[INTERVIEW] Yoo Ah In: “Today is more precious to me than whatever I might be doing in 10 years”
While doing the September-October series interview articles that we’ve posted in our website, sometimes I came across almost similar questions from the journalists and consistent answers from Yoo Ah In with those of the past’s. For example, this 10Asia interview that happened on November 2010, is still relevant with Yoo Ah In’s interviews today, and some of these questions/answers can also be found in his recent interview articles as well.
When he was interviewed by 10Asia, Yoo Ah In just turned 24 years old you would wonder how a man at such a young age could already possessed a deep thought. Let’s enjoy the article translated by our K-friend/translator Jaeshinah 🙂
[2010.11.08] 10Asia interview with Yoo Ah In
10Asia met with Yoo Ah In. The stage name ‘Ah In’ that he chose himself references the German word ‘ein’ (one), meaning that he is a unique being in this world. Following this eye-opening young man into the numerous worlds within him is not an easy task. But Yoo Ah In is unmistakably worth the effort.
Q. You seem to be the kind of person who can’t stand it if he can’t immerse himself completely in each moment of the scene.
YAI: When you’re reading your lines or putting on certain facial expressions, there should be a reason for everything, but there are lots of times when you just do something for no reason. Knock off the script without thinking, smile without thinking, give a meaningful glance without thinking. (Laughter) Ah, that’s not unconscious; it’s very much consciously done. It’s technical [acting], and of course there are people who want that, and if I do that it’s easier for me, too. When I’m tired, there are some parts where I think, ‘What reason [do I need to find], I’m sure they’ll give me an OK anyway,’ and in that aspect, I’m both relieved and regretful that Sungkyunkwan Scandal is over. I wasn’t able to embody the character of Jaeshin perfectly, and I think there are parts that were lacking.
Q. Now that I think of it, the movie Boys of Tomorrow ends when you’re asked, “Are you going to become a decent/excellent boy?” and you flash a grin. Even though it wasn’t a situation in which you could really smile. What do you think you were feeling when [you shot that scene]?
YAI: I’m not sure. The character of Jongdae in Boys of Tomorrow wasn’t a character whom I had to come to accept, or whose situation I had to work to understand. I was Jongdae, and Jongdae was me. We don’t remember what we say, what expressions we show, or how we reply [to others] and smile in our everyday lives. So I can’t say anything except that [in that moment], I was the one laughing. The words and expressions I spit out like that without thinking were really—-they were genuine emotions I could never have again [if I had to re-shoot that scene]. It’s not that it’s meaningless because it’s thoughtless; [on the contrary,] that’s the kind of [genuine] acting I ultimately want, but as an actor who is making things and gaining experience little by little, it makes me think that the genuineness I had at the time [is something I will] never have again.
“I don’t want to live life just to live it; I want to be awake as a person”
Yoo Ah In once appeared on MBC’s Come To Play and recited a poem he had written. He occasionally posts short essays on his mini-hompy, and through his Twitter account, he speaks to the world in his unique voice. The boy who, when he was in high school, said, “I want the light to shine on me, and I want people to see me shining brightly” as he dreamed of becoming a ‘celebrity,’ became an actual star through KBS’s Banolim (Sharp). It was only after he [achieved this level] that he was able to take the time to find his ‘true self’ and began to mature into an adult. And though he is still acting, for Yoo Ah In, who once said “Work is easier than living as myself,” writing is a way for him to not lose himself.
Q. Writing is an act which contains the will to express something inside of you that you feel you have to tell. After writing on your mini-hompy for a long time, you started Twitter. How has it been?
