Keiko Agena brought life to Lane Kim, breathing into her character all the nuance of a funky, nerdy, music-obsessed girl who slowly transforms into a self-confident woman. In the first part of my interview with Keiko Agena, we heard Keiko’s theories on the mysterious absence of Mr. Kim, the unique relationship between Lane and Mrs. Kim and what it was like to audition for the role of a much-younger Lane Kim. In Part 2 of our interview series, Keiko expounds on on the fandom around Hep Alien, her favourite and most challenging scenes on Gilmore Girls, what it was like to be back on set for the revival, and some of her other projects.
Lane, aside from her relationship with her mother, grew exponentially as a character during the original series. We see Lane Kim struggle to express her love of music, with her passion hidden away under the floorboards or relegated to Rory’s room. When her passion could no longer be contained, Lane began creating music. She learned how to play the drums. Keiko, who previously only played clarinet in junior high, shares how it felt to be given the gift of music on the show:
“I remember driving around Los Angeles when I got the phone call. I think it was Patricia Palmer, who was one of the producers at that time, told me that they were going to develop this for the Lane character and that they were going to set up drumming lessons for me. I was floored. I just loved the idea. And I continue to love playing drums and music after the show.”
The passion for creating music has followed Keiko, who now jams regularly with her husband Shin Kawasaki’s group, MidTones, and played drums in the secret Hep Alien reunion show at the ATX Festival last year. Hep Alien, which was created from the anagram of Helen Pai’s name, has been a fan-favourite element of Gilmore Girls. I asked Keiko why she thinks Hep Alien has resonated so well with fans:
“There are all these little moments that I think the fans are amazing that they notice it. I think, in my mind, Hep Alien is one of those things that they just like. There are all these moments in Gilmore girls that it’s just this eclectic off-the-main-road item. The fact that the fans like it is sweet, and it’s a testament to them how much they pay attention and invest in that.”
Hep Alien underwent its own shift during Gilmore Girls when original guitarist Dave Rygalski (based on Helen Pai’s real-life husband) left, when actor Adam Brody joined The O.C. Replacing Adam was Sebastian Bach, who joined the series as Gil, a guitarist with a long history in “rock and roll.” Sebastian, known as the frontman of Skid Row, came to the series as a seasoned musician amongst a group of actors-playing-musicians. Keiko shares that, despite that, she never felt pressure from a musical standpoint:
“If Sebastian had come in as a singer, maybe that would have been a lot of pressure on us, as non-musicians, to kind of live up to that. Sebastian does not play guitar at all, so the fact that initially he’s this guitarist and he’s coming in as an actor, which he has done, but not a lot at this point, and he comes in like a ball of energy and eagerness, and a joy, he made it just fun from the very beginning. I never felt weird pressure, musically.”
I believe it also helps that the group of actors has always had amazing chemistry on-screen, reflected by their continued friendships offscreen, even to this day. Of course, filming a show like Gilmore Girls for 7 seasons would result in some amazing relationships, but also some amazing memories. Keiko shares what two of her favourite scenes were:
“When we shot the pilot, because there was a scene, I think it was the very very first thing we ever shot, was me and Alexis doing a walk-and-talk in the cold, and remembering that we had to talk faster. I think we shot that three times. I think it was the Dean scene, where we ended up hiring Jared Padalecki after three times of re-shooting that scene.
And when Mrs. Kim finally finds all the stuff under floors. When Mrs. Kim is walking into the room and seeing everything exposed, finally, after so many years of hiding. And just the look on her face, on Emily’s (Mrs. Kim’s) face! ‘The jig is up, this is it, there is no more wiggle room. something is shifting right now.'”
The years of hiding were over, and the discovery was both surprising and painful, but it gave Lane the freedom to move on and pursue her dreams in the open. We, as readers, saw a different side to Lane after that day.
Some scenes stick out for different reasons, however. Keiko describes one such challenging scene in ‘Hay Bale Maze,’ which has remained with her to this day:
“I remember there was a particular walk-and-talk where there was the whole town involved, it was some harvest festival, and I felt so bad for this extra background artist in the back, who at the very beginning of this walk-and-talk had to move this bale of hay from one pile to another and then, at the very end of the scene, Lane gets very heated, and I think we’re walking into a beauty shop or something, and it’s like ‘Stop, Freeze!’ and there are a couple of lines I would flub a little bit. On Gilmore Girls, we’re word-perfect, and I would just think, ‘Why can’t this particular line come out of my mouth?!’ And not that the guy ever complained, but I just remember trudging back across town thinking ‘Oh no, I’m going to make this poor man keep moving this hay bale thing!’ I’m sure he’s just thinking ‘Girl, just get this line right, so we can move on to the next scene!’”
