[INTERVIEW] “Veteran” Yoo Ah In: “I Have to Be Tough to Go Beyond My Own Weakness”
Yoo Ah In has been receiving praises left and right for his acting as a wicked young heir to a mega corporation company in the blockbuster movie Veteran. At the moment, Veteran has exceeded 9 million movie-goers, less than 3 weeks after its release, and is about to cross the 10 millions anytime soon this week. During the movie promotion in July and this August, Yoo Ah In has been making a helluva lots of interviews we barely kept up with. We’re gonna start translating, though not all of them, what we think are the most interesting ones. And this is one of his best interview with 10Asia, August 7th 2015.
Translated by Furbabe
10Asia｜Yoo Ah In: “I have to be stronger than everyone else so I can go beyond my own weakness”
[Yoo Ah In is the kind of actor who makes journalists feel nervous after they’re done the interview. He is bubbly, very articulate and outspoken throughout the interviews. It takes time for the journalists to understand and digest, as his words can be misinterpreted, so that I’m exceptionally being careful when writing the coverage. And then, if I wrote the interview without showing his “implicit” unspoken words, the nuance, and the color of his speech during our interview, wouldn’t it cause another misunderstanding?
Therefore, in order to be able to reproduce exactly our two-way witty conversation as it was, I re-winded the recording file repeatedly before I finished writing the reports. And while doing so at the same time, I couldn’t help feeling impressed again, that this “outspoken” words might become the boomerang in the showbiz. And yet an actor like this, who shows his beliefs and opinions without hesitation, I feel so lucky to know him.]
Q：When I watched Veteran, what came to my mind is that Veteran seems to be a piece of your determination to let everyone see the “new Yoo Ah In”.
Yoo Ah In (YAI)：Haha..It was not so great determination back then. But this image is really something fresh, isn’t it?
Q：Are you referring “fresh” to the not-your-typical villain Jo Tae Oh?
YAI: When people mention bad guys, some certain characters do appear in my mind. I was thinking, if you can put that figure in my own way, re-transform into a new image, it should be very interesting. It is a typical role, but it has room for interpretation. Punch (2011) and Tough As Iron (2013) molded Yoo Ah In’s image. Kind and gentle… Well, I’m not that way in real life (laughs). In conclusion, if my roles in the previous movies were poor and dirty, Jo Tae Oh is a bright troublemaker kid with cigars and imported cars. However, instead of imitating these characteristics, I wanted to express them in my own way. But since I’ve just moved on to another genre, it took a lot of time to conquer the challenge. I went all the way carefully, and still felt reluctant like, “this is not my style!”
Q: Can you be more specific? Like, for example?
YAI: For example…It may seem that male actors have a lot of choice of genres to play, but that’s not the case. Violence, action, horror film! And historical genre too. Prior to this, I did not have that confidence, I felt that I could not bring anything fresh to films. There was no challenge to my consciousness that fall within its typical role anymore. Later on, I met Veteran, while at the same time was also filming Secret Love Affair. Thanks to it, I was able to shoot Veteran a little more comfortable. It was like closing one chapter and seal it, and then I got over my feeling all the way and moved on.
Q：Did Secret Love Affair give you a satisfaction?
YAI: Lee Seon Jae (Yoo Ah In) in Secret Love Affair is a character which have been my style in acting, or the emphasis of a character who I like. Since a long time ago, I myself have been adhering to, even obediently and conscientiously adhering to an honest and simple style. I have always wanted to establish a benchmark clearly and then go beyond it, and continue to move forward. At the moment when I was craving for such a work, I met Secret Love Affair, as fate would have it, and eventually I was able to take a step forward.
Q：Perhaps because your first movie is Boys of Tomorrow (2007), there’s always the kind of restless youth feel in you.
YAI：Once I had an ambition, though I never had a thought of wanting to be a “Hallyu star”, I had an ambition to become an icon for the 20 years-old youths. I think among actors my age, I’ve been pursuing the depth of work in my own way. Nevertheless, there were not many opportunities. A closer look on the 20 year-old movie actors today, we will find that most of them have a good plan. Similar to the promotional activities as a film’s strategy, their target is very clear too. Back then, we couldn’t produce a youthful image like that, like James Dean who represented the United States of America, or Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung, and Takeshi Kaneshiro, who became the icons of Hong Kong.
