Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming, and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got to where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these noteworthy performances to help hone your craft.
For tech-twisting 22: Jin Ha plays a guy with serious cyber game, recruited by his ex-girlfriend to help crack the code behind her current boyfriend’s mysterious death in the thrilling original sci-fi series, Devs. (Streaming on FX on Hulu: March 5, 2020; new episodes available every Thursday)
There’s something to be said for diving into Devs while stuck home in quarantine. With a world in captivity, there’s a renewed focus on streaming carousels and even as we could all use a good laugh, a solid sci-fi series that’s Black Mirror-ish in its construct is a welcomed find — if just because it makes the everyday news feel lighter by comparison.
From show creator Alex Garland, whose sci-fi street cred includes other fine efforts like Ex Machina and Annihilation, comes this drama set in the not-too-distant future world of a Silicon Valley tech company named Amaya. A company working on something seemingly huge involving sound waves, quantum physics, and for a brief moment, “the celeb sex tape to end all sex tapes” in a highly secretive division called Devs.
Amaya’s leader is an enigmatic figure, Forest (played by Nick Offerman), a tech titan whose cerebral streak is as refreshing as it is, well, suffocating at times. Especially after a Russian coder named Sergei never makes it home after his first day working for Devs, leaving his girlfriend Lily (played by Sonoya Mizuno) — who happens to work for the same company — instantly suspicious and in need of her ex-boyfriend to hack Sergei’s phone to investigate clues about what might’ve led to his apparent demise.
This is when we meet Jamie (Jin Ha) — a burst of humanity in a sea of robotic coldness. He’s the ex-BF being solicited for his tech-savviness, though he’s still visibly frustrated by what precipitated their relationship’s demise two years ago. It’s an ask the still-heartbroken Jamie doesn’t appreciate given the circumstances of their break-up — as evidenced by his first rebuff. “Unreal. Literally unreal. Lily, from the very bottom of my heart… fuck off.”
But once Lily’s pleas get more earnest following a blistering revelation about Sergei’s death, Jamie gets on board to help — before expressing deep concern about what they actually find on his cracked phone.
That’s when Jamie finds it necessary to caution Lily against doing something only an ex could foresee. “I know you. You do stuff. The stuff other people only think about, you go right ahead and do it,” warns Jamie, eliciting an emotionless response. Something Lily proves quite good at.
Without giving too much away, I’ll just say this: There’s something very everyman about Ha’s performance as Jamie that’s both relatable and refreshing. Jamie’s quandary: He’s torn between helping the woman who broke his heart — but at the same time is acutely aware of the dangerous circumstances surrounding them after they unveil new evidence together.
In one of the series’ few moments of levity, Jamie offers the homeless man sleeping outside Lily’s door $10 to never speak to him again. The man takes the money — a $20 bill actually — and keeps talking before beating himself up about it. “I already broke the terms of arrangement, man. It’s exactly that kind of unprofessionalism that led to a life on the streets.”
Devs is not even halfway into the limited series’ 8-episode run, but I’m definitely looking forward to what happens next — for Jamie and the rest.
Jin Ha is a shining example of a talented theater actor making a successful jump from stage to screen. The NYC-based actor was born in Seoul, South Korea, and according to this article, he admits to learning English by watching “’90s sitcoms and cartoons” when his family moved to Hong Kong when he was 3 years old. This, before moving a few years later to the States, where eventually, he graduated from Columbia University with a degree in East Asian Languages and Cultures. He then took a gap year, briefly considering a career in finance.
When that didn’t take, he decided to get his MFA in acting from NYU Tisch.
That’s when he got his break, landing the role of Aaron Burr in the Chicago Company production of Hamilton: An American Musical (2016-2017) and soon after, playing Annas in the Grammy-nominated, Emmy-award-winning production of Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert on NBC (2018). In between, Ha also found time for the role of Song Liling, a man masquerading as a female opera singer, in the first Broadway revival of David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly (2017). Directed by Julie Taymor, the show put Ha alongside other multi-talented actors such as Clive Owen.
Though Ha did land a role in the film Hot Air (2018) with Steve Coogan, Devs represents his Hollywood close-up. It’s a stellar performance so far and should no doubt gin up more TV/film work for the talented actor in the future. What that future will look like post-quarantine, well… who knows.
Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.