A Chat with Aaron Yoo, Aaron Yoo interview, "21"

A Chat with Aaron Yoo

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You may not know him by name just yet, but up-and-comer Aaron Yoo is quietly enjoying his rise to the top, with roles alongside such Hollywood heavyweights as Gerard Butler and Shia LaBeouf. Then again, you can't really call running around a parking lot screaming your face off "quiet". While out promoting his latest film, the based-on-a-true-story blackjack drama “21,” Aaron took some time to chat with Bullz-Eye about strange celebrity run-ins and the sheer brilliance of Kevin Spacey; all while inadvertently volunteering for the role of Pan the Panda in the third “Madagascar” film. Though we tried to settle on an accommodating time to talk over the phone, we decided to embrace technology and conduct the interview via e-mail instead.

Bullz-Eye: I haven’t seen “21” yet, but I did read the book (“Bringing Down the House”) several years ago. How different is the movie from Ben Mezrich’s book?

Aaron Yoo: The movie sort of condenses and streamlines the story from the novel into a form that better suits a film. The first two-thirds of the movie follow events in the book, but then a lot of stuff like the riverboat casinos and the reservation stuff are taken out in favor of a more focused narrative. And, you know, the book doesn’t have as concrete an end as the movie needs to have because these peoples’ lives and casino adventures did continue on past what Ben was chronicling.

BE: Can you talk a little more about the character you play in the film?

AY: I play a panda that wants very badly to escape from the zoo…Oh, scratch that. Wrong movie. My character’s name is Choi, and he’s the kid on the team that’s there because he loves everything about Vegas. It’s like, at school he’s an applied mathematics major showing up to class in his PJs, but in Vegas he’s connected, he’s in his element. It’s something I noticed about the actual guys our characters are based on. There’s a look in their eyes that they get when they walk into a casino.

BE: Was Ben (or any of the original MIT students) available for consultation?

AY: Yeah they were. I don’t know if I’d call it consultation or trouble. Either way, it was good times. There’s nothing like researching a role on a casino floor.

BE: What’s it like working with Kevin Spacey?

AY: It’s like playing basketball in a space station in zero gravity. You can only dunk. Seriously, though, it’s exactly what you’d imagine it to be like. He’s cool, he’s inspiring, and pretty much in every scene he’ll do something or say something that makes you say, “That was brilliant and you are Kevin fucking Spacey.”

BE: Do you have a favorite gambling movie?

AY: “The Good Thief.” The last 25 minutes are brilliant. You may need to watch it with subtitles the first time because you’ll swear Nick Nolte isn’t speaking English. He is.

(On working with Kevin Spacey) "It's like playing basketball in a space station in zero gravity. You can only dunk. He's cool, he's inspiring, and pretty much in every scene he'll do something or say something that makes you say, 'That was brilliant and you are Kevin fucking Spacey.'"

BE: Your first major role was alongside Shia LaBeouf in last year’s “Disturbia.” How did you come about landing the part?

AY: Nothing too crazy. Went in to read for Tricia Wood one day. She asked me to come back and meet DJ (Caruso) the next morning. Ten days later I got a call from my manager saying, “Hey can you swing by my office?” He told me in person. I ran around a parking lot screaming my face off. That’s how it’s supposed to go, right? I mean, that’s how it should, anyway.

BE: Did you and Shia get along on set?

AY: Yeah we did alright. He’s good peoples and just one of the realest you’ll ever meet. The getting along I never worried about with Shia; that came natural. It was holding my own in the scene I was worried about. That guy brings his A game to every take.

BE: Have you hit him up for a role in “Transformers 2?”

AY: Nope. I leave the robots to him. If anything, I’d like a part in “Indy” one of these days.

BE: So if Steven Spielberg and George Lucas decide to do an "Indy 5" and reintroduce a grownup Short Round, you're game?

AY: For definite. In my imagination, Short Round grows up to be an “importer-exporter” between the East and West. In other words, he's a smuggler. Maybe even a bad guy, or at least a competitor to the Joneses.

BE: “The Wackness” recently premiered at Sundance and Sony Classics was quick to scoop it up. Has an official release date been set?

AY: I hear we’re gonna drop on July the 3rd, Independence Day weekend. Makes sense, because the movie takes place in the swelter of the NYC summer. So when people pop into the theater to cool off from the heat outside – which is something we used to do all the time when I lived in the city – they’ll see the heat waves on the screen and they’ll be like, “I feel ya, son.” I don’t know when, but I feel like “The Wackness” soundtrack should probably drop about the same time, which is something I’m all up for because somehow it fit into the budget to collect all the hip-hop classics for the soundtrack.

