New Jersey-Native Aaron Yoo is a star in the making. He stands 5’7 and has a whimsical personality and a lot of energy. The actor did the traditional Asian thing and got a degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Then he started acting and got his big break playing Ronnie in Disturbia opposite Shia LeBeouf. Since then, he has starred in big hits such as “21” and “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist.” He will also be starring in the upcoming “Friday the 13th.”
Lets see what he had to say:
What is your ethnic background? What generation are you?
I’m Korean American. What generation am I? …I never know how to answer this. My parents were the first in both of their families to immigrate to the U.S., and I was the first person born here from either family. Does that make them first generation and me second generation? Or does that make them 0 gen and me first?
Tell us about your upbringing:
…I was born. I was small at first. I grew. I ate a lot. I grew some more. I stopped growing. Others kept growing. I switched from basketball to soccer to compensate for this growing disparity. I am now full grown… Is that what you were asking?
You went to U Penn. What did you major in?
I majored in social immersion and observation: “going out.” I graduated with a degree in theater arts. It looks pretty on the wall, I think. I actually have no idea where my diploma is. Probably it’s at my parents’ house. I don’t actually remember the moment of receiving it. I remember sitting under pouring rain pretending I cared about what John McCain was saying but really more focused on how to not be the one in the gutter between umbrellas.
How did you get into the whole acting thing? What was your first big break?
A witch read my palm, slapped me across the face, spit on the ground and told me I’d do nothing with my life, so I took her advice and went into acting… I don’t know if I have a good answer for how I got into acting. It’s part of a path that I’m walking, and I came to it by a really roundabout way.
But I think consistent in everything was a love of Shakespeare and the desire to play Romeo one day. I still haven’t gotten that chance but I’m still hopeful. I went to school for theater, which is a great way to learn to love and respect the craft of performance. But it’s not a particularly great way to learn how to do it, you know? They used to apprentice people so that young actors could learn on the job.
Acting’s very much a nuts and bolts kind of thing, I think. It’s like, “What exactly is going on in this scene? What am I doing? What do I want?” There’s a lot of literature and many schools out there that want to glorify or elevate acting into, I don’t know, a religion or something. But when you’re doing downtown Off Off Broadway theater for no money you learn things about truth in performance that no classroom could teach you.
I wonder, seriously, what does Lindsay get asked? “Lindsay, what’s it like to work with yourself?” I remember in one of our EPK interviews while shooting “21,” they asked me, “What’s it like to work with Kevin Spacey?” After finishing the interview I saw Kevin on set and said to him, “Hey just so you’re prepared they’re going to ask you what it was like to work with Kevin Spacey.”
Lindsay’s great. I remember the first impression that I had from working with her was at our table read. She was KILLING it in the room and I remember thinking, “Damn, this girl isn’t just hype. She’s incredibly talented.” But what I like most about Lindsay was that, as crazy as her life is, she surrounds herself with good people. I think, in life, that’s the best thing you can do for yourself.
Tell us what it was like filming “Disturbia.” Where did you film it?
We shot in two local California locations, Whittier and Pasadena, for the exteriors. Then the majority of the shoot was concluded on 3 sound stages on the Paramount lot. It was such a fascinating and educational experience for me because we had these long, sprawling scenes inside the house that were shot at times in three different locations over several weeks.
And, you know, Shia is still one of the most genius actors I’ve worked with and DJ is one of the best directors in Hollywood, especially for actors. He gives you so much support and freedom that you feel like you can do anything in a scene and it won’t suck. That’s so invaluable as an actor. But with “Disturbia” being only my second movie, it was such a crash course in filmmaking.
I mean, in “Rocket Science,” which I wrapped before shooting “Disturbia” even though it was released second, all of our scenes were small and self-contained. The most challenging production aspect was shooting in 100-degree temperatures in fall sweaters and jackets.
Tell us about your upcoming movie, “Friday the 13th.”
