NYAFF 2013 Interview: Ryoo Seung-beom Talks The Actor's Process And The Need For Breaks

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NYAFF 2013 Interview: Ryoo Seung-beom Talks The Actor's Process And The Need For Breaks

Famous in these here parts for his roles in Crying Fist, The Unjust and The Berlin File (not to mention his debut in brother Ryoo Seung-wan's lo-fi shit-kicking Die Bad),  Ryoo Seung-beom was in New York last month for a mini-retrospective of his work at the New York Asian Film Festival. Diva Velez managed to snag some quality time with the 32-year old actor, in which they discussed his early career, process on and off set, and the reasons why taking a break from acting has been so liberating [ed. Ben Umstead]

The Lady Miz Diva:  How do you feel about having a retrospective of your films at Lincoln Center this early in life?
Ryoo Seung-beom:  It's funny, no. {Laughs} It's kind of a point to look back and to summarise what I've done before.  It's very nice to see that, because I would not have a chance to look back in this way, so it's a very good opportunity for me, as well.  And also at Lincoln Center, it's a very nice place, so I'm thrilled.
LMD:  You've been making films since you were 19 years old?
RSb:  Yes, since 1999.  I was 19.
LMD:  Did you always want to act?

RSb:  No, not at all.  When I was younger, my dream was in music; to be a music producer or something.  When I was younger I didn't really have a goal, so I didn't do too much.  I would spend the time with my friends out in the street with the skateboards, listening to techno and drinking.  So when I was 19, my brother was offering to make a film together, so I said, 'Why not? Just try it.'  After that, I'm an actor.
LMD:  I watched a group of your films to prepare for this interview and I realised that none of your characters have the same walk, gestures, or posture as the other.  Is that something that comes naturally as you're reading the script and thinking of who the person is, or do you work on these details in the mirror?
RSb:  It depends.  When I'm reading some scripts, I feel they need something minimal, so I just let it go, but other scripts really need more work for the character, so I talk with the director and get his opinion.  It all depends on the film.  I think that's why there's nothing the same, because I always try to find out more by talking to the directors and translating the role in my way.
LMD:  Director E J-yong talked about his film ("Behind the Camera") and said some actors were shaken when he expected them to improvise and they couldn't do it.  Are you happier when you are left to interpret as you like, or do you prefer to follow exactly what a director has in mind?
RSb:  Sometimes I feel like I need to stick to the script and sometimes I don't care.  You know when I work with my brother (Director Ryoo Seung-wan), my brother is very strict.  So, if I add something to the character, he won't use it.  He doesn't want to do that.  It's just, "Hurry up.  Come on, follow me."  If I tell him some idea, he doesn't care.  "Please just keep to my script."  So, actors, they're all different. 
It also depends on the director: There are directors who expect more than the script from the actor.  There are directors who expect exactly the same as the script, so it depends on the director.   
LMD:  What you're saying about working with your brother is interesting because when I interviewed him, he told me he trusts your ability to analyse a character and make it your own.
RSb:  It's funny, you know, when he is writing the script, I can talk to him about some ideas, but in the studio he doesn't listen.  Because he's filming and he doesn't have time so he has to make his cuts, so he just focuses on the cut.
LMD:  Are there any particular directors you'd like to work with?
RSb:  The French director who worked with Jim Carrey on Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind, Michel Gondry.
LMD:  You're known for character roles.  Do you wish to play the Lee Byung-hun, heartthrob-type leading man?
RSb:  Sure, I'm human, so I'd like to.  Of course, but most of the pretense...  For acting, I don't want to show off for somebody - for actor, for acting.  Acting is acting.  To play some romantic guy, some actor is thinking, 'Ah, some girls will like me. I am really great. I'm a really good woman's guy, you know?'  But it is not my thought.  If I want to do that, if I wanted to act in a romantic script, I have to do that, but to show off; I don't care.  It is not my style.  It's not my business.