YAI: When I’m in the country shooting [for a project], I become desperate for time and space to return to myself. But through Twitter, I was able to share the voice of Uhm Hong Sik as a person and Yoo Ah In as an actor, and that was a great comfort. In a way, it’s a great blessing and honor that I can say just one thing and then collect and read the opinions of thousands of people through their replies. I’ve really learned a lot. Of course, there are lighthearted or routine comments, but there are a large number of “mentions” that have taught me and awakened me to new things, and that endlessly remind me of what a limited person I am [T/N: that is, how much he doesn’t know and hasn’t seen]. So, I have to keep using it. (Laughter)
“I would like the word ‘youth’ to take on a new meaning”
Q. Actually, I think it wouldn’t be easy to keep [using Twitter] precisely because you have thousands or tens of thousand of people who are watching and listening.
YAI: There are many people who want me to keep using Twitter but at the same time, it also makes me speak up less. It’s not easy fighting that. It’s not like I was born as an independence fighter or with a defiant attitude. I like being comfortable and I wish my worries would disappear. But having said that, I know all too well that that would truly isolate me and make me into a miserable human being, and that’s why I forcibly pull writings out of myself. It’s not because I want so badly to write; it’s because if I’m in a place where I don’t, it will make me truly miserable–I constantly tell myself, ‘I can do it, I can speak up, I will never stop speaking, even if you gag me I will speak until the end, I won’t lose, I’m not incompetent.’ It’s very difficult.
Q. Are you saying that even though it’s hard to fully be yourself, you want to keep trying to check that [you are being true to yourself]?
YAI: Yes, and it’s not just about writing, but also the act of just living in your twenties. In truth, I very much want to live a peaceful life. I want to be comfortable, and I obviously have thoughts like ‘it would be nice if I could smile prettily and make money and live,’ but I try to continually break away from those things and force myself to be a person in his twenties. I am a person who suffered from maturing early, and I learned the basic rules for skating by in life, but I have to throw those things away. I have fallen into the dilemma of being too realistic but not being able to stay in reality. Because what the world says is maturity is seeking the answers and stopping there, protecting what you have, and continuing to do things the same way; but to me, this is immaturity. I think that true maturity is endlessly looking for answers and pressing forward, and sometimes failing. So I wish the word ‘youth’ was used differently. When people sigh and say, “He’s still in his youth,” what they mean is, “That’s what it is to be a young [and immature] kid.” I wish the word ‘youth’ was used to describe not an immature and childish kid who is only full of passion and idealism, but instead a young person who is truly mature and living the right way.
Q. On your Twitter, you sometimes write about labor or human rights issues. These are thoughts that anyone who cares about social issues might have, but as soon as actors start talking bout it, they are burdened with the label of being ‘political.’ Don’t you worry that you might be placed in that kind of very tiring situation?
YAI: I worry about it. It worries me, and it scares me to death. If I write just one thing about [social issues], I can’t sleep at night. (Laughter) But the way I see it, someone who can’t do that is either a dead person or at least partly so [T/N: He does not mean this literally]. It’s just—-I don’t want to be a person who is alive only because he is breathing; I want to live as a human being and be awake to [what’s around me]. I even think I should be allowed to talk about politics. All of us live under the complete domination of the system called politics, and to just say that politics are bad is being too irresponsible as a citizen! I’m not saying that I do it because it’s the right thing to do or because I’m compelled to stand up and criticize every social problem I see, but I think I can at least play the role of introducing issues want to talk about and share with other people. Although it’s the sad truth that even doing that much is very difficult in our society and in the system of the celebrity world.
“I show that I curse and drink and go to clubs on purpose”
Q. You wrote something after watching MBC Special. I inferred that you were writing about the allegations of degree forgery surrounding Tablo-ssi (from Epic High) –even from the perspective of a person who isn’t famous, it was a painful broadcast to watch because it [forced us to] face the serious illness afflicting Korean society. As you are in the same industry as Tablo-ssi and might also one day find yourself in a similar situation as he, I think it probably prompted even more thoughts in your mind.
