Kwak Dong Yeon – Esquire June 2021 Interview

Kwak Dong-yeon has always been walking down the right path, cheerfully and sweetly.

What a Nice Boy!

Before we begin the interview, we would like to congratulate you on something. You managed to rank first on the trending topic of Twitter not too long ago. Did it go on to rank first? I only saw it until it was on the second place, but knowing that it eventually ranked first, that makes me feel good. I want to return this honour to the fans. In the future, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to become a user who receives lots of love on the world of Twitter. (laughs)

Celebrities would normally be on the trending topic for one of these two reasons: because of an event organized by the fans, or it could be due to their names appearing on the national news. But then, in your case, it is a rare occurrence for a celebrity to rise to the top of the trending topic on their own accord. Truth to be told, I didn’t even know what the ‘trending topic’ actual function was. (laughs) Plus, everyone was raving about ‘trending, trending’ at that time, so I thought that they were just joking. However, I only realized afterwards that it was something similar to ‘real time search topic’. I kept checking the rank and seeing how my name continued to rise through the numbers, I thought, ‘Let’s see this until the end.’ I never thought that it would reach the top rank even.

The profile pictures you use for Twitter and Instagram also become an interesting point, from how they differ from each other. Your Twitter profile picture is the epitome of chaotic; it feels as if you are going to fall down at any time and it is unclear which direction you are facing. On the contrary, your Instagram profile features the very definition of cool, prim-and-proper picture of an actor itself. There are also lots of people wondering if it is your way of approaching the different types of social media. The profile picture of my Instagram account used to be the same as the one on my Twitter. The existing fans would be aware of this story. I happened to change agency last year, so I wanted to try and act like I’ve become a different person from what I used to be. (laughs) Even on Instagram, there used to be many weird pictures but I hid them (made them private). I even shot a new profile picture (for the company) and used that for Instagram.

Do you mean being someone who is cool? Yeah, like a cold, quiet, and chic person. (laughs) But then, I failed to take care of the profile picture for my Twitter, so it remained like it was before. I happened to leave it as it is, but it’s strange to have things unfolding like this. I think of it as something interesting.

There are also lots of reaction like ‘Give me that face if you are going to use it like that.’ That’s a bit difficult, because I’m going to keep using it like this.

Is it going to be overconsumption (of the face)? (laughs) That seems to be it. Overconsumption, as well as impulse consumption. (laughs) I like the kind of vibe as featured in that Twitter picture, so I think I’ll continue to upload such pictures from time to time.

The concept of today’s photo shoot is far from that kind of vibe, so how do feel about this? It’s different from the Twitter vibe, but I really, really, really liked it. It’s hard to put it into words, no matter how many times I try to emphasize it. It’s the vibe of the photo shoot I dreamed of having, ever since I was younger. I think that there are different facets of mine featured in this shoot.

There is the boyish charm imbued in this photo shoot, something that you have never shown before. That’s right. When working on a photo shoot like this, I think that the most important thing is not to let it overlap. If there’s similar concept that I have done before, there’s no reason for it to be taken if I’m to show the same side of me all over again, right? I think that the most important thing is to show a new side of me (through the photo shoot). Today’s photo shoot seems to bring out all the concepts I haven’t attempted before. It allows me to have a grasp on myself one more time, so I’m thankful and happy for it. I also feel satisfied to be able to have a good rapport working together with the staff.

You had an encounter with Esquire 5 years ago, and you appear more matured today compared to before. Oh, I still remember vividly the concept of the photo shoot back then. I also have the same thought today, that I appear more boyish compared to that time. Why is that?

Could it be that you are feeling younger? (laughs) It must be that. I’m just 25 years old, yet I’m having the thought of feeling younger…(laughs)

You are barely 25, yet there are people who is confused about your age because you debuted at a young age. It probably has something to do with me looking older for my age. (laughs) Even up until 2 to 3 years ago, there were lots of working restrictions due to my age. There were also casting restrictions that came with reactions like, ‘Your face looks like someone in their mid-20s, but your real age is too young, huh?’ Because of that reason, I even made a request for my age to be deleted on the portal sites. Looking back at it, I was the one who directly caused the huge confusion with regard to my age.

