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A Thousand Faces

11

Chapter 11

1

On the other end of the line, Jaemin Choi’s voice brightened as if he’d been expecting Mansik’s answer.

“You made the right decision. I will fulfill all the conditions you mentioned earlier. If the kid has any additional requests, I’d like to discuss them as well.”

Agreeing to everything? He must be as keen.

“Yes, let’s discuss that with him later,” Mansik replied.

“Is tomorrow a good time? If he’s coming in person, I’d like to see him act with our script.”

“You want him to act right away?”

Mansik hadn’t even mentioned anything to the kid yet. Would it be okay to ask him to act already? A troubled expression crossed Mansik’s face.

“Oh, don’t worry too much,” came the voice on the line. “Take it as an opportunity to look around and see if our company is a good fit for him. Consider it a casual visit.”

The executive’s voice exuded confidence, almost as if the contract had already been signed. It was unusual for him to be so accommodating with the terms for a newcomer. Among the ranks of aspiring actors, nobody dared to turn down an offer presented by Jaemin Choi.

Mansik felt awkward.

I should probably go with him…

The contract could wait. It was clear that this experience would be helpful to the kid. Mansik was curious to see how he would react to the LED screens, state-of-the-art cameras, and extensive sound systems after only being in a quiet rural area. He might even develop unprecedented ambitions. After all, these were all things he wouldn’t have experienced before.

The decision could be left to him later.

***

Junwoo and Mansik sat in a restaurant.

“Why aren’t you eating?” Junwoo asked through a mouthful of rice.

The soybean paste stew in front of Mansik was getting cold.

Mansik racked his brain. No matter how he thought about it, it didn’t seem like the kid would come to Seoul willingly. He’d probably just say his time would be better spent reading scripts at the theater instead.

Staring intently at Junwoo, Mansik narrowed his eyes.

I know going there in person will convince him. But how to get him there in the first place?

Junwoo looked back as if to ask if there was a problem, then eyed Mansik’s stew.

“I’ll have that if you’re not.”

Before Mansik could reply, Junwoo pulled the stew toward him.

“Oh, yeah, go ahead,” Mansik said a second too late, jolting back to his senses. “Do you want to order anything else?”

“No, I’m good.”

Why am I so worried about what this kid thinks anyway?

It felt like Mansik was the boy’s manager at the moment.

“So, I’ve been thinking,” Mansik finally said. “You ever been to Seoul?”

“No.”

“What, been living under a rock or something? What about a vacation? Ever taken one of those?”

“I’ve never been on vacation.”

“Seriously? Never? Do you have any idea how many amazing—”

Oops. He’d almost gone off on a tangent. Mansik, having regained his composure, continued speaking.

“Anyway. Have you heard of the 63 Building? It’s in Seoul. It’s amazing in real life. It has a whopping sixty-three floors.”

The usually reserved Mansik began to speak animatedly, counting on his fingers.

“That sounds cool,” Junwoo replied, looking slightly puzzled but not offering anything more.

Mansik suddenly felt awkward. “Well, anyway, what I mean is, I have to go to Seoul tomorrow. If you’re bored, how about we go take a look? It’s on a whole different level than this country town.”

After that, Mansik began to rattle off places he thought might catch the kid’s interest, like the hottest shopping districts, the grand Han River, and others. When he finished talking, he anxiously observed Junwoo’s reaction.

“You want to send me there?” Junwoo said.

“Oh, no, we’re just checking out the city.”

“That’s sad. And you wanted to keep me here so badly.”

“What?”

Does already know?

Had the boy overheard the phone conversation? Or personally met with Jaemin Choi without Mansik’s knowledge? Mansik was confused. In contrast, the kid sat leisurely eating his meal with an indifferent expression.

Junwoo couldn’t help but be curious, even though he wanted to remain oblivious. Lately, the theater owner had been sighing and looking worried whenever he saw Junwoo.

Mansik sighed deeply, resigning himself to the situation.

I should have said something first if I knew it would be like this.

He wondered if Junwoo would be convinced if he just asked plainly.

“So, we’re going to Seoul tomorrow?”

“What?”

Mansik had expected him to refuse. As such, he was puzzled by Junwoo’s easy agreement. The kid never did something he didn’t like. Listening like this was highly unusual behavior for him.

“Y-You really want to go?”

“Do I not seem like it?”

“Is there anywhere you want to visit?”

“No, not really.”

