Stardom in the cards for "21" movie actor Aaron Yoo
"21" hits theaters nationwide today and one of its stars, Aaron Yoo, is in the midst of a career trajectory to which many aspire.
The movie based on M.I.T. students who count cards in Las Vegas is inspired by a true story based on the best-selling book, "Bringing Down the House" -- and is only the first of three films Yoo stars in this year.
In 2008 alone, his craft is on display opposite Oscar-winners Kevin Spacey (in "21") and Ben Kingsley (in "The Wackness") -- and he's also been linked to celebrity newsmakers like as Mary-Kate Olsen. Of the Olsen twin, Yoo says, "MK is divinely sweet, I have to say."
From his Hollywood home, Yoo's words paint the portrait of a perseverant actor when describing his efforts to be cast in "21." After reading the book, he immediately got his agent on the prowl for an audition. Getting the callback only took three years.
After stealing scenes as the best friend of Shia LaBeouf in "Disturbia," Yoo had made his mark. Casting directors took notice and approached the actor... and now Aaron Yoo has a full plate of projects
He sat down with SheKnows recently to discuss it all -- though we were to chat about "21," election headlines weren't far from his mind.
The Aaron Yoo interview
SheKnows: How are you doing, Aaron?
Aaron Yoo: Things with me are good. I wish I had a Democratic nominee. It's turned into a circus.
SK: It's like watching divorced parents go at it.
Aaron Yoo: (laughs) I know, right. Obama-Clinton, I think at this point, I think they should run together and shoot it out to see who's on top. You know odds and evens – best out of three – on national television. One-two-three…shoot! Paper…no, I'm the Vice President! The ratings would be huge.
SK: Certainly things seem worthy of a coin toss at this point.
Aaron Yoo: (laughs) Yeah! Worthy of a coin toss, that's a great way of putting it.
SK: Well, Aaron, we could talk politics all day with the landscape out there today…
Aaron Yoo: But you want to talk about '21.'
SK: Yes, sir. Speaking of politics….
Aaron Yoo: (laughs) Yes, like a game of blackjack!
SK: Did you read the book, "Bringing Down the House?"
Aaron Yoo: I did, actually. It is one of my favorite stories about this entire project. I read the book a while ago. I was reading online that Kevin's company - way back when, when I knew him as Mr. Spacey – that he had gotten the rights. I emailed that article to my reps and told them I wanted to be in this. I love this book, this story is amazing. I know this is a long shot, but if this ever comes around, please get me in. It's MIT, there has to be Asian characters. (laughter)
I was at Sundance last year with "Rocket Science" and we had just premiered, and blown the lid off the festival. We're doing interviews and photo shoots and I get a call from my manager asking me to find a camera out there and put myself on tape. This movie is going to move while you're there in Sundance.
SK: You're kidding…
Aaron Yoo: I didn't know when I was going to find time to sleep. But I had to have a tape in LA for Monday morning. This was the movie I wanted. We found people with a camera. We shoot a scene in a hotel room with friends from "Bottle Rocket" and we're just screaming in this make-believe scene between a man and woman. And there's this knock at the door.
SK: Oh, no…
Aaron Yoo: (laughs) The one girl in the room of a bunch of guys goes to the door and answers it. The woman from the front desk and a security guard were there. (laughter) She asks, 'Honey, is everything OK?' Then she asked her to step into the hallway. The woman peered in (stops and laughs hysterically), there's five guys, a video camera, eight lamps spread across the room with no shades. (laughs again)
SK: It must have looked like something out of the San Fernando Valley.
Aaron Yoo: (still laughing) The creepiest thing anyone's ever seen! My friend steps into the hall and tells her we're filming an audition tape. I'm going to laugh about that forever.
SK: That's a great way to get into the film of your dreams.
Aaron Yoo: They probably thought we were making some sort of snuff film. We sent it and thought it was a million to one shot. Got it to LA and here we are talking about "21."
SK: Well done. How soon did it take to hear?