BE: What’s the status of your other projects (“Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” and “Game”)?

AY: I hear “Nick & Norah’s” looking at something like an Oct. 3 release date. Nothing official yet, but that’s the rumor that came my way. I’m hearing good things about it, and I believe the studio’s had their first look at it recently, so I’m curious to pick (director) Pete Sollett’s brain to see how that went. Anyways, I’ve been telling him I’m gonna take him to Korean BBQ for a couple months now, so I think I gotta follow through on that promise. As for “Game,” I think it’s still looking like a 2009 thing. In fact, I think they seriously just finished shooting in February. That had to be such a brutally long shoot for Mark and Brian. If it were me, I’d be like, “Ok, we’re gonna sleep for a month and then we’ll get to editing this beast.” But those two just keep on trucking. They’re always the most energetic people on set. I think they both have Red Bull for blood.

BE: How much are you involved in “Game” and can you tell us more about what it’s actually about?

AY: I have this little part in the grand scheme of the story, but I took it because I felt like it was the kind of story I wanted to help tell. “Game” is about what the world might look like if we allowed online gaming, the “Halos” and “World of Warcrafts” of now, to evolve to the Nth degree. It’s a future where instead of playing avatars in a virtual reality, we control real people in a real world. If you get your guy killed, somebody on the other end is actually dying. A friend of mine described it best as “‘Blade Runner’ meets ‘The Fifth Element’ and ‘300.’”

"I feel like after acting, the other half of why I love this business is the opportunity to work with and meet people who inspire you. That it pays my rent is a good bonus."

BE: Aside from (“Nick and Norah”) co-stars Michael Cera and Kate Dennings, are there any other up-and-coming actors that you’re dying to work with? Or for that matter, anyone at all?

AY: I was just telling someone that I really dug Logan Lerman’s performance in “3:10 to Yuma.” And we are both in “Game,” but we don’t have any scenes together. It’s weird to be connected to people you’ve never actually worked with because you’re on celluloid together. I didn’t get to know Sir Ben (Kingsley) or Mary Kate (Olson) or Method (Man) til we met up at Sundance, and that was really cool to have that chance to kick it with them because they’re all real good peoples. I feel like after acting, the other half of why I love this business is the opportunity to work with and meet people who inspire you. That it pays my rent is a good bonus. Actually, before Sundance, Mary Kate and I were introduced to each other in New York while I was there shooting “Nick & Norah,” and I said, “Hey, this is kind of a strange thing to say, but you and I were in a movie together so, congrats on Sundance.” And she was like, “Oh yeah! Congrats to you too! I guess I’ll see you again in Park City.” One the oddest of meetings I’ve ever had.

BE: You tend to work more with actors in your age group. Does that make the process easier, or is just pure coincidence?

"I find that the most talented older actors retain a sense of the child in them. I think that's a big part of what makes them great, this playfulness and curiosity they keep with them."

AY: Pure coincidence. I don’t know that I prefer one over the other. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the most talented young actors working right now so I feel like I learn as much working with them as I do with anyone. You know, I steal unrepetentantly from every actor I work with, but I think I learned the most from Shia. You learn a lot about acting from good directors, too. Working with people like DJ or Pete, that’s done as much for my acting as anything. And as far as work experiences, I find that the most talented older actors retain a sense of the child in them. I think that’s a big part of what makes them great, this playfulness and curiosity they keep with them. Laurence (Fishburne) is one of the chillest cats to meet or work with. He’s ageless.

BE: Asian-American actors are typically typecast into certain roles (and I think you know which ones I mean). Do you think that trend has finally ended, and how does it feel to be a part of this new generation of Asian-American actors?

AY: It feels like velvet with a little bit of an Astroturf-ish kind of thing going on. And slightly damp. It feels like that. Removing the blindfold, I discover that it is a wet tennis ball… Um, in all seriousness, I’m really happy to be around to see where all of this goes. There are roles and films coming out that even five years ago would never have happened. Do I think typecasting into certain roles is over? I doubt it. But I also think it’s the nature of the industry. If you build a system where characters and stories are meant to be described by log lines, then there will always be people who typecast. Could you imagine summarizing Mr. Tyrone of “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in 25 words or less? It would be criminal to do so. But I think there are a lot of brilliant directors working in film that understand this. Those are the ones I want to work for.

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