'The Hot Zone: Anthrax' cast on the pandemic and misinformation

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Daniel Dae Kim and the cast of The Hot Zone: Anthrax talk to Yahoo Entertainment about the pandemic and misinformation.

Video Transcript

- What we're talking about is a ticking time bomb. I saw it with my own eyes. Get out.

ETHAN ALTER: I love how enthusiastic you were when you first got this part, about talking about how this is your first leading role in all your time in the TV industry and how much that meant to you. So that was something very special to have that.

DANIEL DAE KIM: For sure. It's not guaranteed to anyone, and that's independent of race or gender. I know a lot of actors who are much more talented than I that have never had this opportunity. So when people say, well, what took so long? I don't really look at it that way. I just kind of think like I'm just happy it happened.

ETHAN ALTER: Well, I wonder too if it's extra meaningful being a lead on this show when in the early stages of the pandemic, Asian people were sort of vilified when there was still a lot of misunderstanding about the coronavirus. If being an Asian leading man for this show, explaining science to people, means something to you.

DANIEL DAE KIM: That's a great observation. The irony was not lost on me as I was shooting that. But it says a lot of I think positive things that when they think of an American FBI agent who's leading the charge against one of the most significant terrorist attacks on our soil and he looks like me, that's a testament to who we call American and what we consider American to look like.

ETHAN ALTER: You testified before Congress earlier this year about the rise in anti-Asian violence during the pandemic. Have you seen any change in the recent months since then, since you gave your testimony?

DANIEL DAE KIM: The change I've seen predominantly is a raised awareness. People like you who are asking questions about it to people like me. And I think and the more the dialogue gets raised and spoken about, I think is the better. Because we all know that awareness is one step toward solving the issue.

And it's not just about Asian-Americans. It's about polarization in our country in general. What's happened to Asian-Americans is only one symptom of a disease that's larger. And so I'm hoping that we could figure out the larger issue, in addition to what's going on with just the Asian-American community.

ETHAN ALTER: The series does a nice job in general of capturing the sort of era of-- or the air of misinformation that was happening a lot after 9/11. I wonder what it was like for you to sort of relive those days and sort of turn that into drama in this case.

KELLY SOUDERS: Well, I tried to just give as much of a non-opinionated version of it. It's kind of hard in this time not to have an opinion about it. But at that time, a lot of the misinformation was just knee-jerk. Like America's wounded, we've just been under threat. We've had this horrific terrorist attack and people were scared. And that is-- that part is understandable. Just like today people are scared.

But I think that one thing we tried to do was show how many different points of view there were at the time. Some of them got voiced, some of them didn't. Just wanted to remind people that people are human and they do make mistakes. Some of them are more forgivable than others. But we wanted to use like the real news footage of the time to remind people what it was like. I mean, our own media was literally under attack. And it was a really, really unfortunate period, obviously.

TONY GOLDWYN: I remember vividly when the anthrax attacks happened. I lived outside New York City. And we were all still traumatized by 9/11 and then three weeks later the anthrax letters were discovered. And a postal worker near where I live died. And it was we didn't open our mail for a month and we sent our kids to school with Cipro tablets. And it was scary. But I didn't know anything about this investigation because the whole thing in the public consciousness is terrifying as it was at the time, got subsumed by you know the war in Afghanistan and Iraq and it just, it kind of faded.

So it was really extraordinary to see how involved and how complex this story actually was. And especially living through a global pandemic when we made it and we're still in it. And so I think audiences are going to really feel that terror that we all experienced in 2001 because we've just lived through it on a global level.

HARRY HAMLIN: Well, I remember it absolutely. Of course, 9/11 had happened just before this so we were all primed for some disaster and terrorism. And of course, we thought this was an extension of what had happened on 9/11 and the boogeyman was really over there somewhere. We didn't really contemplate the fact that the boogeyman could be under our own roof.

I think it was Don Rumsfeld who said something about getting duct tape just in case or a crop duster came over to your town and crop dusting the place with some other poison gas or anthrax. And so we all went out and got duct tape. I should have had stock in 3M because the whole country went out and got duct tape. And I still have some of it.

ETHAN ALTER: It's interesting. I mean, you depict a lot of some historical figures on the show and certainly some of them have complicated legacies now. I'm thinking of certainly have Rudy Giuliani. When it came time to sort of present him in the series, how did you approach that? How did you want to feature him at this version in his career?

KELLY SOUDERS: We kind of ignored the last couple of years of Giuliani because this was 2001. And we tried to remind ourselves of what our experience was of him at that time. And he definitely is in a very different role in America right now, one I would not want to portray on television. But it was kind of nice to look back and I kind of wish that was the version we still had of him but it's not. So here we are.