LMD:  You put yourself to great pains to embody your characters; earning a boxer's physique for "Crying Fist", or doing the martial arts in "Arahan", or shooting guns in "The Berlin File."  Is that transformation part of what appeals to you about acting?
RSb:  No.  It's so hard, you know?  I'm human so...  If some director wants to train me like that, or to get more fat, or more thin, it's so hard.  Usually, I don't like to work out.
LMD:  Being so creative with your interpretations, have you ever thought of writing or directing your own film?
RSb:  Of course.  Someday I will write a script and make something like that.  I'm excited by the arts, not only film.  Someday I wanna try it.  It's very complicated now.  My life is so complicated now, I'm confusing all things; even my job, even my future.  Someone asked me my plan; no plan is my plan.
LMD:  Some of your characters are really wretched people.  Are you someone who must find something relatable or humanising about a character in order to play him?
RSb:  Actually, I like playing outsider characters.  In my own life, I'm curious about people like that.  Yes, good characters are good, but they don't work as well for me.  So, when I'm reading some scripts, I'm more curious about the outsider, the bad guy, the loser.  That's why I choose the outsiders and the bad guys.
LMD:  Is it difficult for you to shed their skin at the end of the day?
RSb:  Of course, it's work.  Sometimes I have problems with it mentally, but I enjoy it.  It makes me more strong.  I enjoy taking over that moment; fighting with my character and confusing him. But I really like the way I have to fight with it every day; it works for me.
LMD:  It sounds tiring.
RSb:  Yes, it's so tiring.  I know!  That's why I stopped my job.
LMD:  I'm curious now that you're stepping away from acting, if you have some other creative outlet?
RSb:  I really have no plan.  A year ago, I thought just suddenly, 'Okay, I have to stop all things,' after then, I wanted to have no idea, no thinking.  I had this moment when I wanted to feel like nothing is mine, for everything to disappear.  After that, I'll find some next way or next step. To find myself, first I need an empty box inside: To get rid of everything in my mind to find more inspiration.
LMD:  What inspires you?
RSb:  It depends.  Sometimes it's music.  Sometimes it's philosophy.  I'm really curious about philosophy right now.
LMD:  Which philosopher are you reading right now?
RSb:  (Friedrich) Nietzsche.  For me, everything gives some inspiration; walking, art, food, or even water or rivers, but first I'm really curious about humans: My family and friends, my New York friends, my French friends, my human friends.
LMD:  Mr. Choi Min-sik was a guest at the festival last year and he was just wonderful.  I understand he means a lot to you.
RSb:  Choi Min-sik is my best friend.  We meet each other and talk a lot.  Between him and me, we're such different people, but he always tells me about good ways.  He respects me, I think.
LMD:  I'm not sure if you were joking, but you were quoted as having an idea about doing a gay romance with Mr. Choi.  Has anyone taken you up on that?
RSb:  Ah, the gay film! [Laughs] Why not?  I'm just waiting.  When I stayed in Korea, we met each other and he talked to me and said, "Hey man, I wanna have sex with girls in the films. Why not have sex with you?" I said, "Hey, come on man, that would be funny. We'd make some kind of shocking comedy."  We were joking, but why not?  At that moment, we were talking about a gay film and making something with my friend Hwang Jung-min, and we would share and there would be jealousy, you know?  That would be funny, you know?  We were just kidding. 
But seriously, I wanna act with Choi Min-sik and Hwang Jung-min for a new way that's not an action movie, or just a human drama.  We've already shot some action and true stories, so to really develop, we have to do something in a new way.  That's what I want.
LMD:  With all this talk about your taking this break and putting your career on hold, fans might worry that you're thinking of quitting acting altogether.  Is that a possibility?
RSb:  I don't know yet.  I think it's not my choice, because I think that's human's way.  We can't choose.  Art chose me.  Film chose me.  It's not my way.  I'm just an actor and just a human.  I'm nothing, but if some script needs me or my way...  I'm just waiting for the contact for acting or art, but I can't decide anything right now.

This interview was cross-published on Diva's website The Diva Review.

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