Q：Our country in the 90’s also had “Youth Idol” actors, such as Jung Woo Sung and Lee Jung Jae. Then, in recent years, people who discussed about “Youth Idol” considered you as one. I think you know it.
YAI: Yes, I heard some people picked me, though I disagree with the saying that I was a “youth idol” (laughs). Actually, if that was the case, I would have become more and more unsatisfied since I’m well aware of my lacking. Because in the end, I want to speak up as a “youth icon” through my work, not just strike a pose for the pictorial or photographers. As a 20’s actor, I want to continue going full blast living as an actor by solely depending on a piece of work. But there seems to be not many works are prepared for that kind of actor, and not many actors are ready for that either.
Q：(I have moved to another question, but Yoo Ah In still went on about this topic)
YAI: When filming Punch (Wandeugi), I discussed a lot with Kim Yoon Suk sunbae. Wandeugi got a few millions at the box office. If I desperately came knocking the door, would such an offer come to me? Or wouldn’t I be the one creating such a work? It’s like discussing which comes first; chicken or egg. Do actors need to prove their prominence to make their works stand out? -or just like now at my age- Do actors need to be a youth icon in order to stand out? I have no answer. It’s the reality in the system of South Korea’s film industry. Because of this, I feel it is necessary to show everyone my desire to some extent.
Q：So then, has Veteran given a significant effect to your desire?
YAI：Well, it’s like I was trying to scream, “Youth, youth! 20 years old, 20 years old!”, which seems that in a moment it would be overused. In some interviews I often said, “This is a work that will open the gun-port to shoot me to my 30s”. But actually I just hope to show the other side of the 20-something actor has, to give another card, to show another image of Yoo Ah In. I hope to create a more firmed and reliable new image.
Q：And what card are you gonna show to highlight this new image?
YAI：A romantic comedy! Ha ha ha! I know it’s late, but today I want to do a romantic comedy. That’s why I’m a green frog. [Note: “green frog” means someone who always does things the opposite way he was told to do]. In fact, I am preparing an omnibus film called Happy Facebook. I will emerge as a Hallyu star. Does it count as another new image? (laughs)
Q：You’ve showed a very impressive performance in Veteran.
YAI: Actually, I was worried while filming, and I felt anxious first time watching this movie. To tell you the truth, I’m still at lost. I kept saying “it’s good, it’s good” all the time, because everybody said it was good. I just pretended to keep excitement up (laughs). There’s no room for doubt about this movie. However, I think as someone who played a man named Jo Tae Oh, it is necessary to grasp a little more analysis. During acting, I didn’t analyze the character or calculate anything. But after I finish, I became a very analytical person on the results.
Q：Where will you start and end the analysis?
YAI: It’s very diversified, like analyzing the acting itself, such as “this part made such a texture”, “that part brought a sense of surprise”, “did so because it conveyed something more of it,” such speculation and observation. When director Ryu Seung Wan cast a kid named Yoo Ah In to play Jo Tae Oh, there had to be something fresh that he expected coming from me. So I began filming with a mission that I had to live up to the expectation. When I was watching my own movie [Veteran] I felt the tension that I had never felt in other works before. Although this movie showed a brand new image, there was still a question, “under this circumstance, will the image be accepted or not?”, so I was downright nervous. If I give people a sense of diversity, more than anyone else I will be the one who can feel the sense of diversity itself (laughs).
Q：There seems to be some risk-taking for you in the role of Jo Tae Oh.
YAI: That’s right. Although there was no conflict at all when I decided to choose this role, the real risky part is the result. It’s not that I’m afraid of missing out on any advertising deals if people condemn this role, of course.
Q：So what was on your thought?
