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A Thousand Faces

17

Chapter 17

7

“So, what do I need to do?”

Get to the point, he was saying.

There was no helpful “What do you need me to do?” or “How can I help?” Instead, the kid leaned back in the chair, his face a mixture of boredom and frustration.

Suddenly, everyone in the room sat straighter, their bodies tense with surprise and nervousness. Despite the boy’s age, they all felt like they were the ones being interviewed.

This was not going as expected.

Jungil felt bewildered. This scene was heading in a very different direction from what he had envisioned. He could almost feel himself getting caught in the boy’s tide, should things keep moving in this direction.

Had I known he’d be like this, I should’ve set the tone and dampened his spirit right from the start.

But the boy was just that—a boy, inexperienced and unskilled. Jungil had dealt with many overconfident newcomers over the years, those who dived into this world without a clue. It was time to cut through the act.

Breaking a kid’s pride shouldn’t be difficult. All I have to do is apply just the right amount of pressure…

Jungil cleared his throat and straightened up. The kid stared at him, waiting for an answer.

“You know, usually, having less experience makes it easier to approach something. That’s the general rule, anyway. I have to admit, I’m somewhat impressed by your lack of nerves.” Jungil paused to give a deliberate smirk as if to say, How dare someone like you stand before us like this.

“Glad to hear that,” came the flat, unbothered reply. The kid had no change of expression.

Jungil was taken aback. He wondered if he’d been too indirect and the point had gone over his head.

Trying a different approach, he said, “By the way, do you know how much it costs to produce this program? It’s more than 200 billion won. We’re talking unprecedented scale here. Everyone’s looking to make a name for themselves. You’re familiar with the idol group UNIQ, aren’t you? And there’s the investors. We had our doubts about whether you’d be up for this challenge.”

“Right.”

At this point, there should have been a flood of questions. Or maybe the kid was so overwhelmed by the project’s scale that he was stunned into silence. However…

“…Junwoo?”

The kid stifled a yawn. Or rather, he barely made an effort to hide it. Junwoo rubbed his nose, shifted in his seat, and blinked a few times. Was he bored?

“Junwoo. Are you listening to me?”

“Of course.”

It felt like talking to a wall. Junwoo’s expression wasn’t one of defeat or confusion but of sheer boredom, as if he were questioning the point of it all. It was the kind of boredom that suggested he found the conversation overly dressed up, and he was just waiting for Jungil to cut to the chase.

Despite recognizing this, Jungil pressed on.

“Look, as long as you follow our lead, there shouldn’t be any issues. While initiative is nice, don’t overthink it.”

“Issues?”

“I mean, if you don’t come across well, it could make the show less engaging. Your scenes might even be heavily edited. Ultimately, that would be a loss for you, more than anyone else.”

“I don’t really care.”

What?

Jungil was left speechless. Junwoo’s indifferent expression indicated that he truly didn’t care about appearing on the show. But why would he have come all this way just for kicks?

With a smooth chuckle, Jungil said, “Do you know how many contestants are vying for screen time right now? This is a golden opportunity. What I’m proposing here is a basic give-and-take. I hope you’re able to understand that.”

Junwoo nodded quietly, his gaze indicating that he had decided to detach his interest from this conversation and was now completely focused elsewhere.

Then, the faint sound of lively voices seeped in from the studio next door.

“Can I take a look?” Junwoo said, pointing to where the other contestants were held. It was the first time he showed genuine interest.

Jungil’s face gradually reddened. He couldn’t believe his ears. Never had he been so disrespected, especially in front of his team. Struggling to keep his composure, he reminded Junwoo, “We’re in the middle of an important discussion.”

“Oh, really?”

“What?”

“I mean, you’ve got the contestants seated there, but you’re in here talking about something way off-topic.”

Once again, Jungil was momentarily speechless. Off-topic? Is that what he’d been doing all this time?

Well, then. Since it seemed like he wasn’t getting through, Jungil decided to cut the preamble and get straight to the point. With another fake cough, he straightened up and crossed his legs. He launched into an explanation of the pre-interview that would take place before the official evaluation.

“Here’s the lowdown on your image for the show so you don’t go off-track: You’re driven by a passion for acting, someone who used to visit his local theater daily. Despite the theater owner constantly chasing you out, you persisted. After immense effort, you were finally allowed entry into the theater, where the owner, leveraging your youthful charm and unexpected talent, somehow rescued his struggling establishment…”

Junwoo’s brow furrowed. “And why should I go with that?”

