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[Herald Interview] Rookie actor from South Africa eyes lead role in Korean productions

Armed with Korean language, Justin Harvey is determined to succeed

Justin John Harvey poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on Friday. (Im Se-joon/The Korea Herald)
Justin John Harvey poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on Friday. (Im Se-joon/The Korea Herald)


Justin John Harvey, who made his big screen debut in “The Witch: Part 2. The Other One,” directed by hit maker Park Hoon-jung, is determined to succeed. In fact, the 31-year-old actor said his will to succeed comes from his love of cinema and acting, making him singularly motivated.

Although his fellow actors may also covet success, he believes that few can compare when it comes to his dedication to developing his Korean skills in the hopes of becoming a headlining actor, Harvey said during a rare English interview with The Korea Herald. Usually, he prefers to use Korean in all his interactions.

He auditioned for the role of Tom, the mercenary in “The Witch: Part 2,” in late 2019 and was “very surprised” when he figured out how big the role was after receiving the script.

“I think Korean cinema and entertainment are moving toward a more global stance and with the advent of Netflix and these type of streaming platforms and the Hallyu, there is a lot of opportunity for foreign actors,” Harvey said.

Since his audition for the role, many things happened in South Korea’s entertainment industry, and Harvey and other foreign actors dream big now.

“What ‘Squid Game’ proved was that Korean productions can be successful, even with foreigners in a major role,” Harvey said.

“My goal is to be the main lead in a Korean production as a foreigner, speaking in Korean, just like Tang Wei,” the actor said. 

“Decision to Leave,” which won director Park Chan-wook the Cannes Film Festival’s best director award in May, features Chinese actress Tang Wei in a Korean-speaking role. 

Justin John Harvey poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on Friday. (Im Se-joon/The Korea Herald)
Justin John Harvey poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on Friday. (Im Se-joon/The Korea Herald)


To achieve that dream, Harvey, who already speaks fluent Korean, really wants to be more of a native speaker.

“Not being able to speak Korean is probably the biggest challenge for foreign actors,” he noted. He originally thought he landed the role of Tom because of his language skills, despite a lack of experience in his portfolio. But director Park later told Harvey that he was the Tom that Park had always imagined, although Harvey had to gain some 10 kilograms to play the role.

Surprisingly, Harvey didn’t attend a language learning school for very long -- only about a month. After that, he taught himself Korean and has tried to immerse himself in the language. Even when learning something new, such as yoga or scuba diving, he decided to take the lessons in Korean. “Learn something in another language,” he said when asked about tips for perfecting a language.

Harvey, who hails from South Africa, came to South Korea in 2015 at 24 years old. He came to explore a country that was the polar opposite of his native country. He had completed law school, which he originally chose over acting school, thinking that it would be a safer choice. What was meant to be a short adventure turned into an indefinite one.

He quickly grew to love Korea for its many attributes, but he noted that what he likes the most is the food and the feeling of security.

”My three favorite dishes are kimchi stew, jokbal and live long-arm octopus,” he said, giving a short version of his long list of favorites. “I really appreciate how safe I feel in South Korea. I even left a wallet on the bus and didn’t realize it until the police called me to return it,” he added.

Before launching his acting career, Harvey appeared on MBC Every 1’s reality travel show “Welcome, First Time in Korea?” and “South Korean Foreigners,” both of which aired in 2020. “Welcome, First Time in Korea?” follows a foreigner living in the country who invites three friends from their home country to travel to South Korea for the first time, while “South Korean Foreigners” hosts 10 non-Koreans in a competition against five Koreans. Through these programs, many foreigners gained celebrity status and became TV personalities in the country.

“The Witch: Part 2. The Other One,” which is a sequel to Park Hoon-jung’s “The Witch: Part 1. The Subversion,” released in 2018, hit local theaters on June 15. (gypark@heraldcorp.com)
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