They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. If that’s true, the antics of one Hong Kong resident should be making North Korea’s babyfaced Supreme Leader's head swell even wider than its default bulbous size. Since landing a deal to star as Kim Jong-un in an ad for Israeli hamburger chain, Burger Ranch, earlier this year, a Hong Kong-born Australian named Howard has been carving out a side career as a professional Kim lookalike.
Howard, who, by day, is a jobbing music producer and band booker, doesn’t give his last name publicly. Which is probably wise, considering North Korea historically has a bit of a penchant for abducting foreign nationals who've wronged them in some way, before trapping them there indefinitely. But after getting his break in the burger ad—in which he launches a nuke at Washington DC to show his disdain for McDonald's, before eating an Israeli Burger Ranch patty and declaring: "How can I send the Israelis to hell with such a taste from heaven?"—global interview requests have been pouring in.
Howard agreed to give me his first proper interview to discuss how all this came about.
VICE: Hi Howard. When did you first realize you strongly resembled one of the world's most famous tyrants?
Howard: When he first came on the scene, just before his dad Kim Jong-il introduced him and promoted him to the head of the army or something. I thought, Man, that’s my face. Apart from that, I didn’t think too much about it. Then a few people pointed it out and I thought about impersonators elsewhere making cash, and realized I could do that, too. How did you make the world aware of your uncanny similarity?
I got that stupid haircut—it’s fucking horrible—and I already owned one of those Mao suits. Back in 1997, I wore it for the Hong Kong handover parties. Also, I’ve got his body shape and I eat a lot so I’ve got a double chin—no need for props. I took some photos, uploaded them to Facebook, and an Israeli production house found me. They were producing a commercial for the competitor of McDonald’s, Burger Ranch. I’ve seen the ad on YouTube—it’s a fine debut performance. Can you explain your part for people who aren’t familiar with it?
They specialize in kosher burgers for Orthodox Jews who don’t eat meat with cheese. The night before my shoot, they hired the best Barack Obama impersonator, called Reggie Brown, [who made another video in the series about] how the president has one of McDonald's "Big America" burgers, which is a one-inch-thick meat patty. My role was to say, "Fuck you, Obama, we’ve got the better burgers at Burger Ranch." And I blow him up.
How do you follow that performance?
I got offered to go to LA and shoot a commercial selling pistachios with Dennis Rodman. They said they needed me there in two weeks, but couldn’t sort a US visa. In the end, they
hired some random guy
who looks nothing like Kim Jong-un. He’s got no charisma. But why get depressed over things out of your control, eh?
Do you have to go to a specialist for that haircut?
My hairdresser has done a few of these; he knows what I want. I take in a couple of pictures and say, "I want to look like him." But every time I go out, I wear a hat. My girlfriend hates it. It’s not the sexiest look.
What do you think of Kim Jong-un, the man?
He’s a puppet. He’s been put there by his aunts and uncles—the people really in charge of the country. He gets to live like an emperor. Why not? But the regime he represents is horrible, there’s no joke there. The propaganda… I remember going to the Shanghai Expo in 2010. I went to the North Korean pavilion; there was Iraq, North Korea and Iran right next to each other. The first thing you see on the North Korea board is a sign saying, "We’re the best country in the world."
Does it worry you that you're making a public mockery of one of the most dangerous people on Earth?
No, because I’m in Hong Kong and he’s in North Korea. What’s he going to do? Send his spies to kill a Chinese citizen? It’d be pretty unrealistic. They’ve got bigger things to worry about.
Finally, dictators always love having body doubles. Are you tempted to apply to be Kim’s official lookalike?
Who knows? Maybe he’ll consider it. But I don’t speak Korean and I’d have to make speeches, so I guess I’m not eligible. I could just point and wave and inspect factories, or whatever.