Interview: Actor Teo Yoo on Playing the “Russian Rock Che Guevara”

New biopic Leto is the story of the Russian rock band Kino. Actor Teo Yoo had the tough task of playing the enigmatic founder of the band and we had the chance to catch up with him about the experience.

Thanks for the quick chat, Teo. Let’s start with you. Tell us a bit about you.

I was born and raised in Germany and my my parents moved there in the 70s. I was born in ’81. I finished high school in Germany in 2001 and then 2002 I went to New York to study acting at Strasberg for 2 and a half years. I finished my studies in London with a Shakespeare intensive course and I have been an actor ever since, traveling the world, walking the earth (lol).

In Leto, you play one of the founders of the band Kino. How familiar with the band were you before you became part of this project?

I was vaguely familiar with the guy because he is Korean in a foreign country. Coming from that similar type of background, I always have been researching about Koreans who lived abroad who had interesting stories… he has all these type of different layers. For example, Russians credit him, to this day like the older Russian generation, his music is one the reasons the Soviet Union came down because they sang his song. Then again, he passed away when he was 28 years old – so he is like this forever young guy in their minds. At the same time he was a beautiful lyricist. He brought out like six albums and they say he is like as lyrically talented as Bob Dylan, only in Russia. All these different layers, he is kind of the Russian Rock Che Guevara. Basically, that was my pre conviction of the guy.

How did you prepare for the role of Viktor?

I only had three weeks to prepare. I did a lot of video material, books, interviews. I met with former friends of his. I actually also met the real Natalia and I talked to her about their relationship. I had beach coach, movement coach, and lot of sleepless and lonely hours in the hotel trying to get the language right.

How have Kino fans responded to the film and your portrayal of Viktor?

I didn’t read any Russian criticism but when I was there for the premier and few screenings in Sochi at the Film Festival and at Moscow for the premiere, the audience was very friendly towards me. I don’t know about any Kino fans but I can only talk of my first hand experience. Kino came after me and thanked me for the role and that really moved me.

So, what’s next for you? New projects, upcoming stuff, etc.

You can see me right now on Netflix in the Korean TV series called the Asadal Chronicles, which is kind of like a Korean version of Game of Thrones. The future film, which is a melodrama in the fall, which is called Vertigo. Although, I am not related to the Hitchcock film. There are two more Netflix series in the works. One is going to be showing in September called Vagabond and the other is, I only know the Korean title, and it is going to be showing next year in January. A few more films in which I am a supporting claimer and that is all Korean stuff starting this year. Next year I am going to do international projects. It’s the first time in my life that I have had the luxury of choosing my projects. This film has been very good to me.

Anything about Leto that you want the audience to know, a fun fact or anything they would find interesting?

I need to think of this from a perspective from an American viewer who doesn’t know anything about it right. So I would say it is interesting to see behind the iron curtain on during a period in the 80s of when nobody knew what was going on. Because young people all over world, they are the same, they want to rebel, they want to rage against the status quo, and here were have a small window into the early 80s in Russia. It is towards a very interesting group of people who are passionate about rock music. That rock music moved the nation by “word?” That is sort of interesting because Soy and Keno, he had Korean roots but grew up this Russian environment but was influenced by music. He was the type of person who brought these three cultural layers together and made something very unique. I hope that the American audience will appreciate his music after watching the film.

Before we go, can you let the readers know how to follow you on social media and the web?

Oh sure! I am on Facebook and on Instagram. My name “Teo Yoo”. If you type in Teo Yoo you can look me up.

Justin has been running websites since his first Geocities site in 1994, but only did he ever start covering anything of substance years later. After he stopped regularly running local concerts in Northern NJ and the greater Philly area, he knew he needed to step up his writing game if he expected to continue to get free music to listen to. He writes regularly here and at Cinapse, as well as contributing to a few other sites on occasion. He likes music, film, the Philadelphia Eagles, the 76ers, talking about Criminal Justice, reading Intelligence Report, and his family... not in that order. His beautiful wife is far more talented than he is and his kids far more adorable... and crazy.
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