“Then why do you want to go?”

The boy didn’t look like he had an ulterior motive. It seemed like he genuinely wanted this.

Thinking back to Junwoo saying that he felt “sad,” worry tugged at Mansik’s heart. What if he had hurt the kid’s feelings? Mansik didn’t want him to think this was all because he needed professional training.

Quite the contrary. Junwoo was already well-rounded; there was no need for improvement in his directing or acting.

“It’s not because I think you need to improve.”

“I know.”

“It’s because of the company in that building. It’s bigger than anything you can imagine. Think carefully. I don’t know about your situation, but if anyone can help you later, it’s them.”

Junwoo didn’t reply.

“You need to meet people at your level,” Mansik continued. “And you won’t find them here. So what if you’re a good actor? You’re surrounded by rookies. It’s pure luck that you don’t mess up on stage. And what would you have to learn from them?”

Mansik felt a twinge of guilt at his condescending remarks toward his other actors. But he wasn’t wrong; the countryside theater was no place for this kid.

“So where is it?”

“Would you even know? The company’s called NK Entertainment. If you go there, I’m sure they’ll be someone who sees your value.”

Junwoo nodded.

“So… you really do want to go?” Mansik asked once more, unable to shake off his doubts.

His questions showed his needless indecision, like he was stuck building and then rebuilding a set.

***

NK Entertainment.

Junwoo scanned the interior, tugging at his hat.

Well, it’s certainly nice.

Even considering it was twenty years ago, the place was filled with state-of-the-art facilities on every floor, as befitting a top entertainment company in South Korea.

Mansik was more excited than ever, even though he had been the one to offer to show the boy around. His excitement had been through the roof since they had stepped into the lobby.

“Oh, look over there, that’s the production studio. I’ve seen it on TV. And that…!”

“Why are you so excited? You’re not some country bumpkin, sir.”

They were then ushered to the conference room. By the time they stood in front of the doors, Mansik was more nervous than Junwoo.

“Do we go in here?” Junwoo asked.

“Yeah, this must be it. Let’s go.”

Mansik took a deep breath and shook his hands as if he were doing warm-up exercises.

The employee who had guided them to the conference room looked puzzled. He had been told that the audition was for a teenager, but now he wondered if he had misunderstood.

Surprised by Mansik’s attempt to go in with him, Junwoo paused and blinked at Mansik. “Are we going in together?”

Oh. Mansik had been so distracted by nerves that he had almost strode in with the kid. Feeling awkward, Mansik stepped back and opened the door for him.

Junwoo entered the conference room alone.

On the other side of a long table, Jaemin Choi and another person sat side by side. Even though Junwoo knew of the NK director, he was slightly surprised when he saw the person sitting beside him.

It was Junho Gil, NK Entertainment’s top acting talent. Well, he wasn’t a top actor yet, but he was well-known to anyone who loved movies. He looked younger than Junwoo remembered.

He brought him here on purpose.

Junwoo knew Jaemin Choi hadn’t brought Junho Gil to this meeting by chance. He could tell by the way the executive was smiling; he was clearly aware of the actor’s presence and was trying to make a good impression.

But seeing him like this is still amazing.

Junho Gil was the king of supporting roles, stealing the spotlight even from the main characters. This was the time when he was at the height of his fame.

“I’ve been looking forward to meeting you. Please, have a seat.” Jaemin gestured to the seat across from him. His face was full of interest as he studied Junwoo. “What’s your name?”

“I don’t have one. But I’m thinking of making one soon.”

No name? Was the kid already thinking about his stage name? Jaemin thought back to the countless aspiring actors who had stood before him, all trying their best to make their names stick.

He’s not even nervous.

Jaemin supposed that could be possible after living so long in such an isolated palace. He continued speaking nonchalantly.

“Okay. We can get to that later. I really enjoyed your performance. Quite spectacular, really. When did you start doing theater?”

“The play was two weeks ago, so it’s been about two weeks.”

“Oh,” Jaemin said with a chuckle. “Yes, I saw that play, too. I mean, when did you first start your journey in theater?”

“That was my first performance.”

Only two weeks? What was this? It didn’t seem like he was lying, but he wasn’t really trying to sell himself, either. Jaemin cleared his throat at the unexpected answer, trying to hide his surprise.

“Our agency is producing a movie right now.”

Jaemin slid a script across the table.

Miracle Switch.

