Jang Dong-yoon, who suddenly entered the world of an actor one day, is slowly learning about the new world.
SLOWLY, JANG DONG YOON
A university student whose daily life centered on getting his license for the sake of scoring a job happened to aid in catching a robber in a convenience store. This young man then got interviewed for the TV news, and the short interview clip sent him an offer coming from his current agency, asking whether he would be interested in becoming an actor. That was how he suddenly entered the world of an actor, without any warning. Just like how dramatic his debut story was, Jang Dong-yoon made a dramatic choice in his life as well when he made the decision to embark on a totally different direction from where his life was heading to. From the dramas like School 2017, A Poem A Day, and the currently airing Mr Sunshine, to the movie Beautiful Days, he is diligently learning the ways of his new world, at his own pace without any haste.
You started acting quite late, plus you also have an unusual and unique debut story to your name.
Perhaps, it is the first of its kind in this line of work. (laughs)
You chose to do something that is very different from your life before. Did you have any fear or hesitation back then?
I didn’t hesitate at all. I like the challenge of doing new things. I have always hated doing something that is boring. Even when I was preparing for job interviews, I was worried, wondering if the life of an office worker would really suit me. At first, I had the thought of going back to where I was if this did not work out.
But still, isn’t it like totally giving up on something you have been working on for a very long time?
I used to study subjects related to Finance as my major, but I don’t think that those things I have learned up until the point I became an actor would disappear just like that. I don’t find the time spent on them was a waste. Even if I became an actor belatedly, I lived my life as a student to the fullest, fully enjoying the time back then.
Have you ever imagined yourself becoming an actor way before you actually became one?
Rather than imagining myself as an actor, I used to be interested in something related to films, since I love watching them.
Something like producing films?
I would like to be a part of a film production team, and perhaps, to write something for films.
Do you like writing?
I like poetry. I write poems ever since I was a kid. It was probably during sixth grade when I started it as a hobby; I was writing because I liked it and no one was forcing me to do it, hence I continued to do so. I won the awards in the Youth Literature Festival and even attended a literature academy. To be honest, I wanted to further my studies majoring in Korean Literature at the university but it didn’t work out.
We are curious about the content of your poems.
I write about people. Perhaps it’s my interest in the ordinary people that I end up writing a lot of poems related to them. It’s mostly about people. For instance, when I write something related to homeless elderly people, I would observe them and talk with them.
Acting is basically expressing the written emotions with your body. Is there a lot of difference between writing something and acting out something that is written on paper?
I also had long, deep thought about it; how different it is between those two? When I write a poem, I don’t control my emotions. I can express the emotion as it is and it can flow freely, while I need to know how to control my emotions as I act. I think that is the difference between those two. Even a poem and a novel are different from each other. Perhaps, a scenario/script is closer to what a novel is. Poems are basically implied literature, while novels are laid-out literature. I have always liked writing and still continuing to do so. It has also become a help to me when it comes to acting. As I write, I will enter the state of being filled with the rising emotions, and it would be great if I can control those emotions well before they lead me as I act out the scenes.
Why do you find acting fun?
Because it’s something related to people.
Even when you are writing poetry, your poems are related to people. It seems that you have a lot of interest in other people.
There are no people who live all by himself in this world. Of course, as you deal with people, you are bound to have feelings and form relationships. There are your friends, your parents, people you hate and the people you like. It’s fun to be able to handle emotions when I act since I have a lot of interest in people. Looking at the experience I had on the set before I got around learning about theories and techniques related to acting, I got to converse with the senior actors and fellow actors I saw on the set, and this would late give me realization. It is fun to be able to learn something like that, one at a time. When I first started acting, I thought that an actor should be born and overflowing with talents, and that one’s talent is more important than his effort. But it’s not the case when I observed the senior actors on the set. The acting is complete only when the actor analyses his character and concentrates on how to portray it.
You appeared on the drama Mr Sunshine halfway through its run. It seems that you could get nervous having so many senior actors around you on the set.
I am portraying the character Joon-young, a young man born as a son of a household that was ruined because of Yi Wan-ik (Kim Eui-sung). He hides his identity and enters the military academy while thinking of getting revenge. He is a very strong-willed but unskilled man. I joined the cast later compared to the other senior actors since my character only appeared in the middle of the story. Perhaps, that was the reason why I was so nervous when I first went to the set. It was awkward for me at first, since I joined the seniors when they were already 10 months into filming the series. But then, I got to adjust myself quickly, thanks to them. Unlike me myself who was nervous, the seniors were relaxed and very considerate towards me. It was nice to be able to watch their acting too. When they stood in front of the cameras, they got absorbed into and concentrated on their characters, but one could sense that they were relaxed rather than being tensed. It’s not only the actors, because the producer, the filming director, and the staff were all kind, and I learned a lot from them.
When you look back to this moment in the future, what would be the remaining feelings you would have?
(That) it was a very good opportunity for me. An opportunity that might not be easy to encounter in the future. I will also remember the drama set as a decent stepping stone for my growth. One day, I, too, would like to become a good senior actor like those I met through Mr Sunshine.
Soon, your debut film will be premiering too. The film Beautiful Days, also starring actress Le Na-young, was chosen as the opening film for the 23rd Busan International Film Festival. What kind of character are you portraying in the film?
We wrapped up filming in October last year and had to wait for a year before the film is screened in cinemas. I portray the character Zhen Chen, a university student who lives in Yanji, China. He is the son of Lee Na-young sunbae-nim’s character, who happens to come to South Korea in order to find his mother per his dying father’s request. He was abandoned by his own mom before she fled off to South Korea. With that kind of history, he is a dark, gloomy character, growing up with a wounded heart, together with the thought of being an abandoned child. Since he is a character who grows up and spends his life in Yanbian, I practiced a lot on using the dialect. I intentionally and frequently visited Daerim-dong (Seoul’s unofficial Chinatown) to eat Chinese food. I was even introduced to someone at the neighbourhood’s supermarket so that I could get advice on the dialect. I grew close with that person and we even had a meal together not too long ago.
Since he was abandoned by his own mom at an early age, he must be a character lacking in emotions.
Even when that’s the case, his emotions aren’t really special. He has this resentment he holds because of the absence of his mom; he resents his mom and is sad about it, but at the same time, he misses her and wants to see his mom. It is a character you can fully understand. I wanted to portray the emotions well, with regard to how he would have felt as he met the mother after being separated from her for a long time. After he met his mom, his own emotions, as well as the emotions around him questioning the reason why his father sent him into a quest to find his mom, were also changing. You could give up on a stranger but never towards your own family…I hope those kinds of feelings and emotions would be translated well onto the screen.
Is there a lot of difference when it comes to the filming sets for dramas and movies?
There would be a lot of differences, moreover since Beautiful Days is a low-budget film. Be it a drama or a movie set, each of them has its own appeal. A drama set is like a multiple-choice questions test where you have to solve the questions within a stipulated time, while a movie set is like a writing test where you have to ponder over the questions for a long time as you plan your long essay.
Personally, it has been a busy year for you, since you are starring in a drama which has garnered attention and created a great buzz, plus walking on the red carpet for your first film.
Although there isn’t one year that isn’t special, this year has given me quite a lot of opportunities for maturity and growth. I got to learn a lot from the seniors on the filming set, giving myself a chance to ponder over my attitude towards acting all over again. I thought that perhaps, what I thought as ‘giving my all and doing my best’ might not be the best that I could give. I think I will hold on to my characters and see until the end of it from now on, thanks to what I had experienced this year.