Synopsis : Nora and Hae Sung, two deeply connected childhood friends, break up after Nora’s family immigrates from South Korea. Two decades later, they meet again in New York for one fateful week as they grapple with notions of fate, love, and the choices that make a life, in this harrowing modern romance.
Classification: PG-13 (some strong language)
Gender: romantic, dramatic
original language: English
Director: Celine’s song
Producer: David Hinojosa, Christine Vachon, Pamela Koffler
Writer: Celine’s song
Release date (theaters): Limited
Production company: Killer Movies, CJ ENM Co.
(L-R) Greta Lee, Teo YooCredit: Jon Pack
Exclusive interview with actor Teo Yoo
Q: You have had a very interesting life. You were born in Germany and studied at Lee Strasberg’s Actors Studio in New York. You then moved to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London after New York and Berlin. Then, you decide to move to Seoul in 2009. What was the motivation behind that move?
TY: Because I wanted to have a variety of things that I can use in my work. I found out that there was a small store like a supermarket that would make DVDs of Korean TV series and movies. That was the first time I really focused on getting my knowledge, my mind file, of Korean film history into my system. I was really inspired by movies from the early 90s in Korea. It was before this kind of new Korean wave. And that inspired me to go back and see what’s available to work on.
Q: Talk about how you were cast in this movie? What was also your first impression of the script?
TY: I was the last piece of the puzzle for Celine, the director. I was the last one he looked at, although I am a Korean actor in Korea, I am not necessarily considered typically Korean, and the role requires a typical Korean actor. I got the script and audition through my American manager Kyle. He asked me to record myself and called me back. During a callback, it’s usually an hour long and I thought we could talk about myself a bit and go over the scenes I’ve already shot.
But we ended up zooming in on each other for about three hours. We went through the entire script two or three times with several different notes. I guess Celine liked me and therefore I was testing what my acting chops were. I remember reading the script for the first time and having a very visceral reaction. I cried. It was deeply moving. My manager said to me, “Dude, what took you so long?” I don’t know, we performed together for three hours. Is that a good sign? Then after two weeks I found out I got the part.
Q: Although you are fluent in English, your character speaks mainly Korean in this movie. What kind of conversation did you have with Celine to tap into your character?
TY: It may come as a surprise to the American public, but Korean is my third language because I was born and raised in Germany. German is my first language and then when I was 20 I learned English by osmosis studying acting, same with Korean. I learned Korean in more detail after I turned 30 and returned to Korea. That being said, for me I always prepare with acting coaches for every project I’m attached to. Same with this project. It was important that I could represent how I expressed this in the correct language.
Every language has certain types of words that are not translatable to another. Therefore, I have to understand the emotion of that word that is unique to your culture. I have this color scheme of three different cultures overlapping and I operate on the outer spectrum of those colors that come and go. I find that very interesting because they deal with sadness, loneliness and melancholy. In the case of this film, it was the word “vulnerability” because it cannot be translated into Korean or German.
But using the Korean language on the one hand, and then using emotional vulnerability and vulnerability awareness with that language bridges the gap between two different cultures. Every time we talked about the character, she was trying to find a way to make that emotional accessibility not only work for her, but also for an American and Korean audience because I play a Korean guy. So that was our preparation.
(L-R) John Magaro, Greta Lee Credit: Jon Pac
Q: That’s complicated. Talk about the collaboration between your character and Greta’s. They were childhood friends and sweethearts who hadn’t seen each other in a couple of decades. How did you create the link that’s there? But at the same time, they doubt and are clumsy, that is also there. Talk about walking with Greta and creating that bond there.
TY: We talked at length about our characters’ backgrounds and how we made it work for us. Celine wanted us to never touch each other at the rehearsal stage during pre-production. So when we hug in the movie after 24 years, that’s the first time we really touched each other. It’s kind of a preparation method, but it worked. Since we weren’t allowed to do that, Celine joked like a sadist and said, “Hey guys, you can’t play, just go home.
I’m the only one who can hug people here.” I remember that visceral feeling, having my palms sweaty and my heart pounding in my chest. It’s great that the public can experience that with me and us. It translates to how the audience feels about it. I’m glad everything went well.
Q: This is Celine Song’s first feature film. What surprising elements did you find about Song’s directing that might be different from other directors you’ve worked with?
TY: This is Celine’s first film, but for me, it was never a problem because with veteran or new directors, it doesn’t matter, whoever is good is just good. During the initial meeting, she was very specific about what she wanted and what story she wanted to tell. That’s all you want as an actor, to feel like you’re in good hands because sometimes you don’t know how to do a certain scene and you prepare it in multiple ways. You show what you need to show and still feel like you’re not being judged. She edits the best performances together to get what she needs.
(L-R) Greta Lee, John Magaro, Teo YooCredit: Courtesy of A24
Q: In this film, your character was testing the water by the time you meet John Magaro’s character, Arthur, for the first time, you talked about the dynamic, creating awkwardness and hesitancy in a way. talk about collaboration working with him?
TY: Celine didn’t want us to meet and the first time we’ve met in a movie is the first time we’ve met. Our production crew was professional enough to satisfy our need not to want to see each other. Every time there was a test or a group zoom meeting, we would black out our screens. One person was led to the front and the other was led to the back and just getting to know the body of his work and rather listening to talk about his process. And then, also being with me, I knew that we were both very vulnerable men and with that, I felt like a safe place to be very open and very sensitive along with them when we were working together.
Q: This movie was one of the hits at Sundance, people have been talking about it as one of their favorites.
TY: It’s overwhelming. And it’s still overwhelming. Who am I kidding? It is an A-24 production, I am the protagonist and it is like a dream. I’m sensible enough not to get sucked into superficial exaggerations, but at the same time, real reactions from audience members who aren’t necessarily part of the industry, who I really appreciate. I’m grateful to be here.
Check out more of Nobuhiro’s articles.
Here is the trailer for the movie..