Aaron Yoo: Are you kidding me? My manager said it moved fast…he told me, 'You know how you're flying home to LA after Sundance? You're not… you're actually flying to Vegas for the next three or four months to film this movie. You have a table read on Monday.
SK: With Kevin Spacey.
Aaron Yoo: Yes, I have a table read with Kevin Spacey on Monday out of nowhere. It was like, it was a run and scream moment. I've had a couple of those in my life.
SK: I'm sure they never get old.
Aaron Yoo: No, they don't. That's the best part of it, I think. They do, so I'm told. Shortly after meeting Carrie Ann Moss during "Disturbia" -- she's got two kids, years since "The Matrix," she's amazing. I guess it had gotten old to her, pale compared to kids. She said, 'Hang on to that feeling.' Well, when I have two kids, that joy will overtake this.
SK: I have to say, "Disturbia" was a fantastic movie and I thought you were a scene-stealer.
Aaron Yoo: Oh, thank you.
SK: That scene in the neighbor's house has got to be one of the more nerve-racking in recent movie memory.
Aaron Yoo: Yeah, yeah…that wonderful camera work by me…
SK: (laughs) Yes, exactly.
Aaron Yoo: It's still one of the most fun things I've ever done because I got to hold the camera myself.
SK: That must have been amazing watching it on the big screen knowing those shots are actually yours.
Aaron Yoo: Oh my God, right. That's one of the things I love about this business is it is continually new experiences. You are constantly being challenged.
SK: ... such as mastering blackjack for "21" Did you develop a passion for cards?
Aaron Yoo: I've always had a passion for cards. I grew up with cats that I played poker for pennies, nickels and dimes. When you walk away with $100 of people's pennies and dimes, you're pretty good. I've always loved blackjack. I didn't know how to play it like I do now. I'm very lucky. I noticed that when we were doing our research. (laughs)
One of the actors, Jacob Pitts, had this way of playing…where after losing a hundred hands in a row, he'd keep playing. (laughs) He'd say, 'I'm due.' I've never got that. That's the dumbest logic I've ever heard in my life!
SK: I used to hit casinos with a friend who -- at 4 in the morning would say, 'No, we can't go to bed. I'm due!'
Aaron Yoo: Do you know how absurd that is? It's based on pure, blind luck.
SK: I'm gathering filming in Vegas was a blast.
Aaron Yoo: It was rough.
SK: Did you find that a fascinating part of "21" -- the math involved in the science of blackjack?
Aaron Yoo: You know I'm secretly a geek. I love trivia like this with numbers. Not math though…I used to ask my math theory teacher, 'Why are we learning this? I'm going to be an actor. I'm never going to use this in my life.'
SK: Enter "21"…
Aaron Yoo: This is applied math. Idiot trivia like this: The winning hand in blackjack is 18.6. Why does my mind retain that? For me, it's fun. We had blackjack and card counting instructors. It was awesome. We were plowing through books with charts. Charts! Percentages on every hand you can think of. So much thought goes into this. It's incredible -- I geek out really hard.
SK: Aaron, I see you have three movies coming out in 2008. Is that right?
Aaron Yoo: Yeah, I do. I have "21" on March 28, the "The Wackness" which we just took to Sundance in January.
SK: I saw photos of Ben Kingsley there.
Aaron Yoo: Yeah, he was great. And his crazy fur coats. I'm a style hound. Jane Adams is in it, Method Man, Mary Kate Olsen. That comes out July 3. I just found out, July Fourth weekend in the middle of sweaty summer movie season, how cool is that? Then in October 3 is "Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist."
SK: After working as hard as it takes to make it where you are, is it still a thrill to see yourself on the silver screen?
Aaron Yoo: I have a hard time watching myself, actually. I feel if you're in it for art's sake, you can't help but be critical of yourself. Art is the craft of incentive. The moment I look at myself onscreen and think, 'Yeah, I'm going to move on to something more productive with my life.' Like wrapping my hands around the Democratic candidates and asking them to just get along. (laughs) Lock them in a closet for six months -- please!