YAI: I did think about that. Despite the fact that I might face something like that one day—-that actually, because of that, I have to stay as silent as a stone even as I watch it happen—-is that what celebrity is? It’s not like I watched that one broadcast and said, these are truths and these are lies. I’m just a person inside that enormous system, and I’m a person living in these times, and when I go home, I’m a netizen. I was so frustrated that people could be so suspicious of one person but not be suspicious of that system at all. And on that note, I think I was also very lacking. That’s all I wanted to say, but it was distorted and misinterpreted and people took sides and some people felt insulted [because of what I said] and there were people who acted like I’d said something unbelievably huge. There were articles written about it, and even though they’re my own words, “a generation’s wound”—-ah, it makes your toes curl. (Laughter) Some people took it as “Who the hell does he think he is, calling it a generation’s wound?” But that’s really how I think of it, and what I was thinking [when I wrote the tweet] was how it was a huge wound that people living in this generation were living their lives without realizing that.
Q. I think it must be tiring to have to live by the rules of a system that doesn’t mean much to you. And Korea tends to have extremely particular moral standards for celebrities in the public eye.
YAI: The moment I package myself, it’s not just about how other people are going to see me; I end up being trapped by that packaging. So I try from the start to make the size of that packaging large. I’m a kid who curses, a kid who drinks, and I go dancing at clubs. Even though it’s not much, I need to do consciously do those kinds of things. Because right now, it’s like you can’t do those things [if you are a singer or actor].
Q. It’s also true that if you get trapped in an image of being completely faultless and moral, all of a sudden that might be all that’s left of you.
YAI: Right. It would be nice if the kinds of people [who are in the popular arts] expanded and became more diverse to match up with how much our eyes have opened and how much the standards of culture and art [have risen and] keep rising, but I’m just a very small 24-year-old actor. That’s why I wish there was a 30- or 40-year-old sunbae actor who could say this for me, so I won’t be ripped apart by people thinking, ‘Why is that bastard saying things like that.’ Someone who could show that it’s possible to do this work and still find happiness as a human being.
“Work is easy compared to living my real life”
Q. It does seem that we are gradually moving to a new generation of actors. Won’t that help things change [for the better]?
YAI: I do feel that we are undergoing a change in generations. But the problem is that these young actors or singers have been matching themselves to the system ever since they started working in it. As if there was no other choice. I saw it happen after Banolim ended. ‘Celebrities have to act like this. They have to smile like this and act like this, and when there are lots of people around, celebrities have to hide their faces with hats that look like this…’ These fresh kids have to think about things like this. I think it’s a very bad idea for [these young actors] to jump into this business before they’re able to develop who they are as individuals. I wish young kids wouldn’t get involved [in this business]. If I were to go back to that age, I wouldn’t do it again. It’s too much to hope for to do this work and [simultaneously] be able to establish one’s sense of self. This whole time I’ve been working, I’ve been told that I’m a crazy bastard or stupid, and I thought about whether I should quit. I’m sure there are people who would say, “He thinks too lightly of work.” They’re right. It’s light. Compared to me; compared to living as a human in my real life, work is light. I wish people who want to enter this business would do so with the thought that it is more important to be a happy person than a happy actor. I want them to be able to make themselves happy. [T/N: That is, they have to know how to be happy from the inside, rather than finding happiness through outside things, like fame or praise].
Q. If it’s been difficult enough for you to say that if you were to go back, you wouldn’t do this work again, then what has been motivating you this entire time?
YAI: I think it was my brutal honesty. (Laughter) I was secure in my beliefs and the path I had to go down, and the reason I was able to endure it was because I was not impatient. In other words, people say that they will be able to sacrifice ten years of their lives if those ten years will lead to the realization of their biggest dreams. Going to school is similar in some ways. Even though you could spend that time more happily, there are parts you have to sacrifice for the future. But even within that situation, I think I was able to protect my beliefs and live a satisfying life even as I came closer to my goals. It’s okay if all my dreams don’t come true by the time I’m twenty-five; thirty-five is fine, and forty-five is, too. And I thought it was much better to protect myself and proceed slowly than to lose myself in the effort to shorten that time. To be honest, even though right now I’m saying that doing such-and-such will lead to this-and-that, I’m not sure how I might change in the future. But I don’t think that when celebrities say “I will always hold onto my original mindset,” it means the same thing as “I will always stay this humble.” An original mindset is the absolute bottom foundation of what you have when you’re working for something or searching for something or trying to figure out what happiness means to you. That always has to come first, but the moment it comes second or third, you begin to not be yourself. So no matter how unbelievably hard it may get, let’s always keep it number one! (Laughter) Even if everything else realistically ends up a bit mixed up.
