Korean Actor Byung Hun Lee in “Red 2″

 

SOUTH KOREA’S HOTTEST ACTOR IS WELL ON HIS WAY TO BECOMING ONE OF HOLLYWOOD’S LEADING MEN. Story by Kanara Ty, photos courtesy of BH Entertainment Int’l Management Agency.

 

Byung Hun Lee is a celebrity in his native South Korea as one of the nation’s top actors. Nevertheless, when he was on set for the upcoming action-comedy sequel Red 2, playing the role of Han, an agent-turned-hired killer out to get Frank Moses (played by Bruce Willis) — his second Hollywood role this year after playing Storm Shadow in the spring block- buster G.I. Joe: Retaliation — he couldn’t help but feel a little star-struck.

“There are amazing actors in this film. They are legends: Anthony Hopkins, Helen Mirren and John Malkovich. It was a great experience, but I had a hard time adjusting to the environment the first time. Acting among them made me so nervous,” says the 42-year-old.

Fortunately, Lee’s character allowed him to look pretty cool onscreen. “Han has a lot of pride,” says Lee. “He’s a pretty scary character in the movie.”

Interestingly, the action sequences weren’t the challenging part of filming for Lee (“I’ve done a lot of action movies in Korea,” he says); it was adjusting to a different type of comedy. “Every country has its own brand of comedy,” he says. “I had to understand American comedy and the cultural differences.”

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Born and raised in South Korea, Lee got into acting 23 years ago when his mother gave him an application for an open audition at KBS, one of the nation’s top broadcasting companies. He soon landed his first role starring in the 1991 television drama Asphalt My Hometown. After working on a number of dramas the next couple of years, he starred in his first film, What Drives Me Mad?, opposite the late actress Choi Jin-sil.

Despite Lee’s extensive career in film and television, he says he initially wasn’t interested in acting. “I never thought about being an actor,” he says. “My real personality is different. I don’t want to show off. I don’t want to speak about myself in public. I don’t have that outgoing personality.”

Even when his career started to take off, he still had one foot out the door. “I thought this was not a job I would have for the rest of my life. This will be just a great experience for me,” he remembers. It took a couple years for him to realize that acting was “something that I could put all my passion into.”

It’s a passion that he may have inherited from his father, who passed away 15 years ago. “When I was a kid, my dad really loved Hollywood movies,” says Lee. “He knew a lot of things about films, actors and actresses. He was like a directory of Hol- lywood films. He always told me lines from the movies. He was a maniac about Hollywood films.” When he told director Dean Parisot about his father, Parisot decided to use a real photo of Lee at the age of 5 holding hands with his dad in the film.

“To have that picture in the film — it was amazing because my father was such a huge fan [of Hollywood]. Even though he passed away, he could still participate in this project with this picture,” says Lee.

Now with multiple big-budget Hollywood films under his belt, and his hand- and footprints immortalized in cement at the famed TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theatre) in Hollywood (the only other Korean actor with that honor is Ahn Sung-ki), the once-reluctant actor is not showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon. He says he’ll continue look- ing at scripts in both Hollywood and Korea, focusing on films but still open to television dramas, which are immensely popular in South Korea. In fact, Lee seems interested in taking the hallyu wave to the next level by working with a Korean director on a Hollywood film — maybe Park Chan-wook, with whom he worked in Joint Security Area, which made him an international star in Asia, or Bong Joon-ho of films The Host and Mother.

After nearly a quarter of a century as an actor, how does Lee keep it fresh for himself? It’s the same bit of advice he has for new actors: “Always try to keep an open mind and think freely as a child.”

Watch out Hollywood — there’s a new kid in town.

This story was originally published in Audrey Magazine‘s Summer 2013 issue. Get the issue here.

Summer 2013 | Pop-arazzi: Godfrey Gao

DEPT: Pop-arazzi
AUTHOR: Ada Tseng
ISSUE: Summer 2013
PHOTOS: Jetstar Entertainment

 

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“CANADIAN ACTOR AND MODEL GODFREY GAO TACKLES HIS FIRST ENGLISH LANGUAGE ROLE AS MAGNUS BANE, THE HIGH WARLOCK OF BROOKLYN, IN THIS SUMMER’S ADAPTATION OF THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS.”

In Asian TV dramas, the male protagonist is often a young, arrogant, rich kid who’s about to have his world turned upside down by the wholesome, down-to-earth female who finally makes him want to be a better person. To set this up, there’s often an obliga- tory scene where a crowd of girls lunges themselves at the leading man, causing your average feminist viewer to roll her eyes.

But when Godfrey Gao, dressed in an all-white suit, makes girls’ hearts go aflutter in the first episode of the 2010 Taiwanese drama Volleyball Lover, it seems quite realistic. Or perhaps, your eyes are too stunned to roll.

