Greta Lee and Teo Yoo Discuss Love and Longing in Previous Lives

Minor spoilers beneath.

Make no mistake: Previous Lives is a romance, even in case you don’t really feel that approach by the top, as you’re wiping away your tears within the theater. Teo Yoo insists. “ it from my character’s perspective, it’s not an ending. It’s simply perhaps a starting,” the actor says with out giving an excessive amount of away. “So it’s positively a romance.”

It may not have the acquainted trappings of the style, however Previous Lives is a love story that is aware of no bounds. Following childhood mates Nora (Greta Lee) and Hae Sung (Yoo) from youth into maturity, it transcends borders, years, different relationships, and even lifetimes. It evokes emotions so huge that they impart finest by way of longing gazes as a substitute of phrases. It’s rooted within the Korean idea of in-yun, which says two persons are destined to satisfy as a result of connections they’ve had of their earlier lives. But, as grand and consuming because the pair’s bond could also be, director Celine Tune makes it really feel tactile and all the way down to earth. And Lee and Yoo persuade us that it’s actual.


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The duo had been confronted an unimaginable process of bringing this story to life, however they did and did it properly, because the reactions out of Sundance, Berlin, and now theaters nationwide have proven. “You by no means know the way one thing’s going to be acquired,” Lee tells “And there was a lot on the road. I can’t fake that we get this chance on a regular basis.”

Previous to the A24 movie, Lee was identified for supporting, typically comedic, roles, from The Morning Present to Russian Doll, all the way in which again to Ladies. Yoo, born and raised in Cologne, Germany, has numerous worldwide titles below his belt, from Park Chan Wook’s Determination to Depart to the Russian movie Leto. Although they hesitate to confess it, they each know that the success of Previous Lives marks a turning level for his or her careers. And rightfully so. With performances conveying nuance, tenderness, and coronary heart, they is likely to be gunning to be our subsequent favourite romantic leads.

past lives

Teo Yoo as Hae Sung in Previous Lives.

Jon Pack/Twenty Years Rights/A24 Movies

I’m curious, do both of you consider in future? When was the primary time you heard or realized concerning the idea of in-yun? Is that one thing that you just grew up believing in?

Greta Lee: I had heard of it. I imply, I grew up in L.A. I’m Korean-American, and my mother and father immigrated from Korea, however my understanding of in-yun was similar to, “oh, that’s a neat assemble that’s for Koreans” that I didn’t essentially have any private connection to. And now, in my conversations with Celine and positively Teo, and doing this film, it’s turn into extremely customized. And now it’s this exhausting assemble the place I can’t unsee in-yun in all places. Like, now we have in-yun now, and I’m like, sufficient! I can’t see any extra in-yun with individuals. It’s like, I’m full. I’m executed. I’m at capability. I’m good. [Laughs]

Teo Yoo: You continue to have a lifetime to go.

Lee: I do know.

And extra lifetimes.

Lee: I want an in-yun relaxation.

Yoo: I used to be pretty accustomed to the idea, additionally as a result of I’ve been dwelling in Korea for the previous 15 years, and we’ll use it very casually on a day-to-day foundation. And it’s not even simply this deep cosmic philosophical factor. It’s extra informal and extra of an anecdote in on a regular basis conversations everytime you meet with somebody for espresso, or you have got a brand new colleague, otherwise you get launched to a brand new good friend. You simply say, “Yeah, it’s in-yun.” And perhaps if it goes any deeper than one thing like small speak, then you definately begin simply humorously lightheartedly speaking about, “What do you assume occurred with us in our earlier lives that now we have this connection proper now?” “Perhaps we had been actual enemies or perhaps we hated one another, and subsequently, we love one another this time.” That type of factor.

It connects you to, I suppose, the Western theme of future, although it’s a really Japanese assemble, which leans upon Buddhism. However I believe the worth of the thought is simply arriving to Western audiences, and subsequently, it’s not solely an Japanese assemble anymore; it’s fairly common, I believe.

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Hae Sung and Nora as youngsters.

Jin Younger Kim/Twenty Years Rights/A24 Movies

I really feel like a lot is alleged between Nora and Hae Sung with simply appears: after they’re kids saying goodbye in Korea, after they’re on the subway 20 years later simply gazing one another, taking all of it in, after which clearly on the finish of the film. What do you assume they’re making an attempt to say to one another in these moments? And what was it like for you each as actors to convey that with out talking?