“Today is more precious to me than whatever I might be doing in 10 years”
“It doesn’t matter what my ending, as a person, ends up being. It won’t be so much an ending as it will just one moment, I think. If I can’t turn back time anyway, I would like to have had a fun life.”
It takes more energy to live in the present moment than it does to live for the future. But Yoo Ah In lives in the moment. He laughs often, and he also speaks passionately and at great length. In every moment, he is thinking and asking questions, and before he blames others he questions himself. It’s obvious to hope that this vivid and fierce firework will not fade away for a long time. Because for Yoo Ah In, who calls himself ‘the most normal being,’ this is not an impossible existence. As an actor, of course; but also certainly as a human being.
Q. What kind of person were you about 10 years ago, before you started acting?
YAI: I think I was similar to who I am now. I was normal and didn’t have much to offer and didn’t stick out among the 40 or 50 other kids in class, but when I dig into my memories and look at my past, I can’t help but think that people have an innate nature that doesn’t change easily. (Laughter) I happened to see an essay I wrote for an ethics class when I was about 14. The topic was ‘This is how I’m going to make my dream come true,’ but I had written not ‘This is what I’m going to be,’ but rather ‘I think it’s our duty, as people, to find true happiness.’ At the time, that’s the only thing I could think about, and compared to the outside world, school was a very stable and small society. Of course, I didn’t actually like school that much. (Laughter)
“I can protect the roots of my heart, so I am not ashamed”
Q. What did you dislike so much [about school]?
YAI: Because it’s full of things that [shouldn’t be] so certain. Even though I hadn’t had any choice in any of the things that happened to me, everything happened as if it was so obvious [that it should be that way]. Of course, it’s mandatory to get an education so my mother sent me to school, and if she hadn’t that would have been a whole other thing. (Laughter) But I don’t think schools teach their students how to think or reason at all. [T/N: Keep in mind Yoo Ah In is only talking about the Korean school system, which may be very different from that of your own country]. I also think about this when I write. If the writings on my mini-hompy are first and foremost for myself, then my Twitter is first and foremost for mutual communication. But I don’t write [on my mini-hompy and Twitter] in order to search for the right answer. Even if I was searching for the ‘right answer,’ I don’t think it’s something that people should wish was easy to find [or understand]. I wish people wouldn’t glance at a piece of writing that’s about somebody’s life and, without even five minutes of thought, write, “It’s hard. I don’t get it. Please explain it simply.” Would it be interesting if you could see the answer immediately? Words may be easy to write down and share with others, but that doesn’t mean they are trivial. So if you’re somebody who has come to take an interest in me and has taken the trouble to find [the meaning of my tweets,] I’d like it if, rather than easily finding the answer and arriving at a conclusion, you were able to find your own [personal] answer through my writings. Because the most important individual to every person is him or herself.
Q. So in any case, do you think you haven’t strayed too far from the person you hoped you would be when you dreamt of your future at age 14?
YAI: Haha, yes. It doesn’t matter what kind of work I’m doing; I’m very satisfied because the most fundamental foundation I had in my heart back then has stayed with me until now. I don’t mean that I have something better than others, or that I’m richer than they are; what I mean is that I’m satisfied because I’m able to protect the deepest roots of my heart, and because of that I’m not ashamed. In ten years, even if I’m earning millions and am a famous actor in all of Asia, if that first fundamental layer is empty, I will be ashamed. Of course, when I say things like this, people respond with, “Hey, first make those millions, and then you can talk. The ‘first layer,’ what the–!” (Laughter)
Q. Then what kind of person would you like to be in ten years? Is there anything that vaguely comes to mind?
YAI: Hmm, I might not exist then. But if I do still exist……if I could just be a person who wouldn’t be ashamed in turning back and facing my 24-year-old self, I think I’d be a truly impressive person. I’d like to be the 34-year-old adult I so desperately need now; somebody who could show one [possible] path to younger actors who will take roads similar to my own.
