Here is a before weekend gift for all the Yoo A In fans, an interview with the actor after his role as Moon Jae Shin from SungKyunKwan Scandal.
In the search of his identity as an actor, Yoo keeps his own world intact while the rest of the world changes. I think the introduction on how he named himself summarizes this quite well, “a-in’ which means ‘ein’ in German, a constantly reminder to himself that he is a unique being in this world. The actor has done an interview with 10asia recently, and it is a long interview!
Actor Yoo A-in has played a variety of roles, particularly of characters in their youths from different walks of life starting with the sweet high schooler in KBS TV series “Sharp” to the lost teenager in film “Boys of Tomorrow” to the lonely warrior in KBS’ “Mighty Chil-woo” to the energetic patissier aspirant in film “Antique” and the ‘guy these days’ in KBS’ “He Who Can’t Marry.”
Then most recently, he was Moon Jae-shin in KBS drama “SungKyunKwan Scandal” who was the outsider of royal academy SungKyunKwan, a fighter who resists corrupt society, and a romantist who watched the woman he loves from afar — the very symbol of youths experiencing growing pains.
Yoo is 24 now and has grown a beard on his tanned face but whenever he smiles, he goes back to being the fair-complexioned boy whom viewers first saw on screen seven years ago. 10Asia met with the actor who came up with his own stage name A-in, meaning ‘ein’ in German, to constantly remind himself that he is a unique being in this world. It was not easy keeping up with the numerous ideas existing within the young man but it was definitely worth hearing.
10: You wrapped up filming of “SungKyunKwan Scandal” on the day it ended its run. How have you spent the past few days? I think you must’ve been busy doing everything you hadn’t been able to recently.
Yoo A-in: I’ve been drinking the whole time since I don’t have to work at night. (laugh) But no matter till how late I drink, I’ve been waking up early because it’s become a habit from filming “SungKyunKwan Scandal.” It makes me angry. (laugh) I actually get drunk pretty easily, maybe off half a bottle of soju [Korean vodka]? And I stay that way until I pass out. But I can’t pull all-nighters anymore. I go home at around two or three in the morning. Why am I talking about drinking?
10: Let’s talk about your drama. (laugh) You mentioned before that you took on “SungKyunKwan Scandal” with the determination that you would play the role of Moon Jae-shin. What was it about that character that was so appealing to you?
Yoo: I think I was drawn to who he is within the drama. He would be away from the other students at the royal academy of SungKyunKwan, climb a gingko tree and sit there alone, as well as wear his clothes and hair differently but it’s not because he wanted to stand out. At the same time, it was refreshing that he was only an outsider at SungKyunKwan, not from the entire world. I become curious about why he lived in that space like that when he had taken an exam to enter it and I felt he was similar to me.
10: SungKyunKwan is sort of a space you could call a school.
Yoo: But it wasn’t a school that the entire population went to or similar to the schools we went to. It was where people took extremely elite courses during the Joseon Dynasty. From what I know, there were less than 500 students at the academy and you got into politics as soon as you graduate from there so it was probably like law school. Being an outsider there is different from the kid who stares out the window at an ordinary school since it’s usually not easy for kids taking such elite courses to act like that. (laugh) They’re too smart and want to become mainstream, as well as being sly enough to know how to act in the right way at the right time. So I was very curious of what Jae-shin was thinking, how he could be so different alone.
10: Then what did you feel or discover while acting his role?
Yoo: Towards the end I came to feel that he’s a very tender-hearted person, that he’s a real kid. (laugh) That’s why it was difficult to control my acting in showing how he has trouble expressing his emotions versus him also being straightforward and blunt. I also think I may have gone too deep in terms of emotional expression when portraying how he feels towards Yoon-hee (Park Min-young). In dramas, female characters are usually slow when it comes to love but I too had played so little roles in which my character loves someone. (laugh) I thought a lot about how to shoot the scene where in the 19th episode, I drop off Yoon-hee in front of the prison Seon-joon (Park Yu-chun) is at and tell her to go see him by herself. I talked to the director a lot about this, on whether it’s something that Jae-shin would actually do or if it just couldn’t be helped because according to the plot of the story, he has to pull back.
10: I actually was curious on what it was that Jae-shin felt for Yoon-hee.
