By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
When asked about growing up Korean in New Jersey, actor Aaron Yoo, an upcoming star of the “StartUp” TV show playing now on the online Crackle network, waxed philosophical and comparative.
“My hometown, East Brunswick,” Yoo recalled, “wasn’t your typical Jersey experience, unless you count the mind-boggling amount of hours spent bored, driving around, looking for trouble to get into. As for being Korean, I had two different lives — one at home and church where I was the pastor’s son, and the other with my friends where I did some dumb things, but maybe not any more than a lot of guys my age.
“I did wind up in the hospital. I did run into the cops a few times. I did sneak up to New York City, but I made it home before school the next day. But I was a nerdy kid, too. I played Dungeons & Dragons and collected comic books and read ‘Lord of the Rings,’ the whole trilogy, every year.”
The stimulated imagination set him on the road to acting. “When I was a kid, I lived half in my imagination,” he recalled, “but I didn’t really think or dream of becoming an actor. I loved stories — movies, books, plays — so in college, I majored in Theatre Arts with a plan to study directing. But in my directing classes, my friend kept casting me in his scenes. As I did more scenes, I really fell hard for acting and the next thing I knew, I was in New York taking a Shakespeare intensive [class].”
Yoo is fully bilingual in English and Korean, and he credits this ability for the way he approaches certain situations. “I think,” he considered, “being bilingual gives you a deeper appreciation of language, and how words affect culture and personality. Certain words are more prioritized in some languages than others.
Yoo recently played a Korean, quant [financial analyst] in the film ‘Money Monster,’ and had to translate the entire part from an English script, which he did with his mother’s help. “Her Korean is more sophisticated than mine, but of course meaning and nuance of performance isn’t a skill most people develop. So she and I pitch each other ideas, then debate the subtleties of what the line really means in English and what the Korean translation wants to be.” He also speaks some Korean in a film he recently wrapped, ‘Why We’re Killing Gunther,’ a comedy in which he plays a Korean assassin.
Yoo’s acting roles include parts in “Disturbia,” “Money Monster,” the 2009 relaunch of “Friday the 13th,” and TV shows, including “The Tomorrow People.” But he refers to “StartUp” as “an actor’s dream,” an almost theater rehearsal-like atmosphere where you could try anything in a scene and Ben Ketai, the director, would film it. “It really encouraged all of us to take risks,” said Yoo. “A lot of times, acting on screen is about doing the safe version, because you have a limited amount of time and money and you’d rather do the thing you know will be good, rather than the thing that could be brilliant, or could be bad.”
Yoo’s character is Alex Bell, an internet billionaire, entrepreneur, and venture capitalist. “He’s a big fish with A LOT of money, that the StartUp gang — Izzy, Nick, and Ronald (Otmara Marrero, Adam Brody, and Edi Gathegi) — pursue in order to dig themselves out of a huge mess they’ve made of their company, GenCoin. Alex makes them an offer they can’t refuse. And like this ‘Godfather’ reference, it’s an offer that comes with a lot more than they bargained for. It’s like no other part I’ve played before.”
When asked about wanting to do films in Korea and favorite Korean films, the actor singled out “this quiet Kim Ki-Duk film, ‘3-Iron.’” And ‘Bittersweet Life’ is the kind of gangster movie he’d like to do one day. “Another one I dig is ‘Memory of a Murder.’ “I’ve had a couple of different movies in South Korea not work out for one reason or another, but I do think I’ll work there one day. I love the visual style of South Korean auteurs. There are images in these movies that stay with me.”
As for future projects, Yoo mentioned a film he’s really, really excited about, ‘Why We’re Killing Gunther.’ He said there are other things, but they’re not set in stone yet and he’s superstitious about not talking about jobs until contracts are signed and he’s flying to location. So stay tuned.
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.