Cover Story: Ryeoun on his steady ascent to stardom

Ryeoun has captured the hearts of many a K-drama viewer with his most recent appearance in Twinkling Watermelon. The 25-year-old actor tells Zaneta Cheng about his dedication to his craft, how hard work pays off and why he’s having the best time at SJM Resorts in Macau

Go Yoon-hwan, better known by his stage name Ryeoun, is fresh off the success of his period television drama Twinkling Watermelon. The actor, who plays a time-travelling hearing person in a family of deaf people with a passion for guitar, is in Hong Kong for a quick stop at our magazine’s #legend100 party before making his way over to Macau for a stay at SJM Resorts to shoot our cover story. Geographical travel suits him after a stint of on-screen time travel, as he digs into the dim sum in front of him, commenting on the differences in Chinese food available in Hong Kong versus Seoul.

Cream cardigan, grey jacket and oatmeal coat _ Zegna

It’s a welcome break for Ryeoun, who admits that he was so involved in the project – his second-ever lead role after playing Kang San in The Secret Romantic Guesthouse alongside Shin Ye-eun, Jung Gun-joo and Kang Hoon – that it became a part of his life. “It was an honour to work on this project with such wonderful staff, actors, director and writer. I enjoyed the filming process so much that I almost forgot it was work. It was a healing experience in many ways. Although I’m sad it’s over, there’s also a sense of relief,” he says with a laugh. “I feel relieved because I put so much effort into this role that it feels like a satisfying conclusion.”

White knit top _ Fendi; Navy denim jacket and jeans _ Ferragamo; Black oxford shoes _ Dolce&Gabbana.

The young actor received the offer to play Eun-gyeol in Twinkling Watermelon while filming
The Secret Romantic Guesthouse. The role was an instant fit, according to Ryeoun. “The director said, ‘Eun-gyeol is a character who needs to be trustworthy and I see those characteristics in Ryeoun,’” the actor recalls. “It was the first time I cried while reading a script – I was immersed from the first scene and felt a lot of empathy for Eun-gyeol. I thought I’d be able to express the character well and told my company that I really wanted this role and asked them to see if they could make it happen.”

Brown blazer and trousers _ Versace

There’s no doubt that the success of the show was in part due to the writer, Jin Soo-wan, whose work was already very familiar to Ryeoun when he was approached for the part of Eun-gyeol. “It was overwhelming to work on a project by the writer whose works I grew up watching,” Ryeoun says.
“It was a big responsibility, and I felt a lot of pressure to make sure I would do it well.”

Cream cardigan, grey jacket, and oatmeal coat and trousers _ Zegna

Ryeoun’s own hard work and dedication to his character indeed brought the project to life. “There
was a lot more to prepare for than just acting,” Ryeoun explains. “Eun-gyeol is CODA (child of deaf adult) and a guitar prodigy. I had to learn sign language and guitar playing and master both. I prepared for my role by attending sign language and guitar school for almost three months. I’d practise continuously, even when I’d get home, during daily activities and even before going to bed.”

Navy shirt _ Sandro; Navy corduroy double-breasted blazer _ Ralph Lauren Purple Label.

As of now, Ryeoun, who debuted just six years ago, remains entirely committed to his metier. Perhaps it’s because fame and success came slowly, after years of hard work, slog and continuous auditioning rather than immediately and overnight. “Everything I’ve done so far feels like it has become part of me, like blood and flesh. All these elements have come together and created good synergy within me,” he says. “Every role I’ve taken on has been through intense auditioning, so all the projects are memorable. If I have to choose one that synchronises the most with me, I’d probably choose Kim Nam-ho from Adult Trainee. He pretends he’s not shy when he actually is. He seems to think a lot but is actually a pretty simple person once you get to know him. These aspects are quite similar to me.”

Brown blazer _ Versace

Perhaps it’s because Ryeoun’s commitment to his craft has been all-encompassing. Even the rote question of what was most memorable to him during the filming of Twinkling Watermelon, a question many if not most celebrities tend to brush off, yields a sincere and actually substantive answer.

“There’s a scene in the second episode where Eun-gyeol pours out his emotions to his father. It was a scene that gave me a great sense of accomplishment during the actual filming. It was touching to see a child possess such a sense of responsibility for his family such that he was willing to stand up to his father. I understood the father’s feelings and that’s why I welled up. I also understood Eun-gyeol’s feelings and I was worried as to whether I’d be able to express them convincingly,” Ryeoun recalls. “When emotions are intensified, my words can speed up and I was also worried about whether or not it would sync up with the sign language, so I remember this scene a little more.”

Brown blazer and trousers _ Versace

Lately, the actor claims that, with experience, he’s been able to loosen up a little in front of the camera. “I started enjoying acting more when I was able to let go of the pressure. I couldn’t enjoy it much when I was a rookie because I was nervous,” he says.

White knit top _ Fendi; Navy denim jacket _ Ferragamo.

Ryeoun caught the acting bug in high school when, on a walk with a childhood friend, he learned that the friend had started attending an after-school acting academy. Curious, Ryeoun asked his parents to let him do the same.

“I got their approval and attended this academy after expressing my interest and persuading my parents,” he recalls, describing his parents as his #legend and crediting them for helping him become the person he is today. “That’s when my dopamine levels skyrocketed. I feel in love with musical numbers, duet performances, stage plays set in small theatres. I was captivated by anything relating to acting. Between my second and third years of high school, I’d commute to Seoul to attend this academy every weekend. It was so truly enjoyable for me; I thought I ought to make a career out of it.”

Navy shirt _ Sandro; Navy corduroy double-breasted blazer _ Ralph Lauren Purple Label.

And a career he is building. Still bright-eyed and eager, Ryeoun has a resume that reflects the hunger he has for his vocation. Each year since 2017 he has logged roles in television and web series as well as variety television spots and music video appearances. In 2020 he was nominated for his first KBS Drama Award for Best New Actor and in 2022 he won the SBS Drama Award for Best New Actor for his work in Through the Darkness, for which he was also nominated in the category of Best Supporting Team.

Brown blazer _ Versace

Having tried his hand at coming-of-age stories, Ryeoun is looking to broaden his scope. “I want to
try solo action movies like John Wick and Deadpool. I also want to do romance. I’d like to take on projects around first love or play a naïve young man character like in The Classic,” he says. Lately, it seems Ryeoun’s next project has him bulking up despite his favourite activity being walking – after all, it was a walk with a friend that led him to his calling.

“When I walk, all other thoughts disappear, and I focus only on walking. Aside from that, I’ve resumed working out and I want to engage in other hobbies but it’s not easy. I may be young but my body doesn’t seem that way,” he says, laughing.

Black T-shirt, beige wool blouson and black denim jeans _ Karl Lagerfeld.

So Hong Kong and Macau have been welcome respites before the actor plunges himself back into the labours required for yet another role. Of his first-ever visit to both cities, he says this: “The food in Hong Kong was delicious and everyone was so kind. It was quite surprising. Macau is so glamorous; everything is dazzling and it feels like a dream. Especially the Palazzo Versace Hotel, where I had the cover shoot – it was so cool and glamorous. I’ll probably tell my friends that it was a very enjoyable trip, especially for a first visit, but I think I need to go back to the gym! I’ve had too much delicious food while I’ve been here and I need to get back into shape.”

Black T-shirt, beige wool blouson and black denim jeans _ Karl Lagerfeld

Also see: Cover Story: Girls’ Generation Hyoyeon on going solo

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