Even when we go through the roles you have portrayed over the years, they are either slightly or many years older than your real age. There was never a moment I felt pressured about it; I was rather happy about it. Thanks to the confusion regarding my age, I got to portray those roles. From the time I was a trainee, the combination of all the junk food, poor meals, and the lack of sleep I had has made me into who I am today. (laughs)

Looking back at it, you are also part of the off-Saturday generation, right? (Saturday used to be regular school day until 2008) You mean having the Saturdays off? I’m a student of that generation.

You were featured as the earliest member of Rainbow Club in MBC variety show I Live Alone when you were still a high school student. The video of your appearance on the show back then is making a wave again these days. We wonder if you realize that the sight of the sunshine on your way home from school in that clip exudes that off-Saturday feeling. Ah, that feel. Of course I know that very well. I was in elementary school when it was first introduced. I remembered how great it was to have Saturdays off at that time.

There are lots of memes teasing you about your age, so we thought that we should put the emphasis on making you look young. (laughs) Just like what you said just now, you are personally replying to the questions from fans on Twitter and Instagram. Looking back at those replies, you were making use of various catchy phrases there, so you are indeed a part the new generation. But I think those catchy phrases that I know of are actually those from a long time ago. I don’t go and search for them myself; most of the phrases are from the friends of friend of mine before being passed down to me by my friends. It takes almost a season for the phrases to reach me, so I think that there are other new words being used by the newer generation. I’m late when it comes to catching up with the trend. That was also the case with the Instagram Stories Question Sticker of ‘Ask me anything’; I didn’t even know how to type in the words there at first, so I just used my handwriting to answer the questions.

So the handwritten answers were not a preference of yours but rather it was because you didn’t know how to type it in. We thought that you were just trying to maintain that analog feel.(laughs) Oh, there’s also that intention as well. It appears more sincere to have the answers handwritten as compared to have them typed out. The fans seem to like it as well. Somehow, it feels like my signature style? Hence, I just continue to do so.

We heard that you have been living by yourself since you were in your first year of middle school. It was such a young age for you, so we wonder if humour was your strategy to survive in the industry? I give it a shot, in my own way…(laughs) Truth to be told, I have a vague wish after living as a trainee and watching the adults in the entertainment industry. TV shows and dramas tend to portray the celebrities as mostly sensitive, fussy, and self-centered. I’m not sure if there are real people like that, but I didn’t like the image of the celebrities portrayed on the media that we are acquainted to ever since we were young. I thought that when I become a celebrity later, I should refrain myself from behaving badly like that when I’m working. Projects and photo shoots like this are considered work for the celebrities, and the same goes for the staff. I always think that it would be great if everyone who is working alongside me could enjoy their time and work with a smile on their face. As I grow older, I think that it would be great to see everyone around me – from the people who work with me to my fans – to smile one more time. This might be how I learned to have this sense of humour.

It is amazing for you to have that kind of thought from a young age. You seem to be the type who continuously pay attention to your mindset as a celebrity and your attitude towards work. Maybe I owed it to my luck, but I always have a hunch when something doesn’t feel right. I was probably accustomed to make my own judgment ever since I was young, that I shouldn’t follow bad and incorrect things. I don’t really know how I managed to act like that. Maybe it’s because of my parents’ teachings and also my luck in meeting good adults even from a young age. Nevertheless, thanks to that kind of fortune, I get to work on more projects, as I naturally learn the dos and don’ts when it comes to dealing with people.

Perhaps, the fact that you appear more matured compared to your age made it possible for you to portray characters older than your real age. I could have gone astray but it might be that I was able to control myself from doing something wrong. It’s really fortunate, now that I think about it. I always keep this at the back of my mind after I started acting: since I had a clear direction of what I wanted to do, I should behave better. There are times when one’s career and life come crashing down, bringing together the people around that person into ruins as well. It’s not something that is exclusive to those in the entertainment industry. I grow more and more cautious when I witness such situation as I make a pledge to myself to be mature in thoughts and action. At the same time, my own experience of being ignored due to my young age made me want to appear matured.