Yoo: Yoon-hee was a character Jae-shin had been interested in from the first moment they met, even before he developed romantic feelings for her. He used to be a guy who has his back turned against the world, regards all students at SungKyunKwan in the same way, and is prejudiced about them just like they are about him. But I think he changes after meeting Yoon-hee who has a lot of spunk, is funny and interesting. And in that process, he develops feelings for her, then finds out she’s actually a girl, so I think he came to want to protect and care for the lovely eyes and heart she has. And in both the drama and original comic, Yoon-hee is meant to end up with Seon-joon so according to that outcome, I tried to show that he also wants to protect her in a brotherly way.
10: It wasn’t only the romance but also the process of how the characters grow that served as the framework to “SungKyunKwan Scandal.” The moment that left a strong impression about Jae-shin in particular was when in tears, he says to his dad, whom he resented since the death of his older brother, “I acted up that I was hurting more than you. I was wrong. And I was sure that I loved brother more than you did. I was wrong about that as well.”
Yoo: What I felt was so child-like about Jae-shin was how poor he was at expressing himself and how he didn’t know what to do about how he felt. He was so much of an idealist that he was trapped inside his own thoughts and felt, ‘Nobody hurts more than I do. Nobody is having a tougher time than I am. My pain is the worst.’ Because surprisingly, people with such pain or sadness feel that they’re more superior. There was a time that I felt like that as well. Of course, I don’t think Jae-shin has matured that much. But he’s someone who has a hard time taking even a single step forward while others are taking ten, so even that single step is extremely significant. I think it’s significant in that he tore down the walls around him, came to realize that his pain wasn’t all that existed in this world, that he was able to talk about it in tears, and smile afterwards.
10: Was there an emotion there that was difficult to show?
Yoo: It was extremely difficult having to laugh at the end of the seventh episode when the king visits SungKyunKwan to give a religious service and shoots an arrow. For every role I’ve played so far, even when my character is someone who is extremely sad or in pain, I tended to smile a lot and show my emotions the way they are but I just couldn’t figure out how to smile as Jae-shin. I got the script about a week or two before shooting the scene and standing in front of the mirror, I tried smiling this way and that but I just couldn’t figure it out. Of course I can smile in a way that’ll make me look pretty. (laugh) But I wanted to find an emotional link that could lead to laughter. I had the scene re-shot as well but I still don’t think I pulled it off 100 percent.
10: I think you’re the type that can’t bear not immersing yourself in every scene.
Yoo: It’s because there’s a reason I say my lines and put on expressions but I would sometimes end up doing them for no reason. I would say a line, laugh, or give a look without thinking about it. (laugh) Oh, and that’s not automatic, I very much so do it on purpose. It’s also a technical aspect. Of course, there are also people who want to see such things and it makes my job easier too. When I was tired, there were moments I thought, ‘What’s the need for a reason, I’ll get an okay sign for it.” In that sense, there are things I’m both happy and sorry that “SungKyunKwan” ended. Jae-shin wasn’t a character I pulled off perfectly so maybe I could have done better.
10: What did you feel while shooting “SungKyunKwan Scandal” based on your past learning or experience?
Yoo: The aspect that I felt I lacked the most in creating Jae-shin was vocalization. Set aside the experience I have in showing my emotion through my acting, having good vocalization is a basic quality required of all actors but no matter how much I wanted to produce other sounds, my throat and breath would reach a limit so I could only produce certain sounds within that. And it’s not just about the sound. It’s something which could expand my character’s range so I’m disappointed I wasn’t able to do that to its fullest.
10: I heard that you worked hard to correct your pronunciation and vocalization from a long time ago and you’ve improved a lot now.
Yoo: I heard from a lot of people that I have a lisp. (laugh) And it’s not that it’s gotten much better now — I just think people notice it less after I started to say my lines more naturally. My pronunciation isn’t that good either. I mumble. But technically, I’ll lump my words together rather than define each word so I think that helps my lines look more natural. (laugh)
10: In “SungKyunKwan Scandal,” all four of you were of similar ages. How was that?
Yoo: I was prejudiced about them. I wasn’t able to get close to them in the beginning because of the thought that celebrities will be like this and that and that’s why I usually don’t become friends with them. (laugh) I understand that they can’t help being self-centered, that what they feel is important, and they need to receive more attention. But I rid myself of a lot of them — through Yuchun, my prejudice of idols and Hallyu stars, through Min-young my prejudice of fellow actresses, and through Song Joong-ki my prejudice of actors. So in the way that Jae-shin came out of his shell and came to accept Yoon-hee, Seon-joon and Yong-ha, I myself came to see these people in real life in a good way which means I myself matured as well. I had fun shooting the drama. I just wish we had more honest conversations about acting. But what I thank Joong-ki for is that he gave me a lot of advice comfortably. I came to realize that he’s not just plain sly, he’s sly in the sense that he wants what’s best for everyone.
