Tim Kang isn't that different from Kimball Cho, the straight-arrow investigator he plays on CBS' hit drama The Mentalist (Tuesdays, 9 pm/ET). He is focused and thoughtful in his answers to my questions, but careful not to reveal too much or paint too limited a picture of Cho, lest future scripts contradict him. He does say that we'll learn more about the character in upcoming episodes — more than that he has a crayon-shaped piggybank behind his bedroom door. Kang tells TVGuide.com why working on the show is a dream job, who's flirting with whom and how Cho really feels about Patrick Jane.
TVGuide.com: Did you have any idea when you signed on that The Mentalist would be such a big hit?
Tim Kang: I had absolutely no idea that we'd get the results that we've gotten — it's been a pleasant surprise.
TVGuide.com: What did they tell you about Cho going in?
Kang: Bruno fleshed it out a little bit, but also gave me enough room to contribute my own ideas to imprint on the character. Just from reading the script or seeing what Cho says to his teammates or whatever, you get an idea of his demeanor or style, which is a testament to Bruno's writing. It was crystal clear to me from Day 1. I don't necessarily know where we're going to go from here, but at least I got something to sink my teeth into, which was great.
TVGuide.com: Do you personally believe in this form of heightened perception that Patrick Jane practices? Does Cho?
Kang: I believe there are people out there who have powers of observation that are greater than my own. To the extent that Patrick Jane does it, Simon has told me some stuff about his research, and it sounds amazing. I think Cho absolutely believes in this power or talent. I think that he likes to look at it as a talent for picking these things out when everyone else misses them. There's no resentment or animosity because Jane gets the job done.
TVGuide.com: So Cho doesn't resent Jane's interference? There are times when he seems to.
Kang: I think that's an easy mistake to make on first view. It's more like Cho has been there, done that. For Jane to come in and solve all these crimes, it makes Cho say, "Wait a minute, wait a minute. I'm the cop here. Let me figure out how he figured this out." He absolutely believes in Jane's talents, and just wants to become a better cop.
TVGuide.com: The tone of the show is overall pretty light.
Kang: Yeah, I think that's what separates us from the rest of the crime procedural family.
TVGuide.com: What's your experience been like working with Simon Baker? I hear he's a prankster.
Kang: Yes. Fortunately for me, I haven't been the target of anything yet. It's more just general poking fun. As far as working with the guy, he just brings such a great attitude. His work ethic is amazing. I've never said this. I'm not just blowing smoke. I've never come into a situation as great as this one, and a lot of that has to do with Simon. It's a true collaboration.
TVGuide.com: Why is it always boys against the girls on this show?
Kang: What specific instance are you talking about?
TVGuide.com: Well, I think they often solve crimes in different ways, in gender-segregated teams, but I guess I was thinking about when Jane wins all the money in Reno and buys the expensive jewelry and watches. The girls say they can't accept them and the guys are all like, "Oh, I'm keeping mine."
Kang: I never saw it like that, and it's interesting that you pick up on it. Though everything you say about Lisbon and Van Pelt is true, I think it's just a "boys being boys" kind of thing; we are allowed to be guys when the girls aren't around, and that makes it fun. But Lisbon brought Cho into this unit. She's his mentor, so he's learned a lot from her. I think Cho takes his work seriously because Lisbon does.
TVGuide.com: That said, it's a very flirty show. They've established flirtations between Patrick and Lisbon and Rigsby and Van Pelt.
Kang: There is that tension, sure.
TVGuide.com: Is Cho ever going to have a love interest? Is he married already?
Kang: I think Cho's story is still up in the air. I don't believe that he is married, but Bruno could come to me tomorrow and tell me he is. Cho's kind of a lone operator. He's the ultimate team player, but he's totally self-sufficient. There might be a few things happening in the future that might fit that bill.
TVGuide.com: Why? What's coming up next for Cho?
Kang: We don't know a whole lot about this guy. He's up for getting the job done, and that's it. It's all about the work. In upcoming episodes, there will be more flavoring of the character, and some things we don't know about this character will be revealed.
TVGuide.com: In what direction will the character be flavored? Will he be more romantic? Less ethical?
Kang: That generalizes it too much. As we're learning and getting scripts, the characters are getting more layered. To answer your question in one way will do a disservice to what he could become. We are going to learn that there are lighter moments to this character; he's not always such a hard-ass.
TVGuide.com: What would you like to see happen for Cho?
Kang: I'd like to see more of his background. I mean, a love interest would be great, but I'd like an explanation about where his straight-edge, by-the-books demeanor comes from, whether by delving into his military background or family history. Nothing takes him by surprise, so if maybe Cho's dad showed up at the office, or an ex-wife or ex-girlfriend or something, it would be interesting to see how he would deal with those surprises.
Watch full episodes of The Mentalist in our Online Video Guide