The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Yoo Teo takes on rom-com leading role

Overcoming shortcomings and challenges, ambitious multilingual actor dreams bigger

By Lee Si-jin

Published : Feb. 14, 2023 - 15:55

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Yoo Teo (Netflix) Yoo Teo (Netflix)

While expressing his satisfaction with playing the lead role of Nam Kang-ho in Netflix’s latest romantic comedy series “Love to Hate You,” Yoo Teo cautiously shared some of his updated goals for becoming a better actor.

“With the rise of local and global streaming platforms, I’ve become more ambitious and dream of something bigger. More unexpected opportunities are waiting for actors. I am well aware of how much more work I have to do to achieve my goal, but I feel that my lifelong dream can actually be accomplished in our current media environment and creative content industry,” the 41-year-old actor said with a brilliant smile.

In a recent interview with reporters at a cafe in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul, Yoo did not specify his dream in detail, but mentioned some of the renowned actors he admires, like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. He hinted at his desire to become an actor praised both for his performances and creative content production abilities.

A challenging leading role

In his latest series, Yoo plays a Korean celebrity called Nam Kang-ho who detests women and doesn’t trust them.

The series was his first rom-com leading role of his 20-year acting career. With it, Yoo was ready to overcome some challenges and present a lesser-known side of himself.

“I grew up in Germany and spent a lot of time overseas, so I always think deeply about what is considered typical and generally relatable to Korean viewers. I tried to find a role model or an inspiration, to which I can add my own interpretation and develop into another original character,” Yoo said.

The process may seem tiresome, but was certainly necessary, according to the actor.

Unlike many other Korean actors who say they try to distance themselves from existing characters, past projects and references to make their performances more original, Yoo says that he has to refer to all of the above in order to make up for what he lacks: a deep understanding of Korean culture and society.

“Comedian-television host Shin Dong-yup and Japanese anime character Shinnosuke Nohara humorously express their thoughts without offending any viewers. I studied them hard to make Nam Kang-ho like them,” Yoo explained.

“The viewers needed to accept Kang-ho without any difficulties regardless of his harsh, aggressive comments about women in ‘Love to Hate You,’” he added.

Yoo Teo plays top celebrity Nam Kang-ho in Yoo Teo plays top celebrity Nam Kang-ho in "Love to Hate You" (Netflix)

The actor shared that the screenwriter also recommended he refer to the performances of actor Hyun Bin and others in “Secret Garden,” a hugely popular Korean rom-com series.

“After studying such characters, I move on to create something on my own,” Yoo said, mentioning that ht applied such efforts to all of his previous works.

Global viewers' perceptions

From his Korean film debut in “Actresses” (2009) to the latest drama series “Love to Hate You,” one of Yoo’s constant concerns is how his character is perceived by viewers across the globe.

“How Korean viewers see my character in a foreign project or how global audiences feel about the role in a local series is very important. Though the viewers are from different countries and cultural backgrounds, I hope that audiences can understand and easily relate to my character,” Yoo told The Korea Herald.

When asked whether he thinks such tasks can be shared with voice actors and translators, who are also responsible for localization, Yoo believes that these burdens give him extra motivation to become a better actor.

“I think these times made me who I am today. I think this actually allowed me to be fully immersed in the character and have a better understanding of my role,” he said.

Recognizing criticisms about his Korean language fluency, Yoo -- who is more fluent in German and English -- said that working hard is the only way to live.

“I practice almost 100 times for a scene. The training at acting school and vocal academy aside, I try out my lines alone and move on to work with the accents and nuance,” Yoo said.

“Korean is still a huge task for me, but I believe I can overcome this challenge. I hope viewers see how much I’ve developed as an actor in my upcoming series as well,” Yoo said.

"Love to Hate You" is a love story about two quirky individuals who hate each other based on their respective stereotypes about the opposite sex. The characters create new relations as the story develops with unexpected events. (Netflix)

Outside of Korea, Yoo played a Soviet rock musician named Viktor Tsoi in Russian director Kirill Serebennikov’s “Leto.” The film about the underground rock scene in Russia in the early 1980s competed for the top prize at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Cannes Soundtrack Award.

Yoo went on to play various roles in Korean films, including “New Year Blues” (2021), and made his directorial debut with “Log in Belgium” (2022), sharing his most personal stories during the self-quarantine period in Belgium shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

His latest 10-part rom-com “Love to Hate You” ranked No. 4 as of Tuesday on the global Netflix chart, according to US-based streaming analytics firm FlixPatrol.