10: Writing is an act which contains your will to express something that you feel inside. You had mainly been writing on your Cyworld account and started writing on Twitter a few months ago. How has that been?
Yoo: When I’m away from home, I’m in dire need of the time and space that will let me go back to being myself. For three to four months, I felt uncomfortable not being able to live my life as myself. So being able to voice what I think and communicate with people through Twitter as Uhm Hong-shik, as actor Yoo A-in, was very comforting. In a way, it’s a blessing and honor, and I learned a lot from the thousands of responses I receive from my single comment. Of course, some were just light or routine remarks but quite a lot of the responses awakened me and taught me lessons, as well as reminding me of what a closed person I am. So, I’m going to stay on Twitter. (laugh)
10: I actually think it’s not easy to do Twitter because thousands and ten of thousands of people are reading it.
Yoo: A lot of people want me to stay on Twitter but at the same time, it makes me speak up less. And it’s not easy to go against that. It’s not like I was born as an independence fighter or anything of the sort. I like what’s comfortable and I wish I had nothing to worry about. But that really means I would have isolated myself and I know it’ll turn me into a miserable person so I sometimes force myself to write. It’s not because I’m dying to write but because not being able to makes me very unhappy so I’m trying to continuously tell myself ‘I can do it, I can speak up, I will keep speaking, I know you want to put a gag in my mouth but I will keep speaking, I will not lose, I am not incompetent.’ It’s very hard work.
10: So are you saying that it’s difficult to be your real self but you want to continuously make sure that you are?
Yoo: Yes, and not just about acting. I think it’s about everything regarding living like I’m someone in my twenties. I actually have a desire to just live a very peaceful life. I want to live comfortably, and of course I also sometimes think that I want to make money by just smiling pretty but I think I also trying to push that out and inject me as someone in my twenties. I’m someone who matured early and I know the rules to living life tactfully but I have to let go of it. I’m in the dilemma of being too realistic but can’t stay realistic. Because being mature means that you know the answers so you will stop and settle to protect what you have but that’s immature. I think the true way to be mature is to continuously seek answers, ask questions and go forward as well as fail to do so at times. That’s why I wish people would use the world ‘youth’ in a different way. When people say, “He’s still in his youth” is means that person is immature and an idealist full of passion but I wish it could be used to refer to young people who are truly mature and are upright.
10: You’ve also written about labor and human rights related issues on your Twitter account. And they’re thoughts that anybody with a mind for social issues could have but celebrities are usually branded as being ‘political’ the moment they mention anything about them. So it could put you ina very tiring position so aren’t you worried about that?
Yoo: I am. I’m worried and scared to death. I can’t sleep at night after writing such things. (laugh) But from what I judge, someone who can’t do that is dead, or at least partially. I want to live a decent life, not just be alive because I’m breathing. I even think I’m allowed to talk about politics because like actress Ko Hyun-jung’s character says in SBS TV series “The President,” it’s irresponsible to regard politics just as a bad thing when we’re all citizens living under strict political control. I won’t do something just because it’s good or criticize sharply just because something’s a social issue. I just think I can at least play the role of introducing what I can truly relate to, can express my feelings about and the things I can share common thoughts about with other people. Although it’s sad that that’s very difficult to do in the society we live in and the celebrity system I’m in.
10: I think it must be tiring to have to live according to a system or standards of society even when they don’t mean much to you. Plus Korea has very high ethical standards of people who do pop art.
Yoo: Because the moment I package myself, I’m not just showing myself to people in a certain way but I trap myself in that packaging. That’s why I’m trying to make the size of my wrapping large and show that I’m someone who’ll curse, who will drink and go clubbing. It’s nothing really but I need to make conscious efforts to do that because it’s as if right now, it’s not allowed.
10: When you create the image of being an ethically faultless person, sometimes that’s all there gets left about you.
Yoo: That’s right. As our scope gets bigger and the level of our culture heightens, I want there to be a larger and broader variety of people but I’m just a single 25-year-old actor. That’s why I think it would be nice to have a senior in his 30s or 40s who says this because I could come off as rude. Someone who can show that they can find happiness as a human being even as a celebrity.
10: Won’t that change since we live in times where even actors are changing?