It was a movie Junwoo knew. He remembered watching it alone at the movie theater in his past life. It was about a middle school student and a 40-year-old teacher whose souls switched places.

Jaemin was relieved to see Junwoo staring intently at the script. The kid was clearly interested.

“I’d like to see you act before we discuss the story in detail. Even just a few lines.”

“Here?”

Junwoo turned around with a curious expression on his face. Outside the meeting room, he could just make out the silhouette of Mansik, clinging to the door like a cicada, desperately trying to eavesdrop.

Jaemin was full of anticipation at the thought of seeing the same performance he had seen that day right here in this room.

Junho Gil, who was sitting next to him, was the same. He was an actor from a rural town who had come up from the bottom despite his difficult family circumstances. At first, no one wanted to use him. After several years of struggle, he began to gain attention after being cast in a supporting role in a drama. He now held the title of “The King of Supporting Roles.”

He had been treated well in the industry and had come across all sorts of people and aspiring actors. In recent years, most clung to him, saying they respected him and wanted to see his acting just once. But the guy before him didn’t look the least bit desperate.

It was a mystery. The Jaemin Choi he knew would have kicked this kid out of the building and prevented him from ever setting foot in the industry again. He was surprised at how forgiving Jaemin was of the kid’s nonchalance.

Just how good is this kid?

Junwoo casually flipped open the pages that Jaemin directed him to.

Page 34

Scene 14: School Hallway

The hallway is bustling with students laughing and talking. Students are skateboarding, reading books, and more. Taekyung, standing in the hallway, is looking around, trying to figure out what is happening. The camera slowly follows Taekyung (with Youngsik’s soul inside) and captures his expression. Taekyung is very confused and flustered.

Taekyung: Why am I here… Oh, what’s wrong with my voice?

The dialogue continued. Jaemin clasped his hands together.

“Not too difficult, right? Can you give it a go?” Jaemin Choi asked.

Junwoo glanced around the meeting room briefly, his head tilted in concentration. “I can’t do these lines here.”

“Why? Is there a problem?”

“I can’t fill the lines.”

“What?”

“The ambient noises mixed with the lines. There’s none of that here.”

Jaemin narrowed his eyes. What is he talking about? Is he making excuses because he’s not confident?

“Hmm. Are you saying you can’t because of our location? That’s just a matter of focus. Everyone auditions in quiet places like this.”

Junwoo hesitated for a moment, wondering where to start. Explaining what he instinctively felt in words was more difficult than he thought.

“It’s not about focus. It’s about the dialogue. The dialogue here should stand out against the background noise of skateboards, laughter, teasing, whispering, footsteps, the sound of a ball bouncing in through the window, that kind of stuff. If it doesn’t, it’ll be meaningless. It will be a completely different scene.”

Noise in the dialogue? Jaemin had never heard of such a thing. What difference could it make?

“I’m having a hard time understanding what you’re saying. Why is that important?”

Jaemin was turning over the kid’s words in his mind when Junho, who had been quietly listening, tilted his head. He looked troubled.

Then, as if he had to check something right away, he took the script in front of Junwoo and started flipping through it.

Surprised by his sudden change in attitude, Jaemin whispered, “What are you doing?”

Junho was too distracted to respond. After looking through the script several times and pondering it over, the actor made a surprised face as if he had realized something.

It was the first time Jaemin had seen Junho like this. He suddenly remembered the theater owner and his excessive confidence about this boy.

He wasn’t bluffing, was he? He must be something special.

Jaemin became even more eager to see for himself. He was determined to see this kid’s acting today, no matter what.

“I don’t really know what the problem is, but… even if the environment’s not ideal, could you try it out? Just think of it as a simple audition or table read.”

Audition. So that’s what it was.

Junwoo finally realized why he was sitting there. He’d actually never been that interested, so he hadn’t given it much thought. He had just agreed because Mansik looked so happy.

And I thought this guy was asking me to act.

Junwoo grabbed the script again. “Oh, I didn’t know. Can I just do it sitting?”

It was a scene that required a partner. In front of him was Junho Gil. Memories flashed through Junwoo’s mind: watching the man in movies, receiving awards on TV, and other moments in his future. Junwoo had never thought he’d be in this position.

This might be interesting.

Having come without much thought and unexpectedly encountering a famous face, Junwoo began to feel intrigued.

“It would be better to have a scene partner. Do you have another script, by any chance?”

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