BE­ING GONG YOO

It’s lonely at the top.

Esquire (Philippines) - - THIS WAY IN - PHOTOGRAPHSBY Vic­tor DE­MARCHE­LIER pho­to­graphs by HONG JANGHYUN Clothes by Louis Vuit­ton

GONG YOO’S STAR SHOT UP TO THE HEAV­ENS WITH THE IN­TER­NA­TIONAL SUC­CESS OF TRAIN TO BU­SAN, WHILE HIS NEW KOREANOVELA FAN­TASY, GOBLIN, HAS KEPT NEARLY ALL OF SOUTH­EAST ASIA IN THRALL. BUT IT’S LONELY AT THE TOP. IN AN EX­CLU­SIVE IN­TER­VIEW WITH ESQUIRE KO­REA, HE SHARES THE UPS AND DOWNS OF FAME, THE ART OF BE­ING AN AC­TOR, AND HOW TO BE A MAN IN TIMES OF TROU­BLE.

ESQUIRE: I heard that when you met Eun Sook Kim of Goblin, it was to re­ject her. Af­ter hours of con­ver­sa­tion, you were con­vinced. What changed your mind?

GONG YOO: I kept on run­ning away from that meet­ing, be­cause that it­self was a bur­den. She’s a star screen­writer and I’ve al­ready rejected her twice. I wanted to meet and thank her for think­ing highly of me, but I wor­ried that it might not be po­lite to re­ject her af­ter hear­ing all the de­tails about the drama (laughs). Now it hits me, it was [my man­ager] Jang Kyun Kim who told me to meet Eun Sook Kim one more time. I think he wanted me to first lis­ten to what they thought of me as an ac­tor. Kim knew ex­actly what I was afraid of. He knew that I can let go of my own fear a bit through the con­ver­sa­tions.

ESQ: And that worked?

GY: Yes, be­cause I shot Goblin af­ter about four months since the first meet­ing.

ESQ: Con­sid­er­ing your run of suc­cesses—Train To Bu­san, The Age of Shad­ows, and Goblin—can it be said that it is the hey­day of Gong Yoo?

GY: I don’t like that ex­pres­sion. I went out for drinks with [ac­tor] Kang-ho Song, whom I had worked with in The Age of Shad­ows, and I told him, “This year I was so lucky. I do not know why my works are do­ing well and again I think I’m very lucky.” All of a sud­den, he said in all se­ri­ous­ness, “Why do you think it’s luck?” He re­proved me. “I can see what you have built up. Mod­esty is good, but you can only say it so much.”

ESQ: Right. It’s not luck. You worked hard to make it hap­pen. I also know you’re wor­ried that if you say this, peo­ple will say you’re putting on airs.

GY: Maybe it’s partly be­cause of the val­ues I learned from my par­ents, and partly due to the train­ing and ex­po­sure to the pub­lic as an ac­tor. I hate not be­ing sin­cere, but I’m [also] afraid of open­ing up.

ESQ: You’re turn­ing 40 soon. You of­ten say that you have no plan to force your­self to stay as an ac­tor as you get older.

GY: Maybe I’m just say­ing it re­peat­edly be­cause I am ner­vous. It’s kind of self-de­fense… I un­der­stand that I can’t stay young for­ever, and maybe there is some­thing in me that is prepar­ing for that stage of my life. Act­ing is a job, but you can’t re­gard it only as a job. This is the part that’s re­ally hard to ex­plain to other peo­ple. Be­cause of this job, I was able to en­joy all the wealth and fame, and I am thank­ful in­deed.

ESQ: But wealth and fame aren’t the main rea­sons you are an ac­tor. What does it mean to be an ac­tor?

GY: If I had first felt this way af­ter earn­ing a lot of money and be­com­ing fa­mous, I might have been seen as haughty. But, this was the at­ti­tude I had from the be­gin­ning. I didn’t start by think­ing that I should earn a lot of money and suc­ceed. I wished it to be an art form. When I was young, I didn’t even want to use the term “com­mer­cial art,” be­cause I was more ar­ro­gant. Of course, be­ing in the pub­lic eye or or deal­ing with pub­lic opin­ion was very un­com­fort­able. It seemed like they were re­gard­ing me—the ac­tor, the act­ing—all too lightly. Of course, they can just laugh and chat, watch TV to fill up time, go to the movies and eat some pop­corn—they can do that as the pub­lic. They go to de-stress them­selves, and watch­ing a movie is sort of an en­ter­tain­ment. But, from the ac­tor’s point of view, that mind­set is not enough.

ESQ: How does it feel to have world­wide at­ten­tion?

GY: In terms of the world’s at­ten­tion, the break­ing point seems to have al­ready come. I feel like I’ve been run­ning. I’m feel­ing the pres­sure. I need a break now more than ever. Phys­i­cal pain is bear­able. You can sleep that off af­ter the last take of the day. But, men­tally, I felt that I was very ex­hausted when I was shoot­ing Train to Bu­san and The Age of Shad­ows. And that con­tin­ued while shoot­ing Goblin. I re­ally feel that I need the time to live solely for my­self. I worked for two months with­out a break right af­ter Goblin. So, I didn’t re­al­ize it right away. Was it a month and a half af­ter Goblin? I was hav­ing all sorts of mixed feel­ings. Ev­ery­one will say Gong Yoo will be feel­ing as if he’s walk­ing on air. What­ever he does, he will be happy. That’s why it’s harder to speak about my­self in front of other peo­ple. Be­cause I might say my true feel­ings, the feel­ings that don’t match with peo­ple’s ex­pec­ta­tions. That’s what I’m fearful about.

ESQ: When do you feel like a real man, in­stead of a boy?

GY: I don’t like peo­ple who are hard on the weak. [It’s the bul­lies who] are ac­tu­ally weak. That doesn’t mean that I’ll just go up there and fight that per­son, but I sim­ply can­not stay and stare do­ing noth­ing. At the very least, I squirm. If I weren’t well known, I would prob­a­bly do more. It’s def­i­nitely the mo­ment that some­one has to stand up and move, but no­body ac­tu­ally does while ev­ery­one just looks at one an­other won­der­ing what the other might be think­ing. That some­times up­sets me… when I can­not in­ter­fere. There are all sorts of peo­ple in the world. Al­though this is the world we live in, with all sorts of peo­ple mixed to­gether, I some­times can­not stand this kind of sit­u­a­tion. That mo­ment when I de­cide to say some­thing, that’s when I feel that I am a man. And of course, in front of a woman who I am at­tracted to, I feel and want to be­come a man. That’s an in­stinct.

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