Yoo: I do feel that it’s changing. But the problem is that young actors or singers adjust themselves to the system they’re in. As if it’s only natural. The young kids are thinking, ‘This is what celebrities should do, they should smile and act like this, and celebrities have to wear hats that look like this…’ I think it’s very, extremely bad to get into this business before establishing yourself as a moral being. That’s why I wish young people wouldn’t become celebrities at a young age. I too wouldn’t if I could go back to being young and hoping to establish a real sense of self is almost impossible to do. Some people may say I regard work too lightly which they’re right about. I’m light. My work is light compared to my life and even more so compared to the real life I live as a human being. So whoever wants to become a celebrity, I hope they starts with the thought that becoming a happy person comes before becoming a happy actor. I just want everyone to make themselves happy.
10: Well if you had a hard enough of a time that you never wanted to come back to this job again, what has pushed you forward so far?
Yoo: I think I’ve been honest. (laugh) I was sure of my convictions and the path I need to take, and the reason I could bear through everything was probably because I wasn’t in a hurry. For example, people think they can sacrifice and compromise ten years to achieve a huge and ideal dream ten years later. Going to school is similar to that in the same sense. You could spend that time in a happier way but you sacrifice yourself to an extent for the future. But I also think that from that process, you can definitely protect your convictions and go a step closer to your goal while living a life you’re happy with. And it doesn’t have to come when I’m 25 but when I’m 35 or 45. I also think it’s better to remember who I am and take a slower path rather than losing myself while trying to shorten that time period. Although while I’m talk like this right now as oif I’m something, I too don’t know how I’ll change. But I think celebrities saying that they’ll won’t forget their original resolution is different from them saying they will continuously be humble. original resolution is the most basic thought at the bottom of one’s heart and is about knowing what you’re working for, what you’re looking for and what your happiness is about. That’s why although it’s supposed to be most important, it becomes second important then third important… then you start to change. So no matter how tough of a time I’m having, I need to keep it priority! (laugh) Even if I may change realistic after that.
10: What do you think you were like before you started acting? About ten years ago?
Yoo A-in: I think I was similar to who I am now. I was the ordinary loser who blended in well amongst the other 40 to 50 students in my class but when I delve into more detailed memories and proofs of who I was in my past, it makes me think that people’s nature does not change easily. (laugh) I once came across something I wrote for evaluation during ethics class when I was around 14. I had written about how I would achieve my dream but it wasn’t about ‘what’ I would become. “I think it is people’s job to find true happiness,” is what I wrote. I think it was because that’s all I needed to think about back then. And school was a much smaller and stable form of society than society actually is. Not that I liked school that much either. (laugh)
10: What did you not like about it so much?
Yoo: Because a lot of things about it was unnatural. I had never opted for any of the things that happened to me but they just happened as if they were natural occurences. Of course, education is mandatory which is why my mother sent me to school and I would have been in big trouble if she hadn’t. (laugh) But I don’t think schools teach you how to think. It’s a thought that comes to me when I’m writing as well. I write mainly for myself on my Cyworld account and to communicate with others through my Twitter account but it’s not because I need answers. And even if I was seeking for an answer, I don’t think you should expect to find it easily. I wish people would not say, “This is difficult. I don’t know what this is about. Please explain in a simpler way,” after taking a mere glance at what I write. What fun would there be in finding what the answer to something is as soon as you look at it? Words are easy to written down and be shared but not light. So if you are someone who visits my accounts because you are interested in me, I’m hoping you will figure out your answer to what I have said through me rather than find it easily and make conclusions about me. I am the most important person to everyone.
10: Then do you think you haven’t strayed too far from what you wanted to be like in the future when you were 14?
Yoo: (laugh) Yes. Regardless of what I’m doing, I do think I’ve managed to maintain some of what I felt at the bottom of my heart back then so I’m extremely satisfied. And by satisfied, I’m not saying that I have more and am richer but that I’m not ashamed because I have managed to uphold the roots to what is at the bottom of my heart. I would be embarrassed if that was empty ten years later even if I may become rich throughout Asia and make millions. Of course, when I say this, the response is, “Bottom of your heart? Talk again, after you make millions!” (laugh)
10: Then how do you see yourself in ten years from now? Is there anything that at least vaguely pops into your mind?
Yoo: Hm, it might not exist. But if it did… I do think I’d be a pretty awesome person if I could look back on myself when I was 25 and not feel ashamed about who I am at 35. I’m hoping that the path I’ve been on so far will have paved a way for kids like me.
