Can Non-Koreans be Korean Actors?

Dear Korean,

I have been doing some acting and modeling in Brazil, China, Thailand, etc. for some time now. I love acting and I'm planning in going to Korea to get a degree on acting there. How is the acting bussiness for Westerners in Korea? I know that Koreans are a little bit racist towards skin colour and some other things, so I think this could be a barrier for entering the business.

The Working Actor

Dear Working Actor,

Although it is true that Koreans can be racist, that is hardly a barrier for a non-Korean to get into acting. In fact, Korea's racism often helps a non-Korean find an acting/modeling job, provided that the said non-Korean is (or appears to be) white. Especially when it comes to modeling/acting for advertisements, the field is wide open for attractive non-Koreans.

Of course, whether or not this trend is
a good thing is a completely separate discussion.
If you can somehow get yourself to speak Korean fluently, you will have absolutely no problem finding gigs as an actor. After all, Korean dramas and movies occasionally feature non-Koreans, and decent-looking non-Koreans who can speak Korean fluently are hard to find. When the Korean was younger, there were exactly four non-Korean actors who ever showed up on TV -- two women and two men, playing every single role that required a white person in a Korean drama.

(If you are curious, the two men were Robert Holley and Charm Lee [born as Bernhard Quandt], and the two women were Ida Daussy and .... blanking on the other woman's name. She was older than Daussy. Does anyone remember?)

Of course, it is highly unlikely that a non-Korean will be a top star in Korean acting scene. In all likelihood, a non-Korean actor will be typecast into a minor role. It might be enough to make a living, but stardom is improbable. But there is at least one case where a non-Korean character was cast as a lead for a big-budget Korean drama. Tamra, the Island depicts a story of a British sailor who gets shipwrecked in Jeju island in the 17th century. The role of "William" the sailor was played by Pierre Deporte (also known as Hwang Chan-Bin), a French actor who cannot look more different from Koreans:

If you really need help, Deporte is the guy on the right.
Deporte's selling point, again, was his fluent Korean, acquired through his Korean stepmother. Although the show was unfortunately cancelled in the middle of the season, it had enough niche support for a DVD edition that contained additional episodes. So there is at least one precedent for a non-Korean actor to be a legitimate star in a Korean drama. Given that it took Asian Americans more than a century of living in America before there was a TV show about us (and a cringe-worthy one at that,) the Korean would say Korea is actually making a decent progress.

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