 

 

It doesn’t hurt that Gao’s athletic character, Bai Qian Rui, is not arrogant, but in fact kind of silly. In order to cheer up his best friend, he crouches his entire 6-foot-4-inch frame low to the ground and jumps up and down like a gorilla. “I think that character is closest to my personality,” says the Taiwanese- Malaysian Canadian, “because I can be quite goofy sometimes.”

Born in Taipei, Gao moved to Vancouver at age 9 and immediately noticed cultural differences. “I remember [Canadian] girls in school greeting friends or strangers with hugs, some- times even [taking] a running jump to give a hug,” says Gao, “whereas in Taiwan, girls were mostly shy, and if boys came up to talk to them, they’d run away and giggle from a healthy distance.”

As a child, Gao idolized Michael Jordan, and it was his dream to play basketball in the NBA. A skinny, lanky kid, Gao had his growth spurt between 9th and 10th grades, a period he re- members clearly because it resulted in him dunking a basketball for the first time. He still plays pick-up basketball weekly, and if he hadn’t become a model and actor, he says he would have loved to pursue a career in sports. “Perhaps I might’ve become Jeremy Lin!” he jokes.

At first, modeling and acting seemed out of reach. “Honestly, I didn’t think it would happen because cloth- ing-wise, nothing fits me in Asia,” says the 28-year-old. But then he earned his first acting job in 2006 in the Taiwanese drama The Kid from Heaven, in which he plays an American coming back to Taiwan to run a business. Likewise, Gao had just returned to Taiwan from Canada to give acting a shot.

While he worked hard to perfect his craft, Gao jokes that it was his facial hair that changed the course of his career. “I had a long summer vacation back in Vancouver, and for a while, I just didn’t shave,” remembers Gao. “When I re- turned to shoot another TV drama in Taiwan, my manager and the producers liked my facial hair and thought I looked more masculine. That’s when I shot Wanna Be a Tough Guy, where I played Tiger, and that image stuck. It was definitely a turning point.”

By 2011, he was not only a house- hold name in Taiwan, he was declared the “world’s first Asian male super- model” by The Guardian after being named the new face of Louis Vuitton — the first Asian model for the world’s most valuable luxury brand.

In another first, this year brings Gao’s first English-language role as the Indonesian half-demon warlock Mag- nus Bane in the Hollywood adaptation of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, in theaters August 23. On her Tumblr, Cassandra Clare, the author of the original young adult fantasy novels, wrote that after an exhaustive search through many hot Asian men, she’s confident that “our Magnus may be … THE HOTTEST MAN IN THE WORLD.” Expect a “warlock for the ages,” says Gao, whose character has a penchant for sparkly eyeliner. “It was magnificent! It was the first time I had glitter and nail polish applied on me.” The only downside, he recalls, was “the Magnus party scene where I was ‘sans pants’ in 0 to 3 degree Celsius weather.”

Godfrey Gao in glittery liner and without pants? “Expect a lot of fun,” says Gao. Indeed.

WHAT WERE YOU DOING 10 YEARS AGO?
“I had just graduated from high school and attended my first year of college where I was playing basketball for Capilano University.” — Godfrey Gao

Buy our 10th anniversary issue with Godfrey Gao here.

Summer ’13 Cover Story: Rinko Kikuchi of Pacific Rim

MAD FOR RINKO

SEVEN YEARS AFTER HER ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATION FOR BABEL,THE GROUNDBREAKING ACTRESS HAS BECOME A STYLE ICON, CHANEL MUSE, AND A NOW A LEADING LADY IN GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S LATEST FILM,PACIFIC RIM. CAN WE JUST TELL YOU — WE’RE IN LOVE WITH RINKO KIKUCHI.

story Kanara Ty
photos Diana King
stylist Conor Graham
hair Koshi Okutsu (Shizen)
makeup Yoko Okutsu (Shizen)
photo assistants Conan Thai, Justin Leveritt
Shot on location in the newly renovated Duplex Penthouse Suite at Gansevoort Meatpacking NYC.

WHEN RINKO KIKUCHI arrives at the penthouse suite of the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District of New York City, she’s dressed in an oversized sweater, leggings, a pair of Louis Vuitton sunnies, and Prada “Double Geta-Style” platform sandals in blue and black. On the other side of the room, among the racks of designer clothes and accessories meticulously laid out by the stylist, is a near-identical pair of the Prada sandals, but in red and black.

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Coincidence? We take it as fate. Seven years after Kikuchi first graced our cover, right after her Oscar nomination for Babel, she’s back in the pages of Audrey, and this time, for our milestone 10th anniversary cover.

