[INTERVIEW] Yoo Ah In ESQUIRE KOREA Cover Story Part 1: “Acting is Not Action but Reaction”

Previously reported, the originator of the first wristwatch Cartier has picked Yoo Ah In as the first Korea’s Santos Man, the brand ambassador of Santos de Cartier. Featured in Esquire stylish individual pictorials and cover for May issue, Yoo Ah In was honored by the magazine to conduct the photoshoot in Studio Concrete with his own artist/photographer Kim Jae Hoon.

Now, here are the photoshoot video and the first part of interview translations.

Yoo Ah In – Esquire Korea, May 2018 Cover Photoshoot Feat. Santos de Cartier


Cover Story: Yoo Ah In, Uhm Hongsik and ‘I’
— The feelings of Yoo Ah In

Editor Shin Kang Ho (hereinafter referred to as Shin): When did Yoo Ah In and Lee Chang Dong meet for the first time?

Yoo Ah In (hereinafter referred to as Yoo): I met him at first in the beginning of autumn in 2016 at this Studio Concrete.

Editor Park Chan Yong (hereinafter referred to Park): Speaking of Studio Concrete, isn’t this the creative group that Yoo Ah In and artists work together with?

Shin: Was the scenario of Burning already completed/came out at that time?

Yoo: No. There wasn’t such a scenario at that time. Nothing went to work. He (Director Lee Chang Dong) didn’t ask me like, “How about this character, what do you think?”. He just told me that he was preparing a certain work.

Shin: I read Haruki Murakami’s original short story “Barn Burning”. It’s indeed difficult to guess the story of the film. Is it because almost no concrete details of the characters and events are described in “Barn Burning”?

Yoo: It’s hard to say both of the book and film are the same. They are two different works. In any case, the theme of the film was adapted from Haruki’s novel. I have to be careful talking about the story-line prior to the movie opening/première [to avoid giving spoilers]. 

Shin: Though the plot is still vague, Burning becomes the center of public attention. Is it because of the first meeting of Yoo Ah In with Lee Chang Dong?

Yoo: I was attracted neither by the work nor the character, but by the director Lee Chang Dong himself.

Shin: Why?

Yoo: As an actor, as a Korean actor, uhmm… because it’s like a dream. I’ve always been a fan of Lee Chang Dong and he seldom works with young actors, as you know. And then, it was just when I thought I couldn’t figure out the path (to live) at that time.

Shin: You couldn’t figure out the path?

Yoo: Until then, I worked as if I was working too much. But actually, I didn’t. I’m sorry to say this, but I didn’t feel like working so much. It’s a bit confusing to explain, but that was my state of mind [my mental state made me think so].

Park: That’s a professional attitude [T/N: he means Yoo Ah In didn’t easily feel satisfy with his effort though he actually has worked hard which shows that he’s got a professional attitude]

Yoo: I think I got a little more negative than a professional attitude. I hated going to the shooting site and I didn’t want to work.

Shin: Yes, you once said that you were always unhappy going to work/to the shooting location.

Yoo: Actually, I began working too young. I’m not even sure if I really want to continue doing this. I was always confused. And at that time, I seemed to have a lot of confusion within myself. It was around after I finished Veteran and Sado/The Throne. The feedback from everyone (about the movies) was very good. I really liked their response to me. They put me on a great airplane. But I cannot keep flying forever. [T/N: he means, “I can’t always live in everybody’s praise”]

Shin: While you couldn’t figure out where you were heading to, you met director Lee Chang Dong. Two years have passed since then. You met him, talked with him, and lived in his work. How did the time changed Yoo Ah In?

Yoo: To say what kind of changes I have experienced… in the process of filming… (he kept silence for quite a long time), I landed in this situation, that is… what should I say?… Should I say ‘I’m not struggling’ anymore?

Park: Not struggling?

Yoo: I’ve struggled in all my life; whether in the magazine photo shooting, CF shooting, or in the interview scene. I was too fierce and keen in my life so far in so many things where many other actors and entertainers normally do as much as their being satisfied with.

Shin: Why?

