Super-natural

February 19, 2014

Korea told Arden Cho to change, but MTV’s wildly popular Teen Wolf made changes for her

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Arden Cho will be the first to tell you that hers is no overnight success story. (Photo – Melly Lee – http://facebook.com/hiardencho)

A scene from MTV's Teen Wolf. (Arden-cho.com)

A scene from MTV’s Teen Wolf. (Arden-cho.com)

By The Korea Times Los Angeles staff writers

People in the Korean entertainment industry repeatedly told her that she would never  make it without completely changing her looks. Well, just take a look at her now. Good things happen to those who wait, and the only thing they’re changing in America is the script to fit her.

She’s Arden Cho, the newest member of MTV’s hit series Teen Wolf.  The 28-year-old Korean American actress recently joined the cast in a recurring role as mysterious newcomer Kira Yukimura, and there’s already talk of a spin-off for her character.

Yukimura was originally a Japanese character, but the show’s creators changed her ethnic background to half-Korean and half-Japanese in order to accommodate Cho.

However, she’ll be the first to tell you that hers is no overnight success story. 10 years have passed since she won a pageant, only to be told that she’d never succeed without having plastic surgery done from head to toe. Seven years have passed since she decided to move to Los Angeles to become a performer.

Three-and-a-half years have already passed since she became a popular Youtube personality and the face of Clinique’s Asia campaign.

During a recent interview with The Korea Times, the first thing Cho wanted to know was whether or not she’ll be quoted for this piece in a Q&A format. You can tell right away that she’s sharp and knows her stuff.

She’s personable, perky, and talks with the ease of a speaker who makes yearly rounds at conferences across college campuses, her Korean tinged but fluent. She goes back-and-forth between Korean and English without pause — a Korean verb here, an English pronoun there — better than you might expect of an American-born Texan.

Still, Cho is wary of Q&As. She’s done some interviews “on the run” due to her unbelievably busy schedule, and says she was horrified to see an article later littered with 20 ‘like’s in a single breath — some of them transcribed word-for-word, um-for-um, like-for-like

Scrutiny, after all, has been no stranger in her life.

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Korea told her she was too healthy and muscular, but Teen Wolf producers love the fact that she is a third-degree black belt in Taekwondo and she has no problem handling some physically demanding scenes. (Photo – Vince Trupsin)

Cho was 18 years old, a self-described tomboy and freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when she entered the pageant for Miss Korea Chicago 2004. She had never been a supporter of beauty pageants, but ended up in one, because there was value in having a platform to talk about those issues she believed in, she says.

She added that she did it almost as a joke, because she is not one of those tall and skinny prototypical beauty pageant contestants. She ended up with the Chicago crown anyway.

The follow-up trip to Korea was a shocker, however. “Everyone said, ‘You need to lose weight. You need to have plastic surgery. You need to fix this, this, this…’ Not one thing here and one thing there, but basically from head to toe. They wanted me to fix everything,” she recalled. “In Asia, it’s very much like, ‘If you have money, you have [plastic surgery]. If you don’t, it’s because you don’t have the means to do it.’”

She was also told that she was “too healthy,” “too muscular” and that she needed to go so far as to cosmetically lengthen her legs. She said she never realized there was so much wrong with her, and she needed about a month to get over that emotional trauma.

But, no one knows how one’s life will unfold, and in 2010, she became the face of Asia for cosmetic giant Clinique, precisely because of the fact that she had an untouched, natural look. “They were looking for an Asian face that was natural, untouched, but universal,” she says. “So it’s crazy that when I went to Asia before, they said, ‘You need plastic surgery,’ and then I booked this job because I didn’t have plastic surgery.”

Besides, “You don’t need a perfect face to tell a perfect story,” she says.

Inspiration from Kenya

She says she spent the happiest two months of her life in Kenya, alongside her church missionaries at all-girls’ schools and orphanages in 2007. When you take away ‘the American dream’ – good college, good job, good cars and so on, “Life is so beautiful and simple,” she said. She wanted to stay there for three years.