In 2006, Kikuchi was the newest ingénue in Hollywood. A relatively unknown actress in Japan at the time, Kikuchi became the first Japanese woman in 50 years to be nominated for an Academy Award, for her role as the troubled deaf-mute Japan- ese teen Chieko Wataya. (In fact, she was only the fifth actress in the award’s history to be nominated for playing a character without saying a word).

Since then, she’s made a number of movies, both Japanese and foreign, including 2008’s The Brothers Bloom, her last english-language film where her character knew only three words of english, and the film festival favorite, Norwegian Wood, directed by Tran Anh Hung. She recently finished shooting universal’s martial arts epic, 47 Ronin, starring Keanu Reeves, due out in December. And Kikuchi is about to make headlines again, starring as the female lead in acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro’s upcoming science fiction monster film, Pacific Rim.

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When Kikuchi first heard of the role of Mako Mori, a Japanese pilot-in-training, she immediately sent an email to her Babel director, Alejandro González Iñárritu, who she knew was close to del Toro. “[Guillermo del Toro] is a big director. I’m a big fan of his films,” she says. “I first met him when I was nomi- nated [for Babel] and met him through Alejandro in New York. I told him, ‘I really want to work with you.’ [So] getting this role has been a dream come true.”

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For Kikuchi, playing the very physical character of Mako Mori was refreshing. “I’ve done a lot of serious dramas and roles. [With Chieko], she had a lot of serious problems in her life, so I did a lot of roles like that [afterwards],” she says. “With [Mako Mori], she’s really tough. She’s kind of like a superhero. It’s different from my roles in the past.”

Indeed, Pacific Rim has been likened to a live action version of the widely popular Japanese anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. Both stories involve massive, mind-operated fighting mechas, or robots, that were created to battle against gigantic monsters threatening humanity. Kikuchi’s character operates one of the main mechas. “I wore an armor suit where I was in a cockpit while driving the robot. It was similar to [riding] a rollercoaster; I was so scared,” says the 32-year-old. “It was the most physically demanding shoot, but we [along with co-star Charlie Hunnam, who plays former pilot Raleigh Becket] really felt like pilots during that particular scene.”

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Like most actors cast in action roles, Kikuchi underwent a rigorous training schedule. For many months, she endured a boot camp of running, swimming, weightlifting and stick-fighting martial arts, the latter of which she enjoyed since she had practiced martial arts growing up in Japan.
Training for the action sequences wasn’t the only challenge Kikuchi faced; this was also the first film where she didn’t have a translator on set. She did have a dialogue coach and an english teacher (in fact, our interview with Kikuchi was sans translator), which helped when del Toro would come up with last-minute changes. “He gave me lines on set that weren’t in the script,” she remembers. “I needed time to [learn] the lines because Mako speaks english fluently.”

Such stressful moments notwithstanding, Kikuchi says del Toro was a jokester on set and, as a huge fan of Japanese ani- mation, would sing songs from the anime film My Neighbor To- toro to bond with her. And despite the challenges, Rinko feels fortunate to have been cast in Pacific Rim, acknowledging the lack of roles for Asians in Hollywood. “Since Babel, I’ve had few roles in international films since there are so few roles for Japanese, [but] I want to continue working in the united States.”

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That may explain why Kikuchi has delved into other projects in the last six years other than acting. early in her career, she had met Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld at the Cannes Film Festival and became a muse of sorts. Lagerfeld dressed her all through awards season in 2007, and she even modeled for the luxury line in print advertisements. Most recently, she collaborated with Japanese brand ZuCCa on a collection of clothing (she says she was wearing some pieces during the interview), and directed a short film, Memory of an Artist, about a man who searches for memories of a former lover who has passed away.

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It seems natural that Kikuchi has become such a style icon and fashion darling. Thanks to her stylish mother, she grew up with fashion, wearing designers like Yohji Yamamoto. “My mom always looked really cool,” she says. “She loved the colors black and white. I’ve never seen her wear sneakers; she wore nice high heels. She had really short hair back then, too. Now I have short hair, which I like to think was inspired by her.” Kikuchi even got her first Chanel bag at the age of 20. “I still have vintage clothes from back then. [My mother] gave me great stuff that was timeless.” With that background, it’s no wonder fashion magazines like Vogue, Marie Claire and Nylon have embraced Kikuchi, a natural in front of the camera. “When I shoot for magazines, I really enjoy working with the fashion [on set],” she says.

Good thing Kikuchi is now based in New York, one of the fashion capitals of the world. With Pacific Rim set for release July 12, style watchers everywhere will be keeping a close eye to see what — and who — she wears on the red carpet. If our shoot is any indication, she’s still got a serious penchant for Chanel. We can’t wait to see.

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