YAI: I think eventually this is the part of a chance. Perhaps it’s because I needed to show a different image after sticking to my own 20s style. So, this is an effective way to show a completely different image from the past, and I wondered whether it would be well-accepted or not, or whether I would only float between the names of director and actors. I wonder if I can remain showing my own characteristics or use a fresh acting method. I’m still calculating many things related to expressions through analysis and by searching on the internet.
Q：To tell you the truth, I thought compare to Veteran, the September released movie The Throne (Sado) reflected a more ambitious artist. But having a conversation with you now, I began to think that perhaps it is just the other way around.
YAI: You’re right. It might be the other way around. During the time of playing Jo Tae Oh, I really felt a lot of things. Prior to this, I had been acting on the roles which projected my own desires, rather than acting with calculation. I had been obsessed with things which could reflect and express my own self. I’ve always stuck to this style during my 20s, but now I began interested to pick the characters that offer me a direction process.
Q：Why were you so obsessed with something that reflected and projected your own self?
YAI: The reason is because I have to stand up in front of other people. The root of the most fundamental reason is “to show myself”. We call it 관종 (gwanjong), right? (all of us laugh). [Note: gwanjong, a shortened word for gwanshim jonggyeolja, literally means “interest finalizer” or “interest disease”, an attention-seeker, someone who wants attention by doing exaggerated action to make people focus on him/her]. I think it’s hard for actors not being a gwanjong. Take Mnet’s “Superstar K” program which has a quiet participant. Once he said, “I am afraid of standing in front of people”. So, Yoon Jong Shin ahjussi asked him, “Then why are you here?” (laughs). That’s probably the dual psychology of people.
Q：You cannot hide the heart.
YAI: You’re right. There’s no need to hide the heart anyway. But more and more people feel more embarrassed, hands and feet curled up. It is better to admit that “I’m a great gwanjong“. It’s the loneliness that makes you want to get the love of others, and therefore you want to expose yourself, hoping to draw a line between you and other people to define who we really are. It is an instinct. The artist’s instinct. Just like our ancestors painting on the cave’s walls, putting it as a record to show themselves. Of course, if an actor is too greedy with his desire, it might cause a mistake. While it could become a kind of charm, a certain style, and a certain taste, but a film cannot be done alone. “The actor’s desire is to contaminate the character”, we ought to avoid it.
Q: It seems that lately you didn’t use twitter, and yet you still unreservedly show your beliefs, opinions and attitude through SNS. In the entertainment world, humility is known as a virtue, and your actions will definitely make a difference. So, some people will support you, and some may criticize you.
YAI: I believe it is somewhat a performance. Stimulating to get the reaction like, “are you fooling around?”, is a performance. It’s a new attempt in my own way, a challenge to the stereotypes. So, it’s eventually the so-called art, which puts a new frame on the things that already exists, develops and improves. From a certain perspective, actor is a public [popular] artist. So, I don’t want to stay by just piggybacking on [riding] reality. I have been trying to keep these thoughts because I am a weak man. It’s the only way to stand up with dignity in front of people.
Q：Are you really weak, and not just pretending to be a weak person?
YAI: Too strong so weak. Really strong, but also really weak.
Q：But I think it’s a contradiction. How to understand it?
YAI: Well, a very strong person is actually a very weak person. In that sense, I am weak, cowardly, soft-hearted, feeble man (picks up the water). This is poison! (we all laugh)
Q：Yoo Ah In is a coward and weak man! Do you think we would believe it? (laughs)
YAI: I know when I said it everyone didn’t believe it, like “you?” When I was a little, I was a momma’s boy. My mom breastfed me for a long time. When we visited our relatives’ home, I didn’t even dare to go to the restroom by myself, and I whispered to my mom (makes a small voice) “I want to go to the toilet”. I was particularly a timid child. But I’ve changed as I grew up. I was too concerned about others and a timid blood type A in the first place. In order to overcome those things, I turned to be tough too much. Because only then I could overcome my weakness than anyone else.
Q：In Veteran, detective Seo Do Chul (Hwang Jung Min) said, “You tell me, how do chaebols play?” and Jo Tae Oh replied, “how should the chaebols play?”, showing aversion. It’s the preconception that public has about chaebol. Such prejudice is also directed toward actors.
