New York Asian 2019 Interview: Ryu Jun-yeol Talks the Seduction of MONEY
One of the most captivating actors in South Korea, Ryu Jun-yeol grabbed audiences’ attention in supporting roles in films like The King, A Taxi Driver, and Believer; so much so that the New York Asian Film Festival honoured Ryu with their Rising Star award.
Presenting his first leading role in Money, Ryu had an exclusive chat with LMD about the seduction of the ₩on, and how his upcoming project, The Battle, crosses one goal off his acting bucket list.
The Lady Miz Diva: How did the role of Choi Il-hyun come to you in MONEY?
Ryu Jun-yeol: First of all, it was a really good script, I didn’t know at the time that it was based on a book. All in all, I think I made the decision to work on it because the producer and the director are really great people to work with, and I thought it would be a good experience.
LMD: We have seen financial market corruption films before, but one of the main differences here is in the way your character, Il-hyun, handles his rise, and his reckoning of the basis of that power.
A lot of what the audience understands is not spoken, it shows on Il-hyun’s face. How did you approach having to give away so much, while saying relatively little?
RJy: I’m actually really touched that you mentioned that, because that was the part that I really focused on. And because my empathising with the character was one of the most important parts of working on this film, it was really important for me to really be specific with the thoughts and feelings that the character of Choi Il-hyun has.
Thankfully, for me, we shot in sequence. We shot in chronological order for the film. There is an interesting side story to this, where we actually were trying to film some of the scenes that take place earlier in the film, but we wanted to get the scenes that were in the end part first, and then we wanted to circle back and come to an earlier version of Il-hyun.
But, when we were trying to do that, we realised that I had already changed as the character, and so it didn’t feel right to film that earlier scene as an already changed character. So, I remember us doing away with that idea of circling back, and so we really did shoot in order, which was helpful for me to track that change in character.
LMD: When we met, I mentioned how you completely grabbed my attention with THE KING. In that film, and BELIEVER, you bring an intensity to the screen that I haven’t seen for a long time.
After what you’ve just said about being unable to film MONEY out of sequence, because you had changed as the character of Il-hyun, as well is that intensity I see in your performances, I have to ask how under the skin do you get with your characters? Are you someone who is able to leave them on set at the end of the day?
RJy: I wouldn’t characterise myself as an actor that completely goes under the skin of the character. I’m not a person that can’t shake off the character once I’m off the set. My belief is to always live truthfully under these imaginary circumstances as an actor. When it comes to character work, I usually go with my first impressions of the character: If I say this is such and such a character, or this person has such and such quality, I usually trust my instincts on that one, and then finalise my performance based on my first impression.
I will say, like, for example, if I’m working on a comedy, there is a feeling, where I’m in a much more lighthearted place, emotionally, and when I’m working on darker things, because it’s darker material, I tend to feel a bit more depressed, but other than that, it’s not like I can’t just shake off a character
LMD: Regarding Il-hyun’s motivations, obviously making money is the overwhelming factor, but I wondered if there was something a little bit more? In the new Spider-Man, the villain, Mysterio, says to Peter Parker, “Never apologise for being the smartest one in the room.”
I feel like that can apply to Il-hyun, as well. Is that part of what drives Il-hyun to break the law? Because he knows he’s much smarter than everyone in his company, yet can’t get a break?
RJy: So, to answer your question, I don’t know if I consider Il-hyun to be a genius in any way, but one thing that I do want to say is that he is the epitome of the most hard-working person, ever. But, in our lives, we see people who are so hard-working, but yet still are failing in life. And so, he is the epitome of that kind of character, and that is why, from a systemic perspective, he makes a choice that he makes, because even if he’s worked so hard, he just can’t find a way out, and he wants to use the system, in a sense, to get ahead.
I do want to say, though, that it is my belief, that money is so seductive, and we get so trapped into what money is supposedly able to provide for us; but I think you really have to think in terms of a larger sense of justice, a systemic justice, as well.
And I think it’s important that even if it seems like the easy way out to deal in these illegal financial dealings, I think it’s still important to -- even if we’re faced with such difficult decisions -- I think it’s important that we really try to think of what is just, even in the system that we are living in: To think about that, and to think in terms of what is ideal, and to keep fighting for what is just and right.
LMD: Tell us about working with director Park Noo-ri on her first feature? Was she open to your ideas and suggestions?
RJy: Yes, she was very receptive to my suggestions. For her, it was her directorial feature debut, and for me, it was my first lead in a feature film, so, I think we really both approached the project as a first for both of us. So, we really approached it as a collaboration.
I think it really benefited our work together, because we were able to make more detailed decisions about the character, and about the story. Also, I think we are both very focused on set, as well. Some of the lines of Il-hyun, I would give suggestions, and she would take that into consideration, and make changes to certain lines for me; so in that sense, it was a very productive collaboration.
LMD: You’ve worked with several directors that I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing, Yim Soon-rye, Han Jun-hee, and Jung Ji-woo. They’re all excellent filmmakers, but is there a quality across their work that attracts you as an actor?
RJy: I would say each and every director has their own style and vision. I will say that each director that I’ve worked with has a certain sense of confidence on knowing what exactly that they want to express with their films. And as an actor, it’s all about trusting that vision, and going all along the ride, and so, I would say that’s the through line, that they have a very unwavering vision that they want to express.
LMD: I just saw the trailer for your upcoming film, THE BATTLE. This is quite a new type of genre for you?
RJy: I would say that this was an interesting project because most films that deal with the period of Korea being under Japanese colonial rule usually deal with the trauma and pain of that period of time. However, in this film, it actually depicts the first battle that Korean soldiers won against the Japanese soldiers, so I think that is something that viewers will think as something that is a bit more triumphant and lighthearted, hopefully.
Regarding your question of working with a new genre; yes, definitely, it is exciting to work on a new genre. It was my hope to work on a war film, and a zombie film. So, I can check off my list regarding the war film, since The Battle is war film, and I’m waiting for the right script to work on a zombie film.
This interview is cross-posted on my own site, The Diva Review. Please enjoy additional content, including exclusive photos there.