Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My interview: Actor Sean Richard Traces Korean Roots, Finds His Niche In Hallyu | The Manila Bulletin Newspaper Online

By JONATHAN HICAP, Manila Bulletin 
MANILA, Philippines - Actor Sean Richard grew up yearning to find and learn about his family heritage.
Richard was born to a British father and a Korean mother and grew up in the United States.

In 2007, he decided to go back to South Korea to learn half of his identity.
"There was always a part of me that regretted not knowing more about Korean, and knowing the Korean language, that’s why I came.  Also of course I dreamed to be a part of the entertainment industry here.  But the main thing was – I mean, I’m half Korean, it was kind of silly that I didn’t speak Korean," Richard told Bulletin Entertainmentduring a conference call with Asian media arranged by Discovery Channel.
Richard was selected to take part in Discovery Channel's "Korea Next," which consists of five documentaries that will premiere on Dec. 16 and will showcase the heart and soul of Korean culture, cuisine, medicine, entertainment and technology.
He directed "Finding Hallyuwood," one of the five documentaries, which will focus on the Hallyu, or Korean wave, phenomenon that has become popular worldwide. In the documentary, Richard meets Korean singers, actors, film directors and producers to know about Korean music, films and dramas.
Richard was born in the US and was raised in Los Angeles. He majored in business and theatre arts at Boston University.
While in college, he performed in theatre productions including playing the lead role in Shakespeare's "Hamlet." After graduation, he moved back to Los Angeles to hone his acting skills at the famous Sanford Meisner Studio under Martin Barter and Alex Taylor.
He went to Korea to learn about his heritage. He attended Seoul National University for one year to learn the Korean language. His first Korean project was "Snow Walk," an independent film.
Richard bagged his first leading role in the Korean period drama "Jejungwon" in 2009, where he played Dr. Horace Allen. The series was based on the true story of Doctor Horace Allen, an American missionary who was the first doctor to bring western medicine to Korea. The drama aired in 2010 and Richard received praise for his acting.
In 2010, he was cast in "Athena: Goddess of War," where he played the villain Agent Andy. The action drama, which starred Jung Woo Sung, Cha Seung Won, Soo Ae and Lee Ji Ah,  became top-rating.
This year, Richard was cast in the Korean dramas "Feast of the Gods" and "Take Care of Us, Captain."
During the conference call, Richard told Bulletin Entertainment about discovering his Korean heritage, his venture into Korean showbiz and the Korean Wave.
Bulletin Entertainment: So growing up in the United States, did your mom teach you about your Korean heritage?
Sean Richard: I ate Korean food since I was a kid, I never spoke Korean growing up, I learnt when I came to Korean.  I mean, I grew up in a very American suburb, so with a British father and a Korean mother, it was almost like my younger sister and I would be teaching my parents sometimes about the American culture, and then I’d be learning bits and pieces of the British and Korean culture growing up.  So it was a very unique, I think, environment to grow up in.  There was always a part of me that regretted not knowing more about Korean, and knowing the Korean language, that’s why I came.  Also of course I dreamed to be a part of the entertainment industry here.  But the main thing was – I mean, I’m half Korean, it was kind of silly that I didn’t speak Korean.
So when I came here, learning the language, especially there’s a strong culture that as I learned the language, you can’t help but learn the culture as well.  So I immersed myself.
So I think that growing up in the United States, I definitely was not exposed nearly as much as I am now, to the Korean culture."
Bulletin Entertainment: During 2007 you moved to Korea to learn about your Korean heritage, what’s the most important thing that you discovered about this?
Sean Richard: Okay. Well I mean, Korea’s like – what surprised me definitely was how actually dynamic a country Korea is.  It really does have a lot to offer that I don’t think many people outside of Korea know yet. I mean, they know some things, but it is a definite mix of kind of old traditions and cutting edge new, kind of cool trends.  It’s kind of right in the middle there.  That I thought it was going to be when I came here very tradition, very conservative, and I’d have to be very quiet and everything.  But actually when I came here it was very cutting edge, so exciting.  The city of Seoul is 24 hours a day, it really doesn’t sleep, and it was very exciting to be a part of.
As for the Korean culture itself, I mean, it’s very family orientated, and Koreans as a people, it’s like one large family.  So being and working with Koreans, and I’ve made many very close local Korean friends and everything.  You know, when you’re Korean it’s like “You’re Korean, that’s it.”  You’re a part of a big, great family, that they really embrace you, and I don’t know, it sounds silly, but it’s like I can feel the love here now that I’ve immersed myself here.  So it’s very warm, I am very happy to be here.
Bulletin Entertainment: Okay, sure. What did you do to learn the Korean language, did you find it hard to learn it when you transferred in 2007?
Sean Richard: When I first came I could say “hello”, and that was about it.  So I first went to language school at Seoul National University for about a year, and the thing about learning new languages is just about getting rid of your fear, right?  I mean, once that is – once you get over that hump of like I’m going to make mistakes every day, people might laugh at my accent, and you get over all that fear, then it’s just about working on learning new words, new expressions, and things like that.  I mean Korean alphabet is very easy to learn, you can learn it in a couple of days.  And then you just have to put the characters together, and because its an alphabet, you can phonetically sound out all of the words.
It’s just some are rooted from Mandarin, and some are words that have just been – are just Korea-Korean words, and so I know that for a lot of the students I would study with who were Japanese or Chinese, they would have actually an easier time learning the Korean language because there would be some similarities.  But for me it was just Korean dramas, once I started acting in Korean dramas my Korean got so much better very quickly, because I was constantly having to memorize scripts and lines, and work on my pronunciation.
