Even though she eventually succumbed, she is still critical of her acting. “I watch myself on screen and nine out of 10 times I’m so bad. I just cringe. I force myself to watch the show because I need to do press and remember the storylines, but I literally go, ‘Awwwww.’ Sometimes I say, ‘That’s not so bad.’ My husband sees my insecurity and he says, ‘You’re missing enjoying how good you can be.’ But I watch some of the greats. And then I watch me and go, ‘Oh, my God, how do I get hired?’”
It’s not surprising that she’s hard on herself. Her mother’s family immigrated from Korea to Nebraska, where she was born. “There are 11 family members living in a one-bedroom house,” she recalls.
“They’re all living in Nebraska and they don’t know where the hell they are. They have no idea. They don’t speak a word of English. They’re thinking the United States is Beverly Hills or New York, but they’re not thinking Nebraska. They were shell shocked.”
She left Nebraska when she was 2 1/2 and later her parents divorced. But once they adjusted to America, life still wasn’t easy. “I had a rough childhood, we were very poor, we were on welfare, my mom had three jobs,” she says.
“I almost dropped out of high school and my friend — she’s a CPA now — convinced me (not to) and I’m so glad I finished high school. And I hated high school. I was ethnic in a predominately white high school so I felt like an outsider. I felt like an outsider — even though I was, at one point, even voted ‘most popular’ — I oftentimes would sit by myself and have lunch. I always felt confused because I was accepted on one hand because I was on the dance team and was talented, but I also felt unaccepted because I was poor and I was Korean and I was mixed.”
When she was 17 her father, who’d been a railroad man, committed suicide. “He wasn’t living with us, I think he was in Arizona at the time.
“What happened was I became so serious. I was already pretty serious and I don’t know if that’s my nature. But someone told me when I was 18 I was the most serious 18-year-old they’d ever met. Another dancer said that to me. I was going to join the Peace Corps, I was going to make music that was going to make a difference.
When she was 26 she was caring for her mother, who’d been injured at work, and she needed a decent paycheck. That’s when she seriously entertained the idea of acting. “I had bills to pay … It was a necessity. There was a part of me that wanted to be a good actor and I studied and all that, but it was like I was trying to catch up.”
She landed the lead role in “Eight Below,” then costarred in “Terminator Salvation.” “Once I got ‘Terminator’ though, I literally sabotaged myself because I saw what it took — all the press you do, all the attention, all the obligation and I went, ‘Oh, this is insane.’ And I’ve never liked chaos, so I think I backed up.”
Seven years ago she vowed to make up for her self-contained youth. “I decided I was going to have a little fun — I was going to try some drugs, I was going to drink just to see what I missed. And I didn’t miss out on anything. That stuff is OK, but I feel it’s such a waste of time. I do think that alcohol can help relieve stress, but partying just to party has never really interested me,” she says.
“I partied, but it was almost out of curiosity. I just always thought it was shallow. I’m glad I did it. I just wanted to know what that world was that I was avoiding all those years, and I’m glad I tried it, and I’ll never do it again because it’s just not an important thing to me.”
She’s married to Grady Hill, a businessman and writer who has his own Internet business. They met in a bowling league (she’s still a terrible bowler) and married six months later. “I said, ‘Let’s do it!’ I’m not orthodox in any way.”
Now, at 38, she’s the mother of an 18-month-old daughter. “She’s the light of my life,” she sighs. “I thought I’d be strict, I’m kind of a softie. I still breastfeed her. I’m Mommy.”