Kwak Dong-yeon: «Everyone has to fight in his own way against injustice and evil»
At just 25 years old and with 2.9 million followers on Instagram, Kwak Dong-yeon is one of the most promising actors on the Hallyu scene. The cornerstone of his career, as he has repeatedly stated, was the role of Jang Han-seo in the K-drama Vincenzo. But actually, Kwak Dong-yeon's life had changed long before that. Perhaps already since that cameo in It's Okay to Not be Okay in which he masterfully plays the role of Kwon Ki-do, the son of a local politician, suffering from mania syndrome. A role so skillfully played, to the point of taking him to the top of the lists of South Korea's most influential actors.
We spoke with Kwak Dong-yeon exclusively.
«I would have never imagined receiving an interview request from Italy. First of all, I would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to say hello to everyone who has been following 'Vincenzo'» he anticipates. A smile on his face.
We are the ones thanking you for the time you are spending with us. I would start with a question about your character in "Vincenzo". When you prepare a role, we know that you thoroughly study its background. Who is Ha-seo from your perspective?
«Jang Han-seo is a character with many wounds that he has received because he grew up without receiving the proper love from the people around him. Even his father and brother, who are supposed to protect him as family members, deny his existence. Growing up in such an environment, Han-seo lived by obeying his brother and running the company according to his will, but at the same time, purposely displaying unnecessary violence and bullying behaviors because he felt that the position of Babel's president was a protective armor».
From presumed villain to hero, your character is one who has had an extremely captivating personal growth storyline. Do you think the ending written for Han-seo is deserved?
«I think it's an acceptable ending from Jang Han-seo. It was a painful and difficult ending, but an acceptable one as Han-seo realized his mistakes and received recognition from someone he died for in an effort to protect him».
In Italy, the Mafia is an extremely serious social scourge. Abroad, the mafioso is sometimes romanticized to the point of becoming almost fascinating. This does not happen in "Vincenzo" where it is repeated several times that Vincenzo Cassano is just a villain who eliminates those more evil than him. What made you choose such a complex script?
«I think the reason why "Vincenzo" has been appreciated not only in Korea but all over the world is probably because of people's anger at the absurd crimes that really happen around us or are presented in the media, and the established powers that escape justice. Sometimes we all wish for an absolute force like Vincenzo to punish the wicked who evade law and justice. While offering a satisfying catharsis through the punishment inflicted on the villains as desired by the audience, what this television series wanted to emphasize, something that Vincenzo always reminds the viewer of, is that he himself is a villain and does not think of himself as a hero or a champion of justice. I decided to take part in "Vincenzo" because it seemed attractive to me the message that the series wants to convey to the viewers, which is that each of us must fight in our own way against injustice and evil».
In a recent interview, you mentioned a Kwak Dong-yeon before "Vincenzo" and after "Vincenzo." This drama was the cornerstone of your career. Can you elaborate on this sentiment?
«The biggest thing I gained from working on 'Vincenzo' is getting to know and befriend a director like Kim Hee-won. By working with director Kim Hee-won, I realized my value as an actor and by reviewing my strengths and flaws, I found the strength to move forward towards a better direction. Also, through the viewers' love and interest in me, I got confirmation that my acting is headed in the same direction as what the audience wants, and that made me stronger than before».
In "It's Okay to Not be Okay" you had a role that I thought was incredible. Being crazy and brilliant at the same time is so hard. How did you prepare for the character of a boy with a psychiatric disorder?
«Preparing to act in "It's Okay to Not be Okay" wasn't too difficult because the character Ki-do's feelings were accurately described in the script. The most important thing I had to do was to feel the character's emotions in the deepest and most accurate way, and to approach this character sincerely so as not to make it comical».
You left home at 13 to pursue your dream of entering show business. Do you regret anything from those years?
«Now that it's been a long time, sometimes I think 'what would I have been like if I had stayed with my family and friends during that time?' But I have no regrets about the path I decided to follow. From a young age, my parents taught me to take responsibility for my choices and I think I've gained from the choices I've made».
In addition to being an actor, you are also part of a musical group. Do you think the years of training have helped you grow as an actor?
«The training period was exhausting, but during that time I realized what "the power of commitment" was. I convinced myself that with maximum effort you can achieve what you want. In addition, today I live my daily life in a more fun way listening to music of various kinds thanks to that period in which I was in contact with different musical genres».
In your portfolio there are characters with always different and unique characteristics. What do you think has been your most difficult role?
«I remember when I had played the role of Oh Se-ho in the television series "My Strange Hero." There were a few scenes about the high school period, but I mainly played the phase where my character becomes an adult and serves as the president of a high school foundation. So I did my best not to look too young and try not to step out of the emotional line of the Oh Se-ho character who also experiences a complex family situation».
Who is your role model in the entertainment world? Who would you like to work with?
«There are so many more experienced actors I admire whose example I would like to follow. I often reflect on what I recently experienced while filming with actors Song Joong-ki and Kim Soo-hyun. Working with them on their respective television series, I learned a lot about acting and the attitude to take on set. If there is a chance, I would love to be able to work with actor Cho Seung-woo as well».
Is there a role you would have loved to play?
«I always prefer roles I've never played before that allow me to bring out new sides of myself. It's always a pleasure to play a new and fun role that causes viewers to see me as a character who is well integrated into the story, rather than recognizing me and making viewers think "He's Kwak Dong-yeon!" because I like to trick and surprise viewers».
You're very young but you've acted alongside some of the biggest names in the Hallyu wave and today you too are one of the leading exponents of this cultural phenomenon. Why do you think k-dramas are so successful?
«I think Koreans have a strange ability to succeed when they immerse themselves in it. Of course, they're not all like that, but the combination of this particular passion of Koreans to have to achieve the goal at all costs results in a good script, good acting, and good scenes».
During the pandemic, many people in Italy discovered k-dramas and are now aware of Hallyu and its celebrities. Have you ever been to Italy?
«I've never been to Italy, so I really have a lot of curiosity. When Covid-19 calms down, I hope I can be invited to Italy and be able to talk and spend some good time with you».
Can you reveal something about your future projects?
«I am currently participating in an entertainment TV show called "Delicious Rendezvous" and I am also shooting a comedy film called "6/45". The movie "6/45" is a comedy in which South Korean and North Korean soldiers end up meeting because of a winning lottery ticket of 5.7 billion won (4.2 million euros). The film will be released in Korean theaters next year to give you some great laughs during a difficult time like the one we are experiencing right now due to Covid. As soon as filming for the movie is over, I will prepare for filming my next project. I hope that it will be a project that Italian viewers will also be able to watch».
If there's anything you're known for in the industry, it's the seriousness and respect you have for your work and for those who work alongside you, both cast and crew. How important is education today to succeed in show business?
«Culture can change from country to country, but I think being respectful and kind to the people you work with together is basic education everywhere. Also, I usually try to approach first and communicate with colleagues as much as possible because I want my colleagues and me to have fun working together. I think these types of thoughts and attitudes come together to create better works».
You are 25 years old, the road ahead of you is long and sure full of surprises. But who is Kwak Dong-yeon today?
«I'm always happy when I'm working, but especially right now I'm living happier days than ever because of the great love I've received thanks to the series that just ended ("Vincenzo"). I think it's a miracle to be able to be appreciated by viewers from other countries so far away and to be able to talk about my work. I am forever grateful that such a good fortune happened to me. I think I am a very happy person who, through a positive mindset and good acting, can aspire to his dream of being a good influence on people»
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