“As I understand it, you’re new to this sort of thing. Sharing your real experiences will show how much effort you’ve put into being here.”

“I’ve never been chased out.”

“Well, the thing with these stories is… they don’t necessarily have to be a hundred percent true. Hah, it’s a delicate matter, really, but quite crucial.”

“Why is that crucial? Isn’t this an acting audition program?”

“Of course. But, Junwoo, people don’t just want to see acting.”

“I came here because I wanted to act.”

Up until a moment ago, Junwoo had come in with the simple desire to showcase his acting to even a few more people. His gaze swept across the room, meeting the eyes of everyone present with a look that bordered on disdain.

“So, you’re telling me to scam people instead of act.”

Jungil was caught off guard by Junwoo’s unexpected reaction, leaving him at a loss for words.

The production team was perplexed; they had clearly expected Junwoo to appreciate their crafted narrative that was bound to hook an audience. Even the usually talkative Sangjun could only glance at Jungil, silently urging him to say something.

This kid isn’t easy. But what do we do now that we’ve come this far? We can’t overturn all the plans.

Despite the unexpected pushback, Jungil found himself increasingly drawn to Junwoo’s demeanor—a refreshing authenticity and confidence he hadn’t seen before, especially in someone of his age facing a room full of adults.

But he still posed a problem. Jungil opted to leave it to the editing team. Although their initial plan was the country boy’s sob story, that now had to be scrapped. However, with creative editing and strategic subtitles, they could still weave a narrative they wanted.

We should move on before this escalates any further.

“I understand,” Jungil said. “It’s perfectly normal not to catch on to everything right away. I apologize if it seemed like we were pressuring you. So, you said you wanted to act, correct? The preliminaries are on today.”

“Yes,” Junwoo responded simply.

“Since you’re here for the pre-screening, I want you to feel free to showcase whatever aspect of your acting you’re most comfortable with. Does that sound good to you? What role are you most confident in?”

Junwoo blinked. The role he was most confident in? Was there such a thing?

As the kid looked bewildered for a moment, Jungil finally noticed something. He glanced down at Junwoo’s empty hands. The truth was, until that moment, Jungil hadn’t paid much attention to nor particularly cared about his acting.

“Well, well, it looks like sharing the stage with Junho Gil wasn’t just for appearance’s sake. Did you memorize everything already? You don’t need to review anything?”

“Memorize?”

“The performances you prepared. Usually, people who come to these things bring a few scripts with them, but those who are serious about it have everything memorized.”

“They said it was improv, so I didn’t bring anything.”

“Not a single script, huh?”

“Yes.”

Jungil was perplexed. Even for improvisation, it was normal to come prepared with a few scenes. Perhaps the kid’s lack of earnestness was the reason for his laid-back attitude. Jungil frowned, slightly disappointed.

“Are you saying you didn’t prepare anything because you didn’t know what would come up?”

“Yes. Is that a problem?”

“Either you’re not fully committed, or you’re ignorant due to lack of experience,” Jungil muttered just loud enough for him to hear. He continued, louder this time, “Listen. In my experience with acting programs, I can tell you that human emotions are limited. The roles are the same. Usually, when you’re given a similar situation, the appropriate lines that fit right in should come to you with preparation.”

Confused, Junwoo tilted his head. Spontaneously generating appropriate lines with a scene was the skill in improv.

With a hint of satisfaction, Jungil looked at Junwoo, hoping his point was starting to resonate. “Do you understand a bit better now?”

“Is it hard or something?”

Junwoo’s face clearly said he wasn’t quite getting it. Or rather, it seemed like he was evaluating whether this was something he needed to grasp at all.

The idea of fitting pre-memorized responses into scenarios like plugging in variables into a formula seemed counterintuitive to him. If that was the case, why act at all?

“Is there anything else?” Junwoo continued. “Apart from emotions, roles, and scenarios, does this program also have a set range?”

“A range?”

“Yes. It would be helpful to know if there’s something like that.”

Not totally understanding, Jungil blinked. Then, as if realizing something: “Ahh, that’s my mistake. I forget how inexperienced you are. These are all things you’ll learn as you go, so just do your best for now.”

Jungil’s tone was completely dismissive.