Lee: It’s arduous to explain. One would perhaps even say it’s a wordless expertise to explain what that’s. I believe it is determined by the second, however there are occasions when in my thoughts, Nora, in that silence, is simply saying “I like you” over and time and again, however in a approach that’s unnameable and you may’t articulate in any language. There’s no approach to specific it. It’s like with music. If you hear music or while you see music cinematically or somebody bursts into music, it’s as a result of there’s no different approach to probably specific what’s taking place. Perhaps silence operates that approach in our film.

There’s a lot that’s not possible to say, and lots of simply holding one another’s love, however one thing past that. Typically it’s a recognition of, “I do know.” “I do know every part you’re feeling and I’m receiving you and caring for you on this second.” Or the opposite approach round. It’s simply me making an attempt to determine what Teo’s pondering…simply making an attempt to learn his thoughts.

“Our capability for love is nice, it seems.”

Yoo: I keep in mind within the subway, for instance, it was a second within the movie, however it was, for us, it was I believe 5 or 6 hours holding that gaze, that vitality, sitting subsequent to one another, standing throughout from one another with an inch aside and all I used to be pondering was, Nothing however love, nothing however love. Nothing in my thoughts. It was actually like, oh my God, I’m so in love together with her. However given the circumstance, it was simpler, I believe, on my finish as Hae Sung than for Nora, as a result of Nora has all these different layers and that different relationship and the historical past that she wants to think about. So I felt like I at all times had it a bit simpler as a result of I used to be the one who was like–

Lee: Thanks for saying that.

Yoo: Yeah, as a result of she was going by way of this whirlwind and tumult … like a flood, and I used to be mainly simply serving the tennis ball, [like] “I like you” and throwing it over, and he or she must punch it again—however is she allowed? Can she? Gained’t she?

Lee: I really feel like Hae Sung might be a spy, a CIA agent on a mission—a love mission.

Essentially the most romantic gesture of the film is all Hae Sung. However I believe that for Nora, there’s something that’s so painful about receiving love. It’s excruciating. And the adult-ness too. This isn’t a film about infidelity of like, “Okay, nice, so let’s go seal the deal over right here. Screw my husband.” These are all supremely clever individuals, respectful, good individuals, individuals we acknowledge for ourselves. And it’s from there, receiving love and giving too, that feels so not possible and stretchy. As a girl, too. As a girl, to carry that stance, but in addition a love for her life, for her future to carry all of these issues. It’s so crazy-making. … I used to be amazed within the technique of this, of actually understanding in a approach that I can genuinely say I hadn’t earlier than: Our capability for love is nice, it seems. How a lot you may maintain and provides concurrently in so some ways, and together with that love for your self and your desires and all of that, it’s very arduous to reckon with. It’s huge.

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Teo Yoo (Hae Sung), Nora (Greta Lee), and her husband Arthur (John Magaro).

Courtesy of Twenty Years Rights/A24 Movies

How did you’re feeling the primary time you went by way of the script and browse the closing scene? Was the ground additionally ripped out from below you? Did you anticipate them to make any contact on the finish, or did you respect the melancholy and the longing? For me, it was the latter, however I’d love to listen to from you each.

Yoo: I keep in mind being touched actually deeply by the script. I had a very good cry after. And I used to be at all times on the lookout for a mission the place I can put my private emotional melancholy into the character, as a result of it was in my life, a really ongoing theme nearly. It was nearly like I felt at all times like an outsider being born and raised overseas as a Korean. And now even dwelling in Korea, I nonetheless really feel like an outsider at occasions due to the cultural disparity in my childhood rising up elsewhere. However I used to be at all times on the lookout for, mainly a script or a director, an artist who can use me as an instrument to play that tune. So I’m simply so grateful for it that I had the chance to try this.

Lee: I believe studying the script, it did one thing. It’s like a sneak assault. It did one thing that I felt was not possible beforehand. It took an Asian American girl in a approach that I simply didn’t assume was, [Celine Song] did one thing that I didn’t assume was attainable, actually. She confirmed a lot concerning the sure realities of what it’s wish to be dwelling in America as an Asian girl in a really pure and unflinching approach. But it surely was like she did it in a approach the place she simply made area for every part else that she needed to do. So it wasn’t about checking off any packing containers or explaining identification in any respect. After which it simply grew to become the kind of film that I needed to see for myself, and that was so unburdened by the duty of extra equitable storytelling or extra illustration. It was so liberated from that, and it was only a actually good film with some actually wealthy and difficult scenes.

What truly stood out to me was Nora saying that when she’s with Hae Sung, she feels extra Korean, but in addition much less Korean on the similar time. I’m Filipino, however I felt the identical approach being with my household from again dwelling. You’re uncovered to the tradition, but in addition you notice how completely different you might be due to the place you grew up. I’m curious how that line struck you.