Yoo: It’s because I wanted to be praised/get applauded. I wanted to hear, ‘Well done’, ‘You’re special’, ‘You’re different from other kids’, ‘How did you do that?’. Wishing for such applause, I ran and set my own goal that nobody else has ever forced, and I was invested in them. I’ve been in a state of overflowing, overdoing, overheating and overlapping my own pace for too long. I think I had done running through so thoroughly (I focused too much on upholding) that ‘Yoo Ah In is a man more passionate [literal translations: ‘boiling hotter’, ‘burning’ or ‘fiery’] than anyone else’ notion.

Park: I think you played the role of Yoo Ah In too hard.

Yoo: Yes. I was too devoted in creating the character of Yoo Ah In.

Park: The naturalist Uhm Hong Sik played the role of entertainer Yoo Ah In. [T/N: Naturalism is the belief that nothing exists beyond the natural world. Instead of using supernatural or spiritual explanations, naturalism focuses on explanations that come from the laws of nature. A naturalist is a person who believes the world can be understood in terms of science, or is a person who studies natural sciences]

Yoo: Conceptually, ‘Yoo Ah In’ and ‘Uhm Hong Sik’ are different. As a naturalist, as who I am, as Uhm Hong Sik’s existence, and as Yoo Ah In’s existence- I think the two are very separated. But at some point, I slightly felt that I couldn’t separate Yoo Ah In from Uhm Hong Sik smoothly.

Park: You indeed have lived as a professional actor in the half of your life. So, isn’t it difficult to separate the two parts?

Yoo: I’m not sure what is being professional and what is being amateur. I have a very amateurish side in some ways. At such a time of confusion, I met Burning. It was a very confusing work, but my body and soul felt some comfort.

Shin: How did the director Lee Chang Dong make you feel comfortable at the shooting location?

Yoo: The film set/location gave me spiritual comfort. I usually cannot mingle with others so well, I also cannot walk up to them and treat them friendly before they do first, and I hate sitting in front of the monitor.

Shin: Actor Yoo Ah In cannot help keeping away from the monitor at the shooting location..

Yoo: But this time, I was able to move in company/mingle at the shooting location.

Shin: Why? Director Lee Chang Dong speaks very slowly, you know? He talks very slowly.

Yoo: Yes, that’s right. I think he has some technique/skills. A technique that makes us listen to him more. He says something while creating a suspense. [T/N: he means director Lee Chang Dong deliberately talks slowly to build up the suspense feeling for his listeners].

Shin: But he doesn’t do it excessively. He talks only with necessary words. The year 2016, was the year when Yoo Ah In was so popular that it was called Ainshidae [Ah In’s era], so high up to the end of the year. In some ways, I think it was a world of very fast, too highly praised, too fiery/hot, and too much of a Yoo Ah In. On the other hand, Lee Chang Dong’s world is too slow, too quiet, and surprisingly too static. 

Yoo: Yes, indeed. Therefore, when I went to the next filming after Burning, I was too slow to catch up with and had quite a hard time.

Shin: Sovereign Default? [a.k.a The National Day of Bankruptcy movie]

Yoo: Yes. On the first shooting day of Sovereign Default, I really struggled to adapt myself to the filming site [because he had to go back to the fast pace, just like other normal shootings he had usually done before “Burning”]. I told director Lee Chang Dong playfully, “You should have given me a warning beforehand if I was gonna be in this situation”. Director Lee’s filming site is very rare. Of course, an actor should build a physical and mental state that matches the director, cast and story, regardless of the shooting location. But, actually almost all shooting sites seem to have a similar pattern. So, that’s why I know how to adjust my physical and mental state quickly. It means I use cheap tricks [use tricky tactics]. I have a such side too.

Shin: It’s a part of the Yoo Ah In character.

Yoo: At the shooting scene [of the previous works], I performed as if I was accomplishing some mission. To complete the mission at once. I could do it again and again very well, and I even enjoyed myself doing so at some moment. Shall I say that such power has decreased during the shooting of Burning? My quick response was lessened, and I thought I have lost my ability to do so. Therefore, in the filming site next to Burning, I practiced harder than any other time. I memorized the lines persistently. But I collapsed once. There was five to six NGs at the first shooting.

Shin: “Acting is not action but reaction”. Director Lee Chang Dong emphasized this to Jeon Do Yeon while directing her performance at the shooting spot of Secret Sunshine. And I heard that he made more efforts in directing Song Kang Ho than Jeon Do Yeon. It was because the more he directed Song Kang Ho, the more he could draw the reaction from Jeon Do Yeon full-heartedly. I think Burning seems to be an accomplishment/achievement of his directing style, which is “acting is not action but reaction.”