As we move to current day, Lane is no longer the shy and restrained teenager, nor the rebellious twenty-something seeking her new life. As we left Lane in Season 7, she was a mom to twin boys, left on her own as her husband, Zack, pursued life on the road as a guitarist. Although Keiko admits she’s unsure her character would have followed that path, under Amy Sherman-Palladino’s direction, it nonetheless became the “reality” of her character, and they all moved forward from that point. The “new” Lane, though mom now to young boys, is still true to herself:
“I think that Lane, even being a mother, feels very much like Lane.”
Somewhere on the spectrum from Lorelai Gilmore to Mrs. Kim, Lane has found her own path as a mother, and we’re going to see that in the Gilmore Girls revival. Although Keiko couldn’t share with us where Lane is at now in her life, she feels we’ll be happy with the end result:
“I think it’s very well written and my hope is that people will enjoy it very much. There are things that are written that wrap up certain storylines, and yet…
It’s definitely much more of a closure for everyone that the way we left it at Season 7. Season 7 was just heartbreaking because nobody knew if we were coming back for Season 8. So, in that way, definitely. I don’t think you could have any more weird non-closure. Well, maybe you could, but it was definitely an ‘up in the air feeling’ at the end of Season 7, so I’m glad we’ve had this chance to come back.”
Coming back, after many years away, and as a more seasoned actor, has been emotional for many members of the cast. Thankful for the chance to come back, and knowing it’s such a brief experience, has changed how many actors approach their time on set, including Keiko:
“I think I was more relaxed, maybe, as an actor. I had more fun during the filming of it. I think Lane, and Amy’s writing, is just so great that, as soon as we started, you could just feel the rhythm come back into it. I think we all felt it right from the table read, even before filming started, but just hearing people actually say the words again feels so familiar.”
Of course, as Gilmore Girls sets to wrap filming this week, many of us are looking ahead. Wondering if we could see the storylines picked up for more instalments, following the successful model the BBC runs with Sherlock, which inspired Amy’s take on Gilmore Girls: Seasons.
“I don’t know!,” notes Keiko in reference to coming back for more instalments. “I would like to maybe get through, successfully, this series first, and hopefully everybody’s happy with it. The fans and everything! That would be my first hope.”
Over the years since the end of Gilmore Girls, Keiko has pursued many interests, including puppetry, a variety of artistic pursuits, from her original Mango Pop line to her new drawings, which she hopes to transform into an adult coloring book, her jam time with MidTones, her acting, her script writing (crossing our fingers for a Keiko Agena film!) and lately her new podcast, the Drunk Monk Podcast with Will Choi.
“One of the things I have the most fun with right now is the Drunk Monk Podcast with Will Choi. It’s the thing I most enjoy doing at the moment. I feel like it’s a strange platform to use to be honest and revelatory, but it’s what has occurred. We talk about the show [“Monk“], and that’s the jumping off point, but beyond that, we do improve and have recurring characters and kind of talk about things that matter to us. And there’s also, the fact that we will bring an Asian-American perspective to whatever we’re talking about. I thoroughly enjoy it!”
Keiko and Will are a part of an improv team, Renegade Justice Patrol (RJP), that perform at IO West, and Keiko is a part of three additional improv teams, Ham Radio and a new group out of UCB called Totally Heather, and Dunovan, also out of UCB. Keiko welcomes fans to come see any of her shows, whether it’s jamming with the MidTones or performing in an improv sketch, stay tuned to @KeikoAgena or Facebook for all the details on her latest work.
And lastly, we have the most important question to put forth to Keiko. Is she Team Jess, Team Logan or Team Dean?
“I’m still Team Jess!,” insists Keiko, who gets asked this often. “I was almost going to say ‘I’m more open to Team Logan,’ but that’s just not true. It’s just because Matt’s so great, as a person. There’s so many Logan lovers. I’m just not with it. I can’t! He’s great. Is he handsome? Yeah. He has a lot of money? Yeah. He’s not great as a boyfriend. I just can’t do it. Sorry!”
Thank you once again to Keiko for sharing with us this insight into the mind of Lane Kim!