Well there’s this guy in hockey mask with an absurdly large knife. He’s disgruntled… I’m pretty jazzed about F13, which is what we’ve taken to calling it. I’ve always loved horror movies ever since I was little. The good ones scare me sideways and the bad ones are some of the funniest movies ever. The thing about the “Friday the 13th” franchise is that all 98 of the installments are B movies.
Actually, I think F13 might be the 12th installment, but I’ve lost count. In any case it’s, no bias, far and away the best of the entire series. I’ve been hearing great things about how it’s all coming together in the editing room. Our movie’s a reinvention of the franchise.
We stripped out all the hokey stuff from the original series, but we left in everything that fans and audiences come to a horror movie to see. There’s this classic ’80s horror sentiment about our movie. We liked to call it: sex, drugs and Jason Voorhees. You know, the good old days. But the biggest difference is that our Jason is FAST. He’s a hunter, not some lumbering zombie. Anyway, I got to do a lot of great comedy in the movie. Whether it works or not I’ll leave up to audiences, but creatively it was a very fulfilling experience for me.
What are some things that you like to do for fun?
Watch the Bush Administration destroy America. It’s the greatest disaster film in the history of the world. I mean, now I understand how they let Caligula foam at the mouth for so many years. I always thought those Romans were just nuts.
Turns out they were Republicans… Seriously though, my interests kinda run all over the place. I play soccer as much as possible. I practice pitching and am hoping to join a team in a year or so when I’m more consistent. I’m getting there.
I love reading, anything from comic books to the New Yorker to, you know, Jose Saramago or Jhumpa Lahiri. I write, I play my sax, I collect sneakers. I buy albums on itunes – too many. I have a backlog of albums I haven’t even started listening to yet. It’s just too easy to click “purchase!”
Who is your inspiration?
My sister. She’s the happiest person I know. Barack Obama because he is principled and driven and brilliant. New York City. You breathe in inspiration when you’re there. Sidney Poitier. He taught himself EVERYTHING.
Good question. I don’t know if I feel like for me that it “means” anything. It’s a part of who I am, like my height and weight. I’m not the kind of person that defines myself by singular attributes, but I don’t ignore them either. I will say that one of the things that I’ve always found most fascinating in my life is that when I’m here in the States, if people ask where I’m from, they don’t mean New Jersey. Only when I’m overseas, do people hear my voice and say, “Oh, you’re an American.”
What’s your favorite part about being an actor? Least favorite?
My favorite part, it might sound clichéd, but it really is the work. There’s this buzz you get when a scene goes off. It doesn’t happen very often and certainly not in every scene. But when they’re something electric between you and your scene partner you get this high that I’ve never found doing anything else. RARELY, when I’m playing sports and “in the zone,” it kind of feels like that. But there’s nothing like it. It’s kind of like falling in love I think – this inexplicable subconscious energy. Anyway, my least favorite part of acting is watching myself on screen. I’m always kind of disappointed. I think it’s because I’m chasing my idols – the Brandos, Jimmy Deans and Tony Leung’s of the world – and always find myself coming up short.
What are some places that you like to hang out in la?
Anywhere that serves good food. I’m currently obsessed with this place called Lemonade on Beverly and Almont. Eating is my favorite thing to do in the world. Or maybe it’s tied for my favorite thing.
What are your plans for the future?
I don’t really think about the future. I daydream a lot, but not seriously. I imagine what life would be like if I were president. Or an astronaut. Or if I woke up with wings tomorrow. It’s what I did when I was a kid and I never fell out of the habit of it. But I don’t make plans. Why stress over where it’s going? You’ll get there.
Do you have any other aspirations? Directing? Producing?
Ah, aspirations? Yeah, I’d love to win an Oscar. I’d like to direct one day. Producing, not so much. I’d like to get a script I’ve written produced one day. We’ll see what happens.
What would be your ultimate dream role?
Yeah, Romeo. On stage.
Where are your favorite places to travel?
Paris and Tokyo, hands down, but I haven’t been Machu Picchu or Bali yet. If you get to travel anywhere and really take in another life or culture rather than trying to impose yourself on it, then you can help but expand your mental, emotional and spiritual horizons. There’s nothing better than that.