The character you portrayed in tvN drama Vincenzo, Jang Han-seo, is the oldest among the roles you have played so far. Since he is described to be born in the year of Rooster, so he is 29 years old. Still, you are now 25 years old, so the characters have started to seem to fit your age. In a few years’ time, it might not be that awkward to play a character your age, right? I don’t think that will be the case. There are different sides to me: when I am working like today, when I hang out with close brothers, when I spend time with my friends. Regardless of the roles, I should be able to portray the role I’m given, by utilizing my own character to match the role, so that I can blend in with the role. It is my job to do so.

Let us talk about Vincenzo. At first, Han-seo appeared to be a villain, but he gradually became more like a coward and also pitiful. Together with his final arc showing his character growth, it is suffice to say that he is a complicated character. It was probably not easy to portray him, so what did you think when you first met the character of Han-seo? I was actually so happy. It is an opportunity for me as an actor to gain lots of information from portraying a person with diverse sides to him. There were lots of hints I got from portraying the character itself, When I became Han-seo, I intentionally approached him without being calculative. I focused on the situations encountered by Han-seo and portrayed him in a raw way.

You said it just now that you tend to utilize your own character to match the role. What do you think the common traits you shared with Han-seo then? There isn’t much, but if I have to choose one, it might be the competitive spirit. Of course, no matter how strong my competitive spirit is, I won’t be firing guns like Han-seo. (laughs)

Do you think you can be close with Han-seo if you are to meet him in real life? I don’t think I will be able to be close with him. How can I, when he’s a brat who runs wild without any fear…(laughs) I think it depends on which side of Han-seo it is, but it won’t be easy.

The different sides of Han-seo is because of him being a developing character. That’s right. Han-seo is, after all, a character who dabbles in bad deeds frequently. He’s a villain who didn’t deserve to be forgiven, considering how he had killed people. But then, it was really sad when Han-seo died. I had the thoughts that would’ve been great if Vincenzo (Song Joong-ki) arrived a bit earlier and it shouldn’t end like that. Rather than feeling unfair over the death, it was more of a regretful feeling for someone who finally had an awakening. It was probably upsetting for him as well to realize how he lived on the wrong path right before his death.

Why did you leave the comment ‘Happy happy’ right before Han-seo’s death? Many were already expecting Han-seo’s death, so I wanted to confuse them a bit. (laughs) Still, that wasn’t just a joke; looking at it from Han-seo’s point of view, it was the best choice he could make. Even if he survived, he would have to deal with the guilt of killing people and the crumbling company of his. Still, he got to protect Vincenzo, the first person who gave Han-seo the chance to become a human; he also got to let out all the frustration and humiliation he suffered the whole life in the hands of his own brother Jang Han-seok (Ok Taecyeon). He arrived at the resolutions for so many things before he met his demise. I thought that itself was a happy ending for Han-seo.

You said in an interview before, that you couldn’t understand how it is to be unable to escape the character after being excessively absorbed in it. Seeing how you are talking about Han-seo calmly like this, we think that it’s still the same for you. I think I have never been immersed in a character so deeply to the point of failing to separate myself from it. Maybe it’s my own shortcoming or the different approach I use in acting. It’s a relief, since I have never thought of killing someone like Han-seo. (laughs)

It’s such a relief. (laughs) People always choose you as someone who has a lot of ‘hyung luck’. You have worked together with Park Bo-gum and Yoo Seung-ho before. You also gained different older brothers in the form of Song Joong-ki and Ok Taecyeon through Vincenzo. But then, in the future, you might encounter more actors around your age or even younger as you get roles that are similar to your real age. Is there any difference with regard to working with the older brothers? There is a huge difference in my opinion. Even until now, there are almost none when it comes to actors younger than me. I don’t even have that many friends around my age. I think it’s more difficult to mingle around with someone younger or around my age, as compared to how I behave around those slightly older than me. I’m already thinking of the strange feeling when I have to act alongside the actors around my age in future projects…(laughs) I should work hard so that I can get used it when the time comes.

Your ‘hyung luck’ does not end with just actors, since you have gained lots of hyung fans as well these days. Ah, I really like that. I’m thankful to have my older brothers supporting their younger brother like this and looking at me favourably. I totally don’t mind if you have other female celebrities you are fond of at the same. Feel free to support them and return to me; please support me with all your heart when I’m promoting! (laughs)

©ESQUIRE KOREA

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