After ending the call, the first thought that came to his mind was about the actor’s payment. It was not uncommon for actors to raise their own worth. Many agencies inflated their appearance fees, and some even argued that they should be paid more than their counterparts. This was particularly true for up-and-coming stars just starting to make a name for themselves. There was a saying that when the shad jumps, the mackerel jumps too.
“It’s the first time I’ve seen this happen with a newcomer.”
Moreover, it was a child actor. In drama and film, child actors generally receive lower pay than adults. Even if they played the younger version of the lead, they often received fees similar to or slightly higher than those of minor roles. With fewer appearances and a focus more on increasing their recognition rather than their worth, this was usually the case.
It was intriguing to think how confident the actor must be in their skills. Interestingly, Jang Yeongguk’s tone and accent had no trace of a regional dialect during the call. It was undoubtedly standard Korean spoken by someone who had lived in Seoul for a long time. It was surprising, considering the listener had heard more fluent regional accents from Busan market ladies.
“PD, why would you leave in the middle? People are waiting for your toast. Let’s hurry back in.”
Choi Eunsuk walked out to the front of the seafood restaurant, where the salty sea breeze could be felt. Filming hadn’t started yet, so only a few staff, including assistant directors, were on site for coordination. Still, with over ten people, it was quite a bustling scene. A few assistant writers joined, making it seem like a gathering to foster camaraderie. After all, directing and scriptwriting were inseparable. Clapping alone wouldn’t make much sound.
“I just got a call from the student, Jang Yeongguk.”
Choi Eunsuk felt the buzz of alcohol kick in instantly.
“Oh, really? So, what did he say? Is he interested?”
“He was bold, asking straight up how much I could pay without even blinking. I broke out in a cold sweat.”
“Ha, he must have sold fish at the market for a day or two. You can tell just by their size. He can’t even compare to Seoul snobs. He is a tough kid who survives among the strong Busan ladies. Assuming his ordinary would be a mistake. But will they be good at acting?”
“You’ve seen it too, Writer Choi. He has that special vibe.”
Choi Eunsuk nodded briefly. However, there is a clear distinction between attracting customers in a market and acting. That’s why countless child actors attend acting academies and learn how to handle their gaze and voice projection before even learning algebra. There’s a saying that the difference between a beginner and an experienced actor is as vast as the sky and the earth unless they are natural-born genius.
“I told him we’ll have him do a script reading first.”
“A reading for the child actor?”
Child actors typically don’t attend script readings. More accurately, they can’t. The amount of screen time they get in a drama is limited, and attending a script reading could potentially disrupt the concentration of the adult lead actors with awkward performances.
“But the funny thing is, when I mentioned the reading, he immediately said he’d meet me tomorrow.”
“You can tell how high his nose is, right? So, I told him I probably won’t be satisfied with anything. When I asked if he was confident, guess what he said?”
The laughter of the bustling crowd at the seafood restaurant echoed harmoniously with the swaying seawater beyond the Yeongdo Bridge. As Yoo Myeonghan raised a shot of soju for a late toast, Choi Eunsuk drew attention by tapping the table with her spoon.
“I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter lately. People say a drama led by someone with less than a year of experience might fail. There’s also the worrisome fact that another broadcasting station is producing a high-quality drama with top stars at the same time as ours. Honestly, every day has been a mix of excitement and anxiety. But today, a ‘friend’ told me something.”
The seagulls of Yeongdo Bridge, various people, and the broadcasting crew below all focused their attention. Yoo Myeonghan felt their gaze upon him and thought of the young boy.
“You won’t know if it’s long or short until you try!”
At that moment, numerous soju glasses clashed together cheerfully, like swaying seawater.
I used to think that acting was all about talent. However, it took a long time for the meaningless word “talent” to crumble away. Starting with menial tasks in the theater world and working my way up to minor roles, I admired the lead actors performing on stage. I thought their talent was like the sun compared to my firefly-like abilities. But after witnessing their relentless efforts and burning passion for acting day and night, I realized that hard work was even more crucial.
Theater, film, and drama each followed different paths in acting. While acting was central to theater, where the audience was closest, films focused on direction, and dramas showcased the writer’s abilities. The fact that voice projection, breathing, blocking, facial expressions, and gestures all had to be adapted for each medium was something I learned through trial and error in my past life. Still, only in death could I ask myself if I had indeed put forth the effort.
“Is this the place?”
The Prince Hotel, a name that implied luxury, was slightly better than a motel when considering its exterior and interior. However, aside from the inns, it could be viewed as the best lodging establishment in Yeongdo, an area on the outskirts of Busan.
“Jang Yeongguk, over here! Here!”
Yoo Myeonghan, the famous director who was once the drama department head at KBC Broadcasting in his past life. But now, he’s a young man in his early thirties. It’s said that a position can make a person. The once-intimidating man in his previous life now appeared like a good-natured hyung from the neighborhood.
