserves all the accolades.
Can you please tell me about “Moonface?….the indie series about a fictional podcast.
It’s a 6-episode fictional podcast. I loved working on this project with James Kim (writer/director) and Joel Kim Booster (NBC’s Sunnyside) about a young, gay Korean American who wants to come out to his mom (me), but can’t because they don’t speak the same language. James wrote a beautifully moving story. We were invited to perform at KCRW’s On-air Fest and there were a lot of tears in the audience that evening.
I read that you like being a part of films that tell various stories about the immigrant experience. True? and Why?
It’s a 6-episode fictional podcast. I loved working on this project with James Kim (writer/director) and Joel Kim Booster (NBC’s Sunnyside) about a young, gay Korean American who wants to come out to his mom (me) but can’t because they don’t speak the same language. James wrote a beautifully moving story. We were invited to perform at KCRW’s On-air Fest, and there were a lot of tears in the audience that evening.
What other projects are you working on?
True! America’s beauty is its people’s diversity, and every immigrant group has such amazing stories of hopes and dreams, struggles, and successes. I think this is a gold mine of stories that have yet to be fully discovered. But I am reading about different projects being made, and I’m excited to see what will come out of it in the next few years!
Do you feel that there are more inclusion and diversity in the entertainment industry within the past few years?
I see an increase in the number of diverse projects getting greenlit, so it’s exhilarating! As I said, there is a gold mine of stories out there! So, I hope people recognize both the entertainment and societal value in telling all those different stories. Especially during times like now when there are so much division and hate.
You are incredibly strong and inspiring. I know that your childhood experiences contributed to that. Do you feel acting (and all one goes through) contributed to your sense of resiliency?
Oh, absolutely. My childhood and upbringing, all my experiences in social work and mental health, having gone through cancer, becoming a mom, and experiencing being a foster mom, having a significant career change in my middle age, and becoming an actor — every single one of those life events formed the person I am today.
Can you name a few actors that you would like to work with?
There are so many! But two of my all-time favorite actresses are Laura Linney and Laura Dern. What a dream it would be to work with them! I would also love to do a Judd Apatow comedy. I think they need a crazy Asian mom in the mix! Haha! And obviously, I would love to work with Steven Yeun again and other Asian American actors like Randall Park, Sandra Oh, and Alan Yang, to name a few.
To keep up with Esther Moon and her acting projects, you can follow her on the following social media platforms: