There are benefits to being friendly with your local librarian. Sometimes you get a tip that leads to a starring role on a TV show set in a mythical land.
That’s how 15-year-old Serean Kim landed on the path to a role on Disney+’s hybrid reality/scripted series “The Quest,” streaming May 11.
Olympia Timberland Library youth services librarian Sara White had been a fan of the fantasy competition show’s first season, which aired on ABC in 2014. When she learned of the Disney+ reboot, created by producers of “The Amazing Race” and “The Lord of the Rings,” White contacted Kim’s mother.
“I’ve known Serean since she was pretty little and I got to see her develop into a nerd,” White said admiringly.
“I was a really nerdy child,” Kim acknowledges without hesitation. “When I was 7, my parents bought me a kids bow and I just taught myself archery because of how much it interested me. I wanted to be Legolas [from ‘The Lord of the Rings’] or something.”
Home-schooled in Olympia and later Tenino, Kim had an interest in cosplay at an early age.
“Her mom would share photos of these amazing things she would make and I knew her reading habits, that Serean loved fantasy and being in magical worlds,” White said. “So when I saw [the show’s producers] were casting teens, Serean was the first person I thought of. I had this feeling that Serean has to be on this show.”
After several rounds of auditions, Kim was indeed cast in the eight-episode series, set in the fantasy world of Everealm, where an evil sorceress named Tavora (Melissa Mehrabian) sets about destroying kingdoms. Leaders summon the Paladins, eight of-our-world teenagers, to help halt Tavora’s destruction.
While the 2014 version of “The Quest” was more heavily weighted toward the show’s reality components that featured the contestants in assorted competitive endeavors, this reboot favors the scripted portions, with actors who play the residents of Everealm.
While there are a few competitions in each episode, those all flow from the story. And there are no confessional-style interviews with contestants typically found in reality shows.
Kim, who relocated to Los Angeles earlier this year to be closer to extended family and the heart of the entertainment industry, applied to be on “The Quest” in early 2020 before the onset of the pandemic, which delayed filming until February/March 2021. The production took over the Castello di Amorosa winery — it looks like a medieval castle — near Calistoga, California.
“Everything is shot on the site of the castle and there’s a forest there to the left — if you look the other way it’s a parking lot and wine fields — but the forest definitely has that movie-fantasy-foggy-forest feel,” Kim said, noting that on the first day of filming the castle was open to tourists, who were confused by the presence of a film crew. The set was then closed to the public for the duration of the show’s production.
Unlike on most reality competitions, no one gets “sent home” in this new season of “The Quest,” as the Paladins set about acquiring gems that fit into a crown. Think: The Avengers’ Infinity Stones, something Kim says participants were not allowed to reference in hopes of preserving the show’s fantasy realm vibe.
“We didn’t have many guidelines, but we couldn’t name drop anything, which is hard when you take a bunch of teenagers and put them together and they can’t say the name of a band or shows,” Kim said. “We couldn’t even hum songs. One person was humming a song and a producer told them, ‘That’s copyrighted, you’ve got to stop.’”
Kim says there was a learning curve for contestants with having cameras close to their faces and in interacting with horned demon characters who were working from a script. The teen Paladins were in the dark about the story — and to some degree they still are, since they did not watch filming of the scripted portions of “The Quest.”
“Our reactions to the characters are 100% genuine,” Kim said.
Other than having to do a few pickup shots, Kim says there were not a lot of retakes on “The Quest.”
“It didn’t happen too much,” she said. “On some challenges, if we moved too fast and the camera couldn’t capture all of it, we’d have to go back and walk through certain parts, but this was always after we finished a challenge.”
“The Quest” sets out to crown “one true hero” from among the Paladins, though the show does not spell out how that will be determined. Kim says the challenges play a key role but she’s sworn to secrecy on specifics.
“The Quest” wasn’t Kim’s first experience in show business. She appeared in plays at Olympia Family Theater (“The Wind in the Willows,” “The Hundred Dresses”) and took classes and attended camps there beginning at age 8.
“I was even in an improv comedy troupe, which is kind of ironic because I wouldn’t say I’m that funny,” Kim said.
She describes her first on-camera experience in “The Quest” as positive — and she’s interested in more.
“I think that’s definitely something I would love to pursue, especially now that I live in Los Angeles, the heart of where most movies are made,” Kim said. “So I think if I try for that and then maybe it works out, then I will be pretty happy with that.”