YAI: We can make a comparison between actor’s and Jo Tae Oh’s life. Born to a mega-corporation family, I think it’s natural that Jo Tae Oh grows into a monster in such an environment. Being gross should be in his “nature”. Similarly, artists just flow naturally while living as an entertainer, and yet people say, “he’s got celebrity disease”. I’m not saying that “celebrity is gross” (laughs). But I think if you are able to overcome this celebrity disease, you’ll become a wonderful person, and this is where actors stand. Actor is a profession that observes people in this world. With high degree of understanding for the humanity as an actor, you are sharing the love for human being. No doubt, if you can overcome it all, you will be a great person!
Q：You seem to like using the phrase “gross” often, are there exactly the right phrases to express it?
YAI: Ah! (laughs) For all things that I hate, I just say “gross”. Like phony, nauseating, affectation, pretentious and the likes, I describe them all as “gross”.
Q：You are now active in other areas, like magazine designing and trying other different challenges, what is the meaning of those things?
YAI: It has nothing to do with my life as an actor. Perhaps, I do these things to relieve the thirst feeling of the life as an actor. I formed a fine art artist group with a few of my friends; a painter, a photographer and other several friends. “Let’s do fun things to make money”, was the idea. Or is it a kind of a fellowship? In another exaggerated word, it may also contain a defining spirit of the time [zeitgeist]. Due to my occupation as an actor, I’m enjoying the privilege of my job, and I make more money and have a more enjoyable life. But these people, who have the same ability as I do, are facing different situation due to the peculiarities of occupation, market principle, or age. This is the reality. My friend who is a painter, couldn’t afford it, so I gave my share to help him.
Q：You just mentioned zeitgeist. What is zeitgeist to Yoo Ah In?
YAI: Now the spirit does not seem so important. Everyone has a spirit too. What really matters is action. Hmm… These might sound excessive words; anger, despair, frustration, furious, grief- these feelings that I have felt in this generation are really huge. But the most important thing is not what you feel, but what you do, how you actually do something practical to life. And I wish I had a little camaraderie too. Especially our generation. Because these days, there are only one or two siblings in the family (slightly stops)… The conversation is suddenly turning too deep…
Q：This is good. I would like to hear it.
YAI: In the capitalist society, we say as long as I eat well I’m going to live well. However, it’s not a good way for me to live a good life like that. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. In that sense, having this attitude “I have the ability to live well, so I will just live well”, is so wrong and so ugly. Because, eventually what comes around goes around. So, I think we should cherish the feelings of others, give attention and affection to others. Here, the concern is not about our intolerable country, but our own good attention. I think if we do this, the world will become better too. However though, my words might appear to be a pretentious act of bravado (laughs).
Q：I think some people might be against your beliefs.
YAI: When I was 20 years old, I was much more serious than I am now. I had no sense of humor. My whole world was a kid who was particularly concerned about the world and people’s life. And for a 20 years old kid who speaks words that don’t fit, it looks very unnatural. There was already a preconception about celebrities, so I heard some say “Yoo Ah In is just bravado [bragging]”. Of course, there was a time when I put on an act of bravado. At that time I had a set of goals and rushed toward each of it. But in the end, the most important is how to get closer to the target I have decided. Bravado has never been the focus.
Q：You’re are already 30 years old [Note: in Korean age, Yoo Ah In is 30 years old this year, even though he was born in October 1986]. You’ve been living for 8 months as a 30 year-old [Note: Koreans add an age at new year’s day]. Compare with your past thought about the 30’s, how has it been going so far?
YAI: Nothing special! (laughs) On today’s interview I drank two bottles of Lipovitan D [energy drink]. My stamina just feels better than before. Ha ha ha! I’m not a cool refined man who’s obsessed with this number. I don’t feel any difference being a 30 year-old, it’s just like imitating adults.
Q：I’m not curious with other actors who will turn 40 years old. But you’re the only one who makes me curious. How will a 40 year-old Yoo Ah In be like?
YAI: I will survive! (laughs)
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Source: Ten Asia