For a moment, it looked like Junwoo was about to say something before he paused, resigning himself to silence. His expression seemed to say it was too exhausting to pursue further explanation, a look of someone who’s concluded that speaking more would only be a waste of effort.

Jungil, however, misread this silence completely.

Maybe he’s talentless after all.

Junho Gil had gotten lucky with that article, then. Jungil wondered what had made that great actor share the stage with this kid. Considering Junwoo’s uncommon looks and vibe, it was probably that, rather than talent.

Oh well. It doesn’t really matter if he’s good. He just needs to be good enough.

Jungil began to ponder the situation. If, by some chance, this kid’s acting couldn’t even capture viewers’ attention, they might have to overhaul the concept to something more emotional.

He’s passionate, that’s for sure, but he lacks any formal training. Hmm. If I play my cards right, I might be able to make a deal with NK by highlighting the heartwarming story of Junho Gil taking a kid like this under his wing.

***

Only two people remained in the conference room after Junwoo left.

Jungil was visibly frustrated, his vision for the meeting not having materialized as he’d hoped. He clenched his fist and pressed his lips together tightly.

Across from him sat a figure who had silently watched the entire exchange with keen interest. The man now spoke for the first time.

“He’s an interesting kid for someone from the countryside.”

With a quick motion, he adjusted his glasses.

This was Jaewon Lee, the CEO of ‘KOS,’ one of the top idol management agencies in South Korea, responsible for sponsoring Actor Kingdom. His involvement extended beyond financial support; he ensured quality.

Without him, it would have been difficult to gather art directors, producers, and other top-tier talents in the field. This meant that Jungil and his team had to tread carefully.

Jaewon’s goal was to find talented trainees from the melting pot of ambition that Actor Kingdom attracted. His aim: to form a debut group.

He hadn’t known what to expect from today, so he had sat down with no expectations, simply curious as to how the introduction would go. But it had led to an unexpected gain.

Junwoo had caught his eye from the moment he appeared, drawing him in further as the meeting progressed. Jaewon kept licking his lips in anticipation.

“This is a surprise. He’s just what I’ve been looking for.”

“That kid, sir?”

“Yes. Be honest, Park. You saw it too, didn’t you? It feels wasteful to use him like this. Both that face and attitude.”

“I-Indeed… he didn’t seem like your typical teenager.”

“There’s something compelling about guiding such unique talents. Hmm. I like the narrative, too. I know it’s supposed to be an unfavorable one, but make sure we don’t tear down his image too much,” Jaewon advised, lowering his voice as if sharing a confidential strategy.

Jungil gave a nervous laugh and lightly nudged Jaewon with his elbow. “Sir, you’re talking as if we’ve already hatched our eggs. Your enthusiasm is a bit overwhelming.”

Jaewon, although smiling, said firmly, “I’m not joking. You know I don’t fluff about.”

Taken aback by the sudden shift in tone, Jungil glanced around. He’s not one to say such things lightly.

Feeling like he was suddenly in possession of a coveted secret that Jaewon Lee desired, Jungil couldn’t help but smile. “Whether he’s got it or not, who knows? But I don’t know whether he’d be interested in becoming an idol.”

Jaewon chuckled as if to say that didn’t matter in the slightest. “Didn’t you know? Most of our talents didn’t start out with dreams of singing. Whether they’re models, unknown actors, or regular folks, if they catch my eye, there’s endless possibilities.”

“Ah, if we’re talking about KOS, I’d imagine the signing bonus alone is quite tempting.”

“Well, I’m not sure if that’ll entice our boy there…”

“Really?”

“It’s obvious what he wants. It’s usually simpler with individuals like him. Generally, those who the public takes a liking to end up receiving offers, whether it be roles or something else, over unknown talents, however skilled they might be.”

Jaewon’s mind was already racing ahead, envisioning Junwoo’s potential position in the debut group. His eyes sparkled with confidence. He knew there was no reason for Junwoo to refuse his offer.

Jungil caught onto his intention. This wasn’t just any ordinary gamble on talent. Recognizing the implications, he decided to play along.

“I’ll ensure everything is handled smoothly and passed along. Don’t worry too much. In exchange, regarding what we discussed last time…”

“Oh, that,” Jaewon acknowledged with a nod.

He appeared deep in thought for a while. However, since the kid was the priority for now, he held back.

“Yes, let’s proceed with that.”

They both gave satisfied smiles.

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