Welcome back to your ultimate guide on how to become the shining star in the next hit drama series! Last week, we covered a few not-so-exclusive secrets of the hottest stars today, and now it’s time to take a look at some other options.
In addition to advice on how to climb to the top of the drama casting pyramid, today’s guide will also dive a bit into the rules of staying at the exclusive tip. Even if you’ve already had your big break as the male lead of a successful drama last year, there’s no guarantee that you’ll continue to book jobs so easily in the present. Let’s identify some obstacles to avoid too.
4. Graduate from being a child actor
If you’ve watched Giant, The Moon That Embraces The Sun, or Missing You, then you should be familiar with the young boy who portrayed the mini version of each of the series’ main characters. Born in 1997, Yeo Jin-goo is only 16 years old, but has over 20 films and dramas under his belt. In most of these productions, he played the part of “young/teenage [insert character’s name],” and gave unforgettable performances as most — if not all — of them. Obviously, he’s both a directors’ and viewers’ favorite.
Even at a young age, Yeo Jin-goo is already making his transition from a child actor to the main lead. Last year, he starred in the thriller Hwayi: A Monster Boy, which gave movie theaters many visitors and him multiple film awards, as well as his first sitcom Potato-Shaped Sweet Potato Star 2013QR3. This year, he’s been confirmed to star in the 2 million dollar collaboration film between Korea’s CJ E&M Pictures and China Film Group (CFG), Kwon Bob, also known as Martial Arts. The role he’s playing? It originally belonged to top actor Jo In-sung.
Unfortunately, if you’re over 16 years old — Yeo Jin-goo’s current age — and still a stranger to the industry, there’s a 99.99% chance you won’t be able to repeat the successes of previous child actors. However, perhaps you can save this strategy for your son to use. After all, starting out as a child actor, as we see in this case, can build a nice resume and guarantee leading roles at an early age. But then again, not every child is able to make it big, and days spent waiting and filming on set may be put to better use at school.
Honorable Mentions: Kim Soo-hyun (who also played the younger counterpart of one of the characters in Giant), Lee Hyun-woo, Jang Geuk-suk
5. Gain recognition overseas (but stay relevant in Korea)
The Korean wave, or Hallyu, has hit all corners of the world in the past two decades. As a result, more and more dramas are being exported and promotions moved overseas. Back in 2012, the Korea Creative Contents Agency reported that the export of Korean dramas rose from $105 million in 2008 to $107 million in 2009 to $133 million in 2010. The upward trend has been continuing, and more productions are introduced to foreign viewers every year.
However, international popularity can be viewed as both an advantage and a disadvantage. Although increasing popularity around Asia and the rest of the world is usually a positive response, it’s probably a good idea for an actor to match this success in Korea as well.
Bae Yong-joon is often viewed as one of the classic icons of Korean drama. His name rapidly invaded foreign countries in the past decade — especially Japan — and he’s even started his own restaurant chain, entertainment company, and most recently, a café in Hawaii. Last October, over ten years after his magnum opus, Winter Sonata, he beat out rising starlets to win the best actor award at the Korean Entertainment 10th Anniversary Awards hosted by the Japanese media industry. Yet he hasn’t been in a new film or drama since 2007 (unless you count his cameo in 2011’s Dream High).
Despite his strong fanbase of dedicated overseas viewers, Yonsama — his dear nickname coined by Japanese fans — didn’t exactly maintain the same level of success in Korea. Just for fun, I even asked a few of my Korean friends about Bae Yong-joon’s current status in his home country, and the responses I received weren’t too warm.
Jang Geuk-suk’s popularity in Japan has also been compared to Bae Yong-joon’s. His 2012 drama Love Rain received average ratings of only 5% in Korea, yet broadcasting rights were sold to Japan for a then-record price of 900 million won — even before the first episode aired.
Similarly, Dr. Jin, starring famous actor Song Seung-hun, also only achieved ratings of 8.8% for its finale in Korea, but it was still exported to Taiwan and Thailand before the series ended.
Love Rain and Dr. Jin follow a common trend in certain dramas doing better overseas than domestically, but I’m not sure whether this is good or bad news for the leading actor (not to mention the whole cast and crew).
Who to follow: Kim Soo-hyun with The Moon That Embraces The Sun (total broadcast rights sales of over 200 billion won) and You From Another Star (sold to China for the highest price ever for a Korean drama; the exact amount hasn’t been disclosed, but the online hits for this series is seven times those for The Moon That Embraces The Sun)
6. Steer clear of scandals as much as possible
The entertainment world definitely isn’t the cleanest or most transparent industry out there (warning: understatement), and its civilians must resort to keeping secrets most of the time. Unfortunately, there’s always an uncountable number of ninja reporters, avid fans and anti-fans, and curious netizens interested in uncovering these secrets. And once a big one’s out to do some damage to your image, it’s a good idea to find a hideout for some period of time.
If you really are itching to release a scandal, try to limit it to dating news or some sort of mix-up on your part (play dumb) — anything to avoid matching the level of singer and one-time actor Se7en‘s headlines last year. Enlisting in the military is supposed to be a prideful event for Korean men, but this man managed to follow a path taken by a handful of previous celebrity soldiers in stirring up trouble. Decade-long fans left his fan café shortly after the uncovering of the story, he spent over a week in military jail, and he’s probably currently thinking of ways to make a living once his release date approaches.
Korea has certainly seen its fair share of celebrities who have recovered from past scandals too. This pool includes Big Bang and Kang Ho-dong. However, such feats are only able to take place because of their already stable levels of fame and generally favorable images, as well as their ability to steer clear of massage parlors.
Of course, another major factor is time. Park Shi-hoo, who’s last project was 2012 drama Cheongdamdong Alice, is still in the process of recovering from his rape scandal last year, and there’s no definite answer to when he will return to the small screen.
Who to follow: Lee Seung-gi, Yoo Jae-suk (he’s had a few cameos here and there so let’s count him as an actor too), Won Bin
As you’ve probably figured out, it’s not that simple to become a successful actor or continue staying at the top. There will always be seniors who are a stride too far in front and newer talents eagerly waiting to take your place. Audiences anticipate your success — or failure — and there’s no hiding from the spotlight even when you’re off set.
Being a male lead in K-dramas is a lot to handle so perhaps we should just leave the job to those who are ready to make the commitment. I know I personally am much better suited for the job of fangirling over these leads. How about you?