But, the pastor there made her realize that there are better ways to utilize her talents, that she can help people in the United States, and that she could provide even more assistance by becoming successful.

When she came back from Kenya, she had good news and bad news for her parents – while they didn’t have to worry since she wouldn’t be going back to Kenya, she had already made the decision to move to Los Angeles to pursue her dream.

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Cho praised Korean producers and filmmakers, and said if she ever got invited to work with them, “I’d pay my own money to go.” (Photo – Vince Trupsin)

The auditions she’d go into would number five a week for years, but she saw little come of them. Cho worked multiple jobs – tutoring, waiting tables – to make ends meet. She knew no one in the city, and she initially lived with a random roommate, a UCLA student she’d found through Craigslist.

When the Clinique campaign came, it saved her, she says. That bought her more time.

Later in 2010, she starred opposite fellow Youtube star Ryan Higa in Agents of Secret Stuff, a 35-minute spy comedy released on Youtube. While filming, the Agents team suggested to a hesitant Cho that she should put up her own videos on her own channel.

She hadn’t given it much thought, but “the more I understood what they were doing, I said to myself, this is so smart,” she says. “This is like your own production company. What’s interesting about Youtube is that it’s your own channel. You can put up anything you want.”

From giving advice on relationships and candid videos about auditions to footage of her dog Chewy and music covers of American and Korean pop songs, her self-titled channel, ardenBcho, acts as a diary of her progress through the entertainment world. It currently has about 17.5 million total views and more than 175,000 subscribers.

Spurred by the success of her covers, she released her self-produced EP, My True Happy, in early 2013. The album, which carries tracks she’d written and kept to herself for years, was her most freeing experience, she says. By then, she’d made plans to focus on her music for the year and to go on a two-month tour around Asia to promote the record.

Teen Wolf “seems like a dream”

It came when she was beginning to think, “Maybe this isn’t it. Maybe it’s just not going to happen.”

As the story goes, the Teen Wolf team had been searching for a Japanese actress when they met Cho and decided to change Kira’s heritage to make her half-Japanese and half-Korean, even casting a Korean father for her.

The planned music tour would have to wait.

Cho has been received well enough for the show’s executive producer Jeff Davis to recently speak of a potential spin-off series focused around the Kitsune, a Japanese mythological creature that has been raising new questions on the show, and Kira.

“American networks still fear that no one will watch with a minority in the lead, but they’ll do the spin-off if they see positive fan responses to Kira in seasons three and four, and if the Asian community gets really excited for it,” she says.

And it may just be coming. From fan support on popular blogging platforms such as Tumblr to middle-aged women with teenage daughters gushing about the show to her at a spa, Cho’s as surprised as the show runners – who had warned her to stay off the Internet for her first four episodes to avoid anti-fans – by the overwhelmingly positive response to Kira.

“It seems like a dream,” she says.

On Korean pop culture

Cho watches Korean dramas – included in her binge-watching sessions are Secret Garden and City Hunter – to practice and improve her Korean.

She’s also a Korean film buff, from 3-Iron to Secret Sunshine to her love of A Moment to Remember (내 머리 속에 지우개), the 2004 tearjerker starring Son Ye-jin and Jung Woo-sung. She says she’s seen it 15 times, enough to memorize every line.

She praised Korean producers and film makers, and said if she ever got invited to work with them, “I’d pay my own money to go.”

But, she does have reservations about the Korean entertainment industry. She says she would recommend going to Korea to those who want things to happen fast, but warns that “what heats up fast, cools down fast,” and there’s a price to be paid for that fame.

She’d much rather have more control of her career, and life, like she does now.

 

6 Comments

  1. sunnysidetong

    February 19, 2014 at 10:57 AM

    beauty!!! best!!!

  2. Grace

    February 19, 2014 at 9:15 PM

    So great to read this! I’ve been following her since she started her YouTube channel. Arden’s the best.

  3. Ophelia

    February 20, 2014 at 6:59 AM

    love ARDEN, natural beauty !!

  4. kofi koranteng

    April 2, 2015 at 1:55 PM

    Luv ya Arden.You’re the best!!

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