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Teo Yoo, South Korean Nominee at the 2024 BAFTAs, Transcends Borders

Mar 08, 2024
  • Source by KoBiz
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"Past Lives" becomes a turning point in Teo Yoo's life


The BAFTA Awards typically spotlight British and Hollywood talent. Yet, this year’s 77th BAFTAs, held February 18th in London, have two historic nominations for actors with performances in foreign languages other than English. One is Germany’s Sandra Hüller, nominated for Best Actress for her performance in “Anatomy of a Fall”, and the other is South Korea’s very own Teo Yoo, nominated for Best Actor for his role in “Past Lives” 


Past Lives

In “Past Lives”, Yoo portrays ‘Hae-sung’, a Korean man who visits New York City to reunite with a childhood friend. Despite his character's struggles to converse with his friend's American husband in English, Yoo himself is actually a polyglot born in Germany and educated in the United States. Musing on the nuances of human expression, Yoo once remarked to <Cine21>, South Korean weekly film magazine, "I think humanity's sensitivity is too vast to be encapsulated within a single language." His portrayal of diverse exotic characters resonates not only through his linguistic versatility but also through an adaptability across borders, symbolic of his multicultural background and creative endeavors showcased across his filmography.


The beginnings of Teo Yoo, Cannes Film Festival

Kirill Serebrennikov's “Leto” marked a pivotal moment in Teo Yoo’s career, propelling him onto the global stage. After he started acting in short films in Germany and the United States 15 years ago, it was unexpected for an unknown Korean actor to grace the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival as the lead in a Russian film where Yoo resonated with the legendary Korean-Russian singer Viktor Tsoi as a Korean-European.



“Leto” narrates Tsoi's emergence in Leningrad during the 1980s amidst a backdrop of rock music and youthful rebellion. With his 15 years of acting experience, Yoo perfectly fit the director’s criteria: a "Korean" with a "young looking appearance" and "extensive acting experience." Speaking Russian, playing musical instruments, and singing were no barriers to his portrayal of Tsoi. His contribution extended beyond acting, as he lent his voice to the film's soundtrack, earning critical acclaim at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival winning the soundtrack award. 


Becoming K-drama’s exotic sweetheart

Teo Yoo became the first case of an actor who gained recognition overseas first and then was reimported to Korea. Following Cannes, he depicted a character called ‘Lagaz’ speaking an indigenous language in “Arthdal Chronicles” and ventured into action for the first time in "Vega Bond." In the TV series “Money Game,” he emerged as a ‘romantic lead’ for K-drama fans, portraying ‘Yoo-Jin Han’, a villain longing for love. This role demonstrated his versatility across both mainstream Korean dramas and art films.


The School Nurse Files


The Netflix original series “The School Nurse Files” is an example of how well Yoo blends with the exoticism of the story. Director Lee Kyung-Mi asked Yoo to be "profound and mysterious" when she casts him as ‘Mackenzie’, a native English teacher. With his permed hair, primary-colored T-shirt, and horn-rimmed glasses, his nerdy character with enigmatic powers was born. Mackenzie became a memorable character endowed with mysterious abilities, showcasing how foreign characters in Korean dramas can overcome comedic stereotypes. 


Expanding Horizons

In 2021, Teo Yoo's autobiographical documentary “Log In Belgium” shows him taking an unexpectedly short break. He was stuck in a hotel in Antwerp, Belgium when the Covid-19 lockdown began during the filming of a movie. In the documentary, one of his many alter egos says: "I just want to act, I just want to express myself." Having filmed five dramas and five movies in the past two and a half years, he still craves acting and awaits casting calls.


The German-Japanese joint production drama “The Window” was filmed during this period. As a Korean actor with a multicultural background, Yoo has attracted casting directors from all over the world. Just as the K-wave opened up unexpected opportunities for Korean-American Hollywood actors, Korean actors fluent in foreign languages have gained opportunities outside of Korea. The multicultural aspects of the K-Wave are important. In 2023, “Past Lives” brought him to Hollywood's attention. Now, Yoo will be starring in season two of Netflix's highly anticipated “The Recruit”, which will bring him to an even larger global audience. 


Written by Nam Ziwoo

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