by/por Polo Munoz, Managing Editor
As with the popularity of K-Pop and Gangman Style, the New Korean Cinema has exploded. American born actor Sean Dulake has found a place in this emerging film market. His new documentary gives a brief introduction to the reasons why we may be seeing the explosion of Korean talent all over the world. Dulake’s story is just as interesting as that of his other home.
Sean’s first Korean project was an independent film entitled “Snow Walk,” where he played the role of an American photographer. Over the span of one day, his character falls in love with a Korean girl who offers to be his tour guide. In June 2009, Sean was cast as the leading role of Doctor Horace Allen for “Jejungwon”, a historical Korean television drama. The series is based on the true story of Doctor Horace Allen, an American missionary who was the first doctor to bring western medicine to Korea. Soon after, Sean took on a dynamic role in a USD 17 million Korean blockbuster action series entitled “Athena: Goddess of War.” Sean played Agent Andy, a fierce, diabolical double agent secretly working for Athena, a malevolent organization that attempts to take control of the world’s energy resources. In 2012, Sean completed filming a Korean drama entitled, “Feast for the Gods,” a Korean drama centered on a family of traditional Korean chefs. Sean plays Daniel, a world-renowned chef from Europe who comes to Korea to learn about traditional Korean cooking.
LWR: Why go to South Korea most actors make their way to either New York or Los Angeles?
I am half Korean. My mother emigrated from Seoul when she was in her teens, met my British father here in LA, and they both worked very hard to give my sister and I a good life. I never spoke Korean growing up and always regretted that. I figured that if I were to move to Korea and learn the language, what better time than in my early twenties? I only planned to stay for two years, but as fate would have it, I ended up starting my acting career in Korea and staying until now. Half Korean actors have just recently been given good opportunities to act in Korea, and I was lucky to be there during that time.
LWR: What was the most surprising thing you found in South Korea?
There have been many surprises, but the biggest would be the emphasis on age. One of the first questions a Korean person may as you is, “How old are you?” While this might be rude in Western culture (especially toward women), this question is asked because age determines seniority. If I meet someone in Korea who is older than I am, I immediately use a more honorific form of speech when speaking to them. When I meet with close friends of mine who are my age or younger, I use an informal form of speech. These different forms of speech are distinguished by different suffixes attached to words and at the end of each sentence. If this sounds complicated, it’s not! It just takes a bit of getting used to.
LWR: Did you already speak the language?
No, I only knew how to say “Hello” and “That tastes good” in Korean when I arrived. It was four hours of Korean class plus a couple hours of homework every day for a good year and a half. But more than studying is practice — I made sure I met local Korean friends and constantly spoke in Korean with them, no matter how many mistakes I would make. Practice makes perfect.
When I’m working, I’m either on set all day and night or working on my lines at home. When I’m not working, I work out, watch films, have a drink and go to karaoke with friends (a common pass time in Seoul), and go to openings of new restaurants/premieres/mixers. Every once in a while I’ll go with friends to a “music bar” owned by a Korean rock legend from the 70s. He sets up a drum set, keyboard, and a few guitars for the customers to just jam out as they please. That’s always a good time. I’m always reading scripts and writing. I’m constantly writing.
LWR: As an American, how was the adjustment for you?
It was a challenge, but I went with an adapt-or-die mentality. It’s always hard adjusting to new surroundings, but if one has an open mind, patience, and understanding; it’s just a matter of time until one day you wake up and realize, “This is home now.”
LWR: Was it difficult for you as a foreign actor to make your way?
The opportunities for foreign actors in Korea are limited, that is the reality. I have been blessed to play great characters that I have been able to put my Western side to good use. Since I started in 2009, the number of foreign actors working in Korea has decreased because it’s a tough business. Just as I adapted to Korean culture, I have had to adapt to the entertainment industry as well. When there are good opportunities, grab them. When there are not, make them. That’s what I think.
LWR: Is there a difference in how you are asked to perform in the US than in Korea?
Before my first show aired, I was so scared that the Korean audience would laugh at me because of my accent and my style of acting. I learned how to act in the US, so I was concerned if my performance would translate well. A couple weeks after my show premiered, I received a fan letter. It was written by a young local Korean girl, and she said, “Sean is a foreigner acting in Korean in a Korean drama. I wasn’t used to seeing that, but I kept watching. One day, as I saw you crying in one episode, I started crying too.”
I still have that letter. It meant so much to me because it was a reminder that every country has their own language and culture, but emotional language is universal. People need to understand what I’m saying, but more importantly they need to feel what I’m feeling. That’s when I’m doing my job. The ways of expression may differ between Korea and the US, but in the end, my job is to focus on the emotions.
LWR: You are also a documentarian; tell us a bit about that.
Discovery Channel Asia-Pacific collaborated with the Korean Tourism Organization to produce five documentaries out of South Korea. The series was called, “Korea Next.” They received about 40 proposals from different production companies and documentarians, and they picked 15 to pitch in front of Discovery executives. Out of the 15 they selected the five final documentaries to fund and move forward with. I wanted to make a documentary about the recent explosion of Korean entertainment overseas (the best example being Psy’s Gangnam Style). But instead of just showing how popular everyone is, I wanted to give an intimate, insider’s perspective on the creative revolution happening right now in Korea that has led to this universally appealing content, and I covered music (Kpop), TV (Kdrama), and Korean films. As the director/host, I meet with Korean actors, singers, directors, and creatives, who I have had the privilege of getting to know throughout my career, and they each give a personal account and opinion on why Korean entertainment is so successful overseas. This phenomenon is called, “Hallyu,” which in Korean means “The Korean Wave.” I thus titled my documentary, “Finding Hallyuwood.”
LWR: What are some of your current projects?
Right now I am developing a television series that I originally wrote back in 2011. It was recently picked up by a television broadcaster in Southeast Asia, so we getting ready to shoot that. It’s a love story, and I’ll be playing the lead character.
LWR: Can you share some of your future projects? Are any of them in the US?
I am looking at a couple Korean dramas starting up later this year. This year was the first time I came back to LA to take meetings for possible work in the US. My family lives here, so it would be great to be closer to them. English is my first language, so acting in English would be much easier. We’ll just have to see, these things all take time.
Follow Sean Dulake on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sean-Richard-Dulake-International-FanClub/29568675715865