He caught us off-guard when he shot the first question, in English: “Who’s that man behind you?”
He was referring to the standee of another Korean actor behind this writer, which was partly visible on the screen. Byeon gave a hearty chuckle as I, embarrassed, pushed the standee out of sight.
Byeon is the newest ambassador of Bench Body and Bench Active, the Filipino lifestyle brand’s lines of activewear. The photo shoot was held on April 28 in a Seoul studio and supervised remotely from the Philippines.
The “Record of Youth” star said that he had fun doing the photo shoot and couldn’t wait to see how the photos would come out, but needed to go home first.
I asked what sports he likes to play to stay fit, as his Bench campaign shows a bit of skin.
“Rather than doing one particular sport, I have to constantly learn a new sport because of my job. So, whenever I learn a new sport, I really get into it. But when the shooting is over, I forget about it,” he said with a laugh. “But what I consistently do the most is weightlifting, at least for my health.”
Life imitating art
The series “Record of Youth’’ marked a new chapter in the young actor’s career. Like his character in the series, Byeon debuted as a model in 2015. He walked the runway of Seoul Fashion Week and even modeled with the likes of Sandara Park.
He switched to acting and debuted in a cameo role in the series “Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo” (2016). He appeared in the first episode as Lee Ji-eun/IU’s cheating boyfriend.
In 2019’s “Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency,” he was a handsome matchmaker who relied on his pretty face to get the information needed for a successful match.
But it was really last year’s “Record of Youth” that placed him in the spotlight. The drama positioned him on the same platform as Park Bo-gum (“Encounter,” “Love in the Moonlight”) and Park So-dam (“Parasite”).
“Before going into the shoot, Bogum, (Kwon) So-hyeon and I often went over our lines together over a meal, and those times were the most memorable with Bo-gum,” Byeon said. “With So-dam, there was a scene in which I had a difficult time and So-dam was there to help me and give me advice. So, I was able to get through it, thanks to her.”
He also talked about the success of the series through the reaction of the people he loves.
“I think of ‘Record of Youth’ as part of my process, and not the result of consistently working hard. My parents really loved ‘Record of Youth.’ I gained strength from them and it inspired me to do better in the next shootings,” he said. “Also, my friends supported me in this piece, so to give back the support I received, I remind myself to do better in my next project.”
He also described the experience of people asking for his autograph to be both very cool and surreal.
The rising star, 29, has already served in the military. It means that he won’t need to take a two-year hiatus.
“In Korea, it is mandatory for males to go to the military. It is true that I was able to work consistently until now because I served early. So, looking back, I think I made a good choice. Since it is a requirement anyway, I went with a positive mind. I kept thinking, ‘Let’s just go now and work out and work on my body,’” he said. “While serving in the military, I was able to organize my thoughts and cultivate my dream by watching dramas and reading magazines.”
Part of that dream hopefully includes the role of a psychopath, he said, a choice that reflects the trend in K-dramas of lead characters playing psychopaths (think “Mouse,” “It’s Okay to Not Be Okay,” “Flower of Evil” and “Itaewon Class”). This is an era in K-dramas where leading men and women can play the antihero and their images won’t suffer for it.
“I sometimes practice on my own and it’s fun, so I want to try a psychopath role,” Byeon said. “And, I also want to try a sci-fi character, like fighting with aliens. I want to work on a film about something unimaginable.”
Boracay and mangoes
Byeon has visited the Philippines and spoke highly of Boracay.
I sometimes practice on my own and it’s fun, so I want to try a psychopath role,” Byeon said. “And, I also want to try a sci-fi character, like fighting with aliens. I want to work on a film about something unimaginable
“I’ve been to Boracay! The beach was really beautiful,” he said of the resort island favored by many Korean leisure travelers. “I remember that the mango they gave me for breakfast was so delicious. I loved that they had so many fruits that I relish. And I loved the beautiful beach.” He emphasized how much he loved eating mangoes.
Byeon obviously loves food, which became even more evident when I asked where he would tour a fan in Korea.
“There are many famous tourist spots in Korea, but I would want to introduce Korean food to her, because I like eating,” he said. “There are so many delicious foods here, like Korean-style of foreign cuisine, plus authentic Korean dishes. So, I think it would be great to tour her on a food trip.” He listed bibimbap and bulgogi as must-tries for visitors.
As the interview concluded, he thanked this writer, again in English. He caught me off-guard once more because he remembered my name, a surprising gesture given that the entire interaction lasted for only a little over seven minutes. It’s a trait that made him even more memorable.
Byeon is handsome, humorous and, most of all, sincere.