Yoo: There might be such side as well in the shooting of Burning. I didn’t do so many lines or many actions either. We focused on drawing the reaction towards some space, people we met, or circumstance. No, not reaction. The term ‘reaction’ or ‘response’ itself is the obsession of expression; the obsession that this type of person may or should be performed in a certain way. If we are conscious of the need to react, we end up doing the superficial action. Lee Chang Dong said he wanted to kick it out. He eliminated it thoroughly.

Park: He said he does not allow actors to do action and reaction consciously.

Yoo: I like it that way. Almost all the shooting scenes [films and dramas] require a slight over-expression. This is especially true at the TV drama shooting scenes. As you know, I did a lot of historical dramas. Through the shooting, I seem to have overdone the performance on my own without anyone directing me. Because I didn’t hear anyone [on the site] nagging me about acting.

Park: Even when you knew that you over-killed yourself

Yoo: It was shameless. In that condition, my goal was just to get an OK [get a pass] quickly at once and then go home. So I performed without discussion whether it was right or not.

Shin: At the shooting place you just did what the director asked you to.

Yoo: Nobody said to do it in a certain way. They just said ‘Good! Very good!’. I just did it even if it was not perfect, as long as they said ‘OK!’

Shin: Does it mean, this way, the actor’s body is reduced to the acting machine, like, the machine to express specific feelings?

Yoo: I originally like to temper/tone down my expression. During the shooting of Burning, I reminded of the work in my early days. At that time, everyone said that I should use more energy. ‘Do it more!’. So did they at the drama shooting site. ‘Act overly’. ‘Why do you play so little?’. ‘Express more’. I’ve always been listening to this sort of direction, and at some point I’ve crossed over the line unconsciously. I didn’t mean to go over the line affirmatively. In fact, I really felt strange when performing excessively. I felt so unfamiliar, uncomfortable that it became a burden. However, I had no choice but to do so.

Shin: May I ask the title of the work where you feel over-expressed?

Yoo: It’s Mighty Chilwoo (Strongest Chilwoo). I’m sure it was my first sageuk. I was in my early 20s and I had to play a very strong villain role. It was hard to interpret the way I liked, from the genre or from the character point of view itself. It was a piece of work that required a little more force/excessive performance more than Yoo Ah In himself had. Simply put, I was required to play over the top. In the end, I looked back and thought it was far away from a good acting or realistic acting.

Park: You realized that you acted that way unconsciously

Yoo: I just adapted to the scene properly. I have learned to focus on responding appropriately to the filming site/scene and coping with it. So, I was disillusioned with the scene and the acting itself. [T/N: he was disappointed, because it was not as good as he had expected or thought]. I didn’t know what to do. Then, I met director Ahn Pan Seok of Secret Love Affair, followed by Ryu Seung Wan of Veteran, and Lee Jun Ik of Sado. Throughout these flow of works, I slowly trained to learn how to use my body in different way and how to change my acting attitude.

Park: Then you met Lee Chang Dong’s world. Why is Lee Chang Dong taking such a slow-paced film in this period of time?

Yoo: Maybe it’s about differences in taste, but it [Lee’s style] is very good to my taste. I cannot claim that his directing style is right. I can’t be speaking presumptuously that Lee Chang Dong is right and Lee Chang-dong’s works are right. It’s just that it’s Lee Chang Dong’s way, and it suits me perfectly.

To be continued to Part 2


Translated by BabymoonYasuyo of Yoo Ah In International Fans Community 

© Yoo Ah In International Fans Community
※ Any copying, republication or redistribution of YOO AH IN SIKSEEKLAND’s content is expressly prohibited without prior consent of YOO AH IN SIKSEEKLAND. Copyright infringement is subject to criminal and civil penalties.

Source: Esquire Korea, May 2018

5 Responses to “[INTERVIEW] Yoo Ah In ESQUIRE KOREA Cover Story Part 1: “Acting is Not Action but Reaction””
  1. Sophie says:

    What a sweet morning treat! Thank you so much for the translations. Now I’m slowly enjoying and reading this,

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Dong (who talks very very slowly and carefully, precisely like what someone has said about him before) never expects the viewers to understand the implications conveyed in “Burning” because […]

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