Korean Herald – Justin Chon Interview

With dark patches under his eyes, Justin Chon sunk down into a La-Z boy position at the guest lounge of the Grand Intercontinental Hotel for an afternoon chitchat.

His disposition was more Al Bundy than the hyper-active comic relief Eric Yorkie in the Twilight franchise.

It was also a look all too familiar for anyone who has lived and worked here for a considerable period and all signs pointed towards late night binge drinking.


He was quick to throw that assumption out the window.

“No, man that’s not it. I quit drinking a little over a month ago. Drinking and smoking,” he said massaging his jaws.

“I think I slept last night with my jaws clenched.”

It was the last day of his weeklong visit to Korea during which he made the rounds with some of the biggest talent and entertainment companies to check out what they had on offer for him.

“I’m trying to get a feel for the local industry and what my opportunities are and what I can do here,” he said.

“The fact I got to meet with Yu Ji-tae was amazing. He came to a party I was having in Itaewon and, for me, that was like Leonardo DiCaprio showing up. … He came by to say what’s up and I was like what the hell?”

After five years of working in Hollywood, the 29-year-old Orange County native with the boyish charm has become something of a veteran.

He’s done everything from network sitcoms, independently produced passion projects, portraying an Asian gangster – an unwritten rite of passage for any young Asian actor in Tinseltown – and being part of the billion-dollar Twilight franchise.

Chon, for the lack of a better word, has become a seasoned pro.

So much so that he’s done the unthinkable while meeting and greeting with local entertainment industry big wigs – refuse alcohol.

“Oh hell yeah. Industry people here ask you ‘do you wanna get a drink’ and it’s hard to turn people down,” he said.

“You know Koreans here say ‘just one shot, just one shot’ until you do, so it’s been hard. And I think that’s been stressing me out. … They ask you ‘really? By choice?’ and I tell them ‘yeah I want to keep my mind clear.’ Like last night I had a dream that I broke my sobriety and I think that’s been on my mind since I’ve been here.”

Mid-way into the conversation, a hotel server came by laying out an elaborate apparatus to brew the green tea he had ordered, which clearly fascinated the Korean-American actor.

“Look, it’s like a three-step process,” he quipped as he began the tea-making process.

For Chon, being in the acting game has been a similar process.

At the start of his career whatever opportunity that was presented to him was fair game – as long as he notched up credits to boost his acting resume and repertoire.

Through each successive job, he got meatier roles until he landed his biggest breakthrough in the Twilight franchise.

Now, he has found himself with at least a little bit of clout to filter out what he sees as offensive roles that he says he not only doesn’t want to have any part in but also “wished weren’t even being made”.

“You just have to choose your battles and have to infiltrate from the inside if you do take a role you’re not really feeling by making the character your own,” he said.

In a role originally meant for a Western actor, the casting directors of the Twilight franchise ultimately went with Chon after his screen test.

“It could have been played really geeky but I chose to give him lots of energy and gave him a little bit of coolness and edge,” he said.

“There are ways you can change things without having to be a (jerk) about it, and a lot of the times I don’t ask for permission. I’d rather ask for forgiveness. … That’s the beauty of filmmaking – it’s a collaborative process. You bring what you got, if they don’t like it? Cool, just change it.”

These days, auditions for Chon are no longer venues for the panic attacks he said he experienced earlier in his career when The Korea Herald first interviewed him in 2008.

Instead, he says he waltzes into his auditions with confidence to spare. He has even gone on one recently just to sharpen up his skills in the art of tomfoolery.

“One time I auditioned for the remake of Kung Fu knowing that it was not the right role for me,” he said.

“At the audition, they wanted us to do a scene from a play and not the dialogue from the script so I was like ‘okay, I’m gonna work on doing something different too’ and I set off to be in that mode where I was really trying to see through their BS. Once the audition started I decided last minute I’m going to talk when I feel like talking. So the casting crew said their lines and I was like (staring blankly) and I just started being really weird. I wanted to engage them and wanted them to come to me.

“That’s what I did the whole audition. I just talked when I wanted to talk because I knew I wasn’t gonna get the role. So as soon as I walk out I could hear through the door, ‘WTF was that?’ They were really angry. They were like ‘what the hell is that guy’s problem?'”

“And I really enjoyed that. It was a great time for me because it was really liberating to do what I really wanted to do. At the time I thought they’ll probably never call me back and the casting director will never have me in their office ever again but that turned out to be not true. They did have me back – several times.”

On whether such eccentric behaviour has gotten him notoriety around the casting circle he said “I don’t think they’ve pegged me down as an eccentric, they would just call me an (expletive).”

Though he jokes about his adventures in the cutthroat world of screen tests and auditions, Chon is very serious about his craft.

“I feel I have a wide range, but in America, as a minority starting out, you do a lot of comedy, so people haven’t been able to see the dramatic side of me. So if I were to meet a Korean director I would say I’m a legitimate actor,” he said.

“But at the same time, those comedic roles have allowed me to get noticed in Korea in the first place, so I can’t complain much.

“I’d like to work with anyone who’s interesting.”

His boyish looks have also hurt his chances in landing dramatic roles in the past and in the present.

“In the states I’ll audition for very dark roles and I would get far enough where it comes down to 2 or 3 people but then I don’t get it because they say I look so young and they don’t want to take a chance,” he said.

“If Bong Joon-ho called and said I don’t think you’re right for this I’d ask him to audition me and I would say give me a shot and let’s do a test screening so I can show you and prove to you.

“It’s a tough industry and no one’s going to hand you anything, especially when there’s someone right there in line ready to take it from you. You’ve gotta have some hustle in you.”

As for the wild and strange world of film fandom of the Twilight Saga, Chon has had his fair share of run-ins and experiences with overzealous fanatics.

“I get a lot of fan mail. One time someone bought me a star saying, this star’s for you,” he said.

“A certificate saying this star is yours and they bought some weird stuff. It was from a mom. … There are a lot of moms who are fans. … When I was filming the first Twilight, I was finished with a scene and walking back to my trailer and this group of four ladies come over and says ‘hey come here’ and would hand me this card whispering ‘call me’ and I flip the card over and it says ‘Twilight moms.'”

Asked for amusing on-set stories involving the rest of the cast and crew, Chon remained mostly mum about talking about his co-stars.

“The schedule is so tight we’re just there to get it done and work. At the end of the day we’re just tired and wanna go to sleep,” he said.

“Kristen and Robert’s heads didn’t really get big after the huge success of the first film. It’s just that there are so many more people watching your every move so they have to be more careful. They just can’t go anywhere anymore so there were those kinds of differences, but the biggest difference was that they were more selective of who they hung out with.”

One Response to “Korean Herald – Justin Chon Interview”

  1. Thanks for this! Very interesting.

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