“It is important for me to have my own space”
Q. You once said that an interview without mutual understanding or appearing on a TV show and being forced to do things you don’t want to do makes you feel ill. Everyone has to do things they don’t want to at some point in life, but I think that there are certain people who are uniquely sensitive and are hurt and have an especially difficult time when they are confronted with this problem. Have you become more immune to this as you’ve gotten older, or is it the same as ever?
YAI: It’s as difficult as ever. But when I was a [rookie actor] kid with no power and rebelled against the logic of “What is this arrogance, you should do as you’re told,” now there are people who see me [react as I always have] and take it as, “You think you’re pretty famous now, huh?” As if I’ve lost my ‘original mindset.’ I was like this from the start. (Laughter) It’s inevitable that this would be the point on which I clashed with my management the most. Thankfully, my current company [StarK Management] accepts me as I am, and I think we’ve found many areas of common ground where we want to continue working as equal partners. To be honest, I think that’s another thing that you can only get once you’ve become ‘famous.’ I’m not saying I’m famous–it’s just that in the process of working on this one drama, I felt like my company came to a deeper and broader understanding of me than they ever had before. (Laughter)
Q. If the freedom to be yourself–that time and space–is important to you, then what does the house you’re living in right now mean to you?
YAI: The house itself is a normal house. What’s important is not what kind of house it is, but just the fact that I have my own space. I get bored of the same space so I move once a year. It’s really a nuisance. (Laughter) Something that’s different from the past is that now, my friends come by often and sometimes they stay for a few days. Whereas in the past, I had to be completely alone to do my own thing, now I can do my own thing even when I’m with other people. It’s small, but I think I’ve become at least that comfortable around people I’m close with.
Q. You once said that you had conflicts with your dad when you were young because he was strict, and that he opposed your acting. As time has passed, have you been able to understand one another a bit more, by any chance?
YAI: For most sons, a father is an uncomfortable presence. What’s worse is that in a Kyungsando family, [we use short and blunt sentences in dialect like] “You eat? Let’s sleep;” (laughter) and in a relationship where you have to use formal speech [T/N: the son uses formal speech to his father; the father speaks informally to his son], it’s difficult. But we have been able to show each other more of ourselves and understand one another better. I’m a kid who’s experienced all the family troubles anyone else has, and now [that I have come to this point], I think I’m able to forgive and accept my father.
Q. This is the last question. In the movie Boys of Tomorrow, Jongdae asks Ki Soo (played by Kim Byung Seok), “What do you think of when you imagine the furthest future?” What is the furthest future Ah In-ssi can think of?
YAI: As [my character’s] hyung said, I really think it’s ‘tomorrow.’ I always think it’s possible I will cease existing at any moment. At one point in my life, I was completely consumed by those kinds of thoughts every single day. It wasn’t, ‘I want to die;’ it was just—-It’s okay if I fall asleep like this and don’t wake up tomorrow. There was a time I lived thinking, ‘Even if I don’t make it until tomorrow and never see this world again, it won’t be a particularly awful or sad thing.’ I was in despair. In any case, I made it safely through that time and I’m still alive. (Laughter) Once I made it past that, I opened my eyes and realized that even though the world is still here today, there’s no guarantee I will exist tomorrow. That’s why today—-this very moment—-is the most precious; and the fact that I’m here, doing this now, is more important to me than whatever I might be doing 10 years from now. It was only after enduring those times…that I came to realize that.
Translated by Jaeshinah, 10Asia photos scanned by SIC nim
© Yoo Ah In Sikseekland