Lee: I really feel that approach simply hanging round Teo, continuously driving this wave of like, oh my God, I really feel so white proper now. [Laughs] [He probably thinks,] “She’s essentially the most annoying, loud American lady.” And likewise then feeling like, “Okay, I’m totally immersed in my Korean-ness in a really jarring approach.”

After which additionally, I inform him how odd it’s then to really feel like, “oh, however then typically I simply really feel like a girl, like an individual,” and that in-between is arguably much more uncomfortable, simply not clinging to a prescribed identification and all of that. I’m genuinely so grateful that it was Teo and all of our conversations by way of doing this in prep for our characters. I imply, these had been important to the film. That’s what [Celine Song’s] speaking about.

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Jon Pack

Teo, you talked about feeling like an outsider earlier than. Did that line or that concept additionally resonate with you?

Yoo: Yeah, as a result of I really feel like feeling like an outsider in my youthful years would’ve been a trigger for lots of injury. However I suppose now, I believe it informs me, and I believe it’s a privilege. A so-called minority, and the feelings that include it to alter that notion, I perceive it, however within the American context, it’s not likely the emotion that I really feel as a result of I grew up so in a different way, but I nonetheless really feel it. I believe these are issues as artists that inform us and that encourage us and perhaps make us really feel considerably a bit lonelier, however on the similar time, that loneliness is then a privilege as a result of you get to really feel that emotion and you get to expertise it, and you get to painting it. So there you have got it. It’s simply an added coloration to your coloration palette from which you’ll paint sooner or later. So yeah, I’m simply grateful for it.

You’ve each been working for many years. Does this movie really feel like a turning level for both of your careers?

Yoo: [Pause] Sure, it does. Be trustworthy. Sure, it does, proper, Greta?

Lee: Yeah, in fact it does! I’ve by no means been the lead of the film, ever.

Yoo: Similar right here.

Lee: In over 20 years. And I don’t really feel like a sufferer of my circumstance by any means, however I believe it’s a type of issues that I had put to mattress, truthfully, this concept of that I’d get to do one thing like this, and I had made peace with it, truly. And nonetheless I felt fortunate that I nonetheless discover a great quantity of pleasure and achievement from performing, from taking part in supporting roles. I do. I’m a agency believer of that saying, “there are not any small elements.” I consider that. I wouldn’t be right here if I didn’t consider that so strongly. And I nonetheless consider that. I believe my emotions now have extra to do with the kind of story that I need to be part of and in what approach. And combating for motion pictures like this to have any area within the market, culturally.

I believe in so some ways, what felt such a guess for us was acknowledging that that is so spectacle-free. It’s not likely a mirrored image of what has been profitable within the market. These are all issues that don’t have anything to do with us, however we will’t assist however be cognizant of that. This can be a treasured gemstone in a sea of weapons and knives, and we’re like, hope it really works, hope individuals get one thing out of it. But it surely feels good. It feels good to do one thing that you just care this a lot about, and you’re feeling it’s portray the image of the great of man, the inherent good in individuals for as soon as.

“I’m susceptible sufficient to painting an Asian character within the context of the Western market, being a nerd, being a comic, or being a martial artist. But it surely’s not my genuine self”

Yoo: A profession changer? Positively, as a result of I believe it’s attention-grabbing that … Yeah, I’m going to go there: I believe it’s attention-grabbing that there are not any Asian males in porn. Having stated that, it reveals the dehumanization and the de-sexualization of Asian males in American cinema. There I stated it.

For me, I’m okay with portraying—I’m susceptible sufficient to painting—an Asian character within the context of the Western market, being a nerd, being a comic, or being a martial artist. But it surely’s not my genuine self, as a result of the background from which I draw from the place I develop up in, is a pool of immigrants from Japanese Europe, from North Africa, from the Center East, and my mates. And we needed to excel athletically and are available out on prime. So having had that background, it was for me, at all times attention-grabbing that I didn’t discover this connection to what’s known as the “mannequin minority fable” for Asian Individuals.

Subsequently, I’m simply so grateful that I can use what I really feel authentically related to and put it into a personality in a movie, an A24 movie, after which it’s proven to a Western viewers, and the Western viewers accepts me as their romantic lead. I’m actually conscious the place I’m standing at this level in my life, at this second in American cinema historical past. So yeah, it’s freaking a recreation changer to me. It’s so vital. So I’m conscious of that, and I settle for the duty, and I’m simply excited about what comes for all of us after this.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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Erica Gonzales is the Senior Tradition Editor at, the place she oversees protection on TV, motion pictures, music, books, and extra. She was beforehand an editor at There’s a 75 p.c likelihood she’s listening to Lorde proper now.