And when I’d have to deliver a line, I can’t just be a talking head, I have to understand the theme, understand the story, understand my character’s intentions, as well as delivery any emotional performance, because that’s the most important thing.  It’s not about people just understanding my words, they have to feel what I’m saying too.  So to get to that point it took a lot of – I’m mean I’m talking like in the shower, when I’m in the bathroom, when I’m cooking, or like anywhere I’m going it’s constantly in my mind, out of my mouth, constantly, constantly repeating my lines, to just become engrained in me, so that when I was on set there would be no problems.
Still I have a little bit of an accent, and people know I’m – obviously when they look at me too I look half Korean, so they let me slide a little bit.  But doing drama’s is what helped me that most.
Bulletin Entertainment: So was getting in Korean soaps part of your major goals when you decided to move to Korea and how were you discovered?
Sean Richard: I was in the States and I had studied – I majored in business management, and then I studied theatre as well in university, and it was a combination of both.  I wanted to act as a career, but also thought that if I didn’t go in my 20s, in my early 20s to Korea, I probably won’t ever later in life.  And so I wanted to go, make the move, learn the language, learn the culture.  And I only planned to stay in Korea for two years, but just kind of, as life goes, it was almost two years after I arrived in Korea, I filmed an independent film, "Snow Walk," it was kind of a love story similar to the film "Before Sunset." It’s kind of a 24 hour love story with an American boy and a Korean girl, and it’s a very low budget film.
But that was shown to this different management company through Korea and these people I had met, and one manager said, “Oh there’s something here, why don’t we keep in touch?”  And then of course I don’t hear from the for like six months, and then there was just one day he called and said – there was different actor in a company that was meeting for this show called "Jejungwon" this medical show, and “I saw on the list of characters that there’s an American doctor character, would you be interested in read for it?”  And I was just like, “Yeah, of course, that would be great.”
And so he had to convince the director to see me, it was at the end of his day, he had like 20 minutes at the end of his day.  And so I go, and it was at [SBS] Studios, which is – SBS TV stations in Korea.  So I go in, there’s like eight producers sitting there, there’s like the director, and the assistant director.  And he just said, “So you did Hamlet in college?” and I was like, “Yeah.”  And he’s like “Okay, can you do some Hamlet for me right now?” and I was like “Okay.”  So I said, “Do you mind if I do it in English?” and he said “Yeah, that’s okay.”  And so I started doing that, and I did the “To be or note to be” soliloquy, and it had been like six or seven years since I’d done the play, so I started kind of forgetting the lines, and so I started making up new lines, and I got to the end of it.  And then the good thing was the producers and the directors, their English wasn’t perfect so they just kind of were nodding their heads, like “Oh, I saw that energy.  That was good energy.”
And then I did like a monologue from the TV show "ER," and I had to kind of pretend that a pillow was a choking child, so I did that.  And did different scenes, and then I left.  And then we got a phone call as we were driving out of the parking lot, and they said, “Do you want to be Dr Allan?” which was the first character I played on Korean television.  So that was in 2009, and then I never left Korea after that.  I’ve been blessed with great roles, and now I’m directing for the first time, I feel so blessed anyway, to have done the work I’ve done.
Bulletin Entertainment: So what do you consider is the most important aspect of the Hallyu or the Korean Wave that will best represent Korea to the world?
Sean Richard: I think there’s this kind of – there’s just this attractive element about Korea.  It’s geographically a small country, but it’s doing big things.  You know?  So like people have become intrigued with it through the media, and I don’t know, I talk to many female fans of Korean dramas overseas, they have this romanticized image of Korean men, and all the K-Pop stars are so sexy, and there’s just a combination of all these things.  The fashion in Korea is so just trendsetting, and there’s all these different things, like I said, from sports to fashion to food, entertainment of course, and you line all of these things up and it creates this really dynamic, I just can’t think of another word than “dynamic,” and “cutting edge.”  Trendy, stylish, cutting edge.  That’s kind of the image I think, this new image of Korea. Instead of the old kind of we’re a divided country, and all of the post-war, and all these kind of older images of Korea have kind of gone away, and now it’s this new dynamic Korea, and it’s fun and exciting, and something that I think people want to be a part of, and it’s a great image for a country to have I think.
Bulletin Entertainment: So what do you think are the different traits of Koreans that differentiate them from people from other countries?
Sean Richard: This is a very difficult question, I think I need to be careful.  Because I think everyone is the same, it’s just the way that they express themselves is different.  Everyone wants the same thing, that doesn’t change, but I think Koreans are very expressive with their emotions.  And there’s a lot of performers in Korea.  There’s a Karaoke room on like every block in Seoul.  Just very expressive, and like I said, very active cities, like everyone’s very busy here. So maybe that could be something that’s unique to Korea.
Bulletin Entertainment: What do you think is the main and outstanding reason for the success of the Korean Wave?
Sean Richard: I think like I said before, it’s the time is right now for Korean entertainment.  I think that, like I said, it’s refined and commercialized ideas with this Korean element combined, I think that those would be – that’s the formula for what’s going on right now with the Korean Wave.  So that’s the same through all genres.
"KOREA NEXT" premieres every Sunday, beginning Dec 16 at 10 p.m. on Discovery Channel.

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