“Should I get you some orange juice?”
“No, thank you.”
Sweetness can actually make your mouth feel dry, causing your tongue to curl up when it needs to control the strength of your lines. As I waited inside the room, Choi Eunsuk soon entered. She handed me a script.
“I came to watch Jang Yeongguk do the script reading today. If it bothers you, should I step out?”
“No, as the writer, it’s only natural for you to watch.”
“I appreciate Yeongguk’s confidence.”
“Writer Choi, let’s ease up on the pressure. Remember what Yeongguk said yesterday? We won’t know if it’s long or short until we try. Let’s look at the script and do a reading, shall we?”
“I’ll memorize it. Please give me thirty minutes.”
In my past life, I played countless roles, ranging from minor roles to lead and supporting roles. If I gathered all the scripts I had read, they would probably fill a library’s wall with leftovers. My memorization skills and adaptability to different situations greatly improved thanks to that. The position of a lead actor and a minor actor differ; if the lead actor made a mistake, they could simply laugh it off. But as a minor actor, I had no choice but to be cautious and avoid any mistakes, as even a single NG could make me feel like a criminal. It was important to be extra careful with every single line, as even the shortest lines could be completely edited out in this line of work.
Yoo Myeonghan and Choi Eunsuk silently waited for the boy before them, their eyes filled with curiosity and concern. Would he be able to do it? As a child actor, his lines were shorter compared to adults, and he had less screen time. However, it would be difficult for someone new to acting to understand everything in the script at first glance. Yet, before even thirty minutes had passed, Yeongguk looked up from the script.
“I need someone to read the lines with me.”
“Already? Oh, I’ll do it.”
“Writer Choi, where did you sell your conscience? Isn’t it the aunt’s voice that we should hear, not a noona’s?”
“Oh, come on, what does it matter? It’s been a while since I’ve read lines, and I’m nervous. Where should we start?”
“You can start from any part you prefer.”
Choi Eunsuk’s eyes widened. Did he memorize everything already? Really? In less than thirty minutes? That’s too short a time to grasp everything, from stage directions to dialogues and situations. And not just one scene but every scene featuring the child actor. At this point, Choi Eunsuk was at a loss for words. Was it confidence or sheer stubbornness? Her curiosity was piqued.
“Oh dear, stop it, Hajin. You’re making my insides burn.”
Choi Eunsuk started reading the lines. Of course, she was reading from the script. Although she wasn’t trained in acting, as a writer, she tried her best to understand her own work by even changing her usual intonation. It was an admirable attitude. Yoo Myeonghan’s gaze turned towards the boy before them. However, the boy’s expression was unusual.
In drama, lines were the ultimate persuasion unfolding within limited space and situations. The role of an actor was not to become the protagonist in the script but to convey to the viewers beyond the TV screen that the protagonist was, in fact, the actor. The acting was what made this possible. Soon, a calm yet seemingly containing massive waves-like voice resonated.
“I’ll tell you. Minseok, that wretched son of a bitch called me a fatherless bastard. As if being beaten like a dog wasn’t enough, I had to apologize too. And my mom, oh, my mom. I don’t even know why I should bow my head to you. What wrong did I do?”
Silent film master Buster Keaton once said that there were countless expressions in the world. However, an actor must find sorrow and joy within a blank expression and deliver the resulting concentrated emotions to the audience beyond the screen. The boy’s face changed as if frames were being cut, gradually transitioning from anger to sadness and eventually to wailing.
“I’m going to school! I told you I don’t want to wear those worn-out shoes. How many times have I told you to throw those ragged shoes away! That’s why I don’t want to come home to this place! Do you understand? Why do I have to live like this, poor and miserable like those rotten shoes?”
“Jin, it’s not like that, honey.”
“What’s not like that? Did I ask you to kneel before me? You did it without me asking!!”
“Because I’m your mom. I’m sorry, Jin. I can’t help it.”
The high and low pitches of the lines spat out as if screaming were clear, filled with anger, depression, and a sense of injustice. And then, like pulling the trigger, the emotions exploded.
“Please just throw those shoes into the sea. Like how dad drowned in the ocean―!”
A fisherman was swept away by the sea, leaving behind a gift tightly held by the mother.
The scene was over, but no one dared to speak first. It was appropriate to say both were overwhelmed by the boy’s acting. Even though there was no camera, just reciting the lines in the confined space gave Yoo Myeonghan and Choi Eunsuk goosebumps. As the curtain of the play closed, the boy’s expression returned to its original state, back to an ordinary boy, not the one who had been furiously spewing his lines.
“How did you act like that?”
It was Choi Eunsuk’s curiosity. As a writer, she marveled at how the boy reproduced the image of Kim Hajin she had envisioned using only the lines. But, the simple answer that reached her ears made her heart race.
“Because the script told me to do so.”
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