10: You said before that you feel like you’re becoming ill when you do interviews that aren’t really about communicating with the other person or go on television. Everyone ends up having to do things that they don’t want to at one point in their life but there are people who are particular sensitive about such things and have a tough time with them. Do you think you’ve gotten more used to it with age?
Yoo: It’s still difficult. But while in the past I rebelled against the logic that I should do whatever I’m told since I’m a newbie, I think now, I’m sometimes mistaken as having become arrogant because my name is better known. As if I have changed when I’ve actually always just been this way. (laugh) So I clashed with the agency the most in regards to this. I’m thankful that my current agency accepts me as who I am and we have found ways to compromise because I too want to work at an equal level with them. Of course, it’s all possible only when you become famous. And I’m not saying that I’ve become popular. It’s just that after working on this drama, it feels like my agency understands me much more. (laugh)
10: In that sense, I think one of the things that “SungKyunKwan Scandal” has given to you is more freedom from reality.
Yoo: Yes, it’s very important to me. Freedom was the word I mentioned the most when I was around 21. And I looked very hard for it because until I turned 20, I was deprived of freedom for the three years after I arrived in Seoul and worked. I think freedom for people who are out in society is about how well they control what they feel inside. I think I can control about six things out of ten inside me after working on “SungKyunKwan Scandal,” compared to having controlled five before. It means I have gained the freedom to be able to control one more thing that’s important to me.
10: If having the freedom to be yourself is important, if that time and space is important to you, what sort of place is the home that you live in right now?
Yoo: The house itself is like any other house. What’s important is not what sort of house it is but that I have my own space. But I easily get bored of living in one space so I move every year. It’s very bothersome. (laugh) How I’ve changed from the past is that these days, my friends visit my place often and sometimes even stay for days. I’ve come to be able to do my own thing even when others are around me, not just when I’m alone and isolated. I think that’s at least how comfortable I’ve become with people I’m close to.
10: You said that you clashed with your dad when you were young because he was very strict and he was also again you becoming an actor. Have you come to understand each other better over time?
Yoo: For most sons, dads are such uncomfortable people. It’s particularly difficult when you’re from the Gyeongsang Province and the men talk in short and concise sentences. (laugh) But we have become able to understand each other better. I’ve experienced the domestic troubles that every child goes through but I think I’ve come to accept and forgive my father better than I used to.
10: I remember you having written on your Cyworld account that you didn’t willingly accept how kind the woman at your convenient store was and then regretted it the day the store shut down. It made me think that you’re still awkward when it comes to people who are nice to you unconditionally or praise you as a celebrity.
Yoo: Yes, it drives me crazy. (laugh) It’s gotten worse because a lot of people watched our drama but I just can’t stand it! Of course, as an actor and celebrity, it also feels good and I’m proud in a way. I’m so happy and thankful when ladies at restaurants come to me and ask for my autograph, saying that their daughters are my fans. But anything more than that is uncomfortable. I wish they wouldn’t even say, “A-in, you’re so good looking!” but keep it at around “I’m having fun watching your drama.” I feel like dying when people tell me things like, “All the girls ever do when they get together is talk about you!” I just don’t know how to respond to that and it doesn’t seem right to say thank you. Or should I just be bold and say, “Yea, I was cool in it, wasn’t I?” Anyway, it’s hard for me to deal with more extreme forms of expressions. And it’s not just me as an actor — I think I don’t feel quite comfortable with such things even when it comes to love or the person I’m dating.
10: You may increasingly feel more uncomfortable in the future.
Yoo: It’s not that I want my privacy to be respected because I’ll protect it whether others respect it or not. But I do think that it’ll be more uncomfortable to go outside now since I’m actually the type that used to go walk about easily and go to Myungdong without my hat on. I wish it would be easier to do. But I guess I should be thankful about even being able to say this right now and I feel grateful and happy about it.
10: Last question. What is the furthest you think of when it comes to the future?
Yoo: I think it’s tomorrow. I think it is possible that I cease to exist any moment and there was a time when I used to live every day of my life engulfed with that thought. I wasn’t thinking that I want to die but there was a time when I thought I don’t need to wake up the next day. That I wouldn’t feel sad or bad in particular if I didn’t get to see another day of my life. I was in despair. But I overcame those times and I’m alive. (laugh) I do think though I could get through today but not exist tomorrow. That’s why today, this time right now and what I’m doing right now is much more important to me than what I’ll be doing in ten years. I came to realize that after I spending such times.
Reporter : Choi Ji-Eun five@
Photographer : Chae ki-won ten@
Editor : Jessica Kim jesskim@, Lee Ji-Hye seven@
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