"I've never seen my theater is crowded with reporters like this", said Choi Hyeong-in, president of Hanyang Repertoire Theater, last week. Some 100 reporters from local newspapers, broadcasters and cable TVs filled the seats.
It was indeed unusual for a drama to attract such strong media spotlight. But it was also understandable that people noticed "Tape", to be staged from July 22 to Aug. 18 at Jayu Theater of Seoul Arts Center. The reason: Yoo Oh-seong
, one of Korea's top-rated movie actors, plays the main character.
And there is another, more important reason. The latest movies You starred in - "Star" and " Thomas Ahn Jung-geun
" - performed poorly in the box office, and the media is wondering why he is suddenly jumping into the drama stage where actors are usually underpaid and public interest is scarce at best.
"It doesn't matter whether I play for drama, TV or movie. And I've never thought I'm away from the drama stage in my acting career", Yoo told reporters. You made a debut on the stage by playing a role for "Blood", the first drama of Hanyang Repertoire Theater in 1992. His last drama performance was "Chilsu and Mansu" in 1997, and "Tape" marks Yoo's return to the stage in eight years.
In "Tape" written by American playwright Stephen Belber and made into a movie by director Richard Linklater, You plays a drug dealer named Vince, who confronts his high school Jon, a filmmaker, about date rape of his old girlfriend, which took place ten years ago.
The title, "Tape", comes from Vince's efforts to record his conversation with Jon in a bid to reveal what really happened. The off-Broadway drama, to be staged for the first time in Korea, made its name known widely in the United States after Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman picked it up to do as a movie.
"This drama is about what protects us in our life and what makes our life truly meaningful", You said at a news conference after a 40-minute practice session in which he played the main character along with Kim Kyeong-sik.
Kim, who plays Jon, said, "As a junior, I was really nervous when I first worked with him, but You treated me as an actor, not as a junior, which was really nice because I could focus on my character", Kim said.
The rapport between the two actors was strong not least because You and Kim went to Hanyang University's Theater and Cinema Department. But it is director Choi Hyeong-in who knows You best since she taught him in the late 1980s at Hanyang.
"When Yoo was a freshman, he showed his talent as an actor, and my impression was that he was simple yet honest", Choi said.
She said Yoo's acting was prominent. "One day, he brought me a monologue script and did it himself, and it was so moving and sad, I wept. And I still talk about You's amazing monologue when I teach students at Hanyang", Choi said.
But whenever Yoo and his teacher-cum-director Choi attempted to focus on the drama, reporters fired a fusillade of questions relating to You's slump as a movie actor. Asked what he felt when he "crashed on the ground" in the film industry, You said, "I've never taken off really".
"What I really wanted was an actor, and not a star, and I've never thought I'm a star", You said.
But You also did not hide some resentment about the commercial failure of the movie he starred in recently. "When a movie is made, there could be some problems with production systems, but when people attributed all the responsibilities to actors, there's nothing we can do about it", You said.
You, 39, said he came to realize that he had to be more careful in choosing what he does considering his age. His return to the drama stage is to get some time to recharge and refine his acting, he stressed.
Choi, known for producing leading actors like Seol Kyeong-gu
, Lee Young-ae
, Jang Dong-gun
, also wished You get a reprieve from what she called "ferociously competitive and merciless film industry" by fine-tuning his acting through "Tape".
By Yang Sung-jin