Exclusive Interview with StartUp’s Aaron Yoo
TalkNerdyWithUs had the pleasure of speaking with Aaron Yoo, whose filmography includes the movies 21 and Money Monster, and the TV show The Tomorrow People. Aaron will next be seen in Crackle’s newest show, StartUp– a drama following three unlikely allies as they attempt to create a new and improved digital currency, funded by drug money, all while being investigated by a ruthless FBI agent.
In the first couple of minutes, I spoke to Aaron, it immediately became apparent that he is an extremely committed actor with a brilliant mind. He talked about various subjects from the Happiness Project to our current idea of the American Dream. When I asked him about the show’s perspective on BitCoin and the ongoing debate over the digital currency, he gave an extremely in-depth answer detailing exactly how BitCoin works and the current problems with it. He also says that he still sends StartUp writer/director Ben Ketai and producer Shannon Gaulding articles on the subject, though he’s pretty sure they don’t read them.
However, Aaron wanted to make it clear that the show itself doesn’t bury you in the “minutia of technical shit” that goes on with digital currencies. Rather it uses the idea of a new and improved digital currency startup to bring together three very different people- a financier named Nick Talman (Adam Brody), a hacker named Izzy Morales (Otmara Marrero), and a gang member named Ronald Dacey (Edi Gathegi). “The three of them are kind of stuck together… they all, for their own different reasons, need it to succeed.” Aaron says that this show is a commentary on “the new idea of the American Dream.”
It’s a story about, well what if you got what you wished for…You know that whole thing where people who win the lottery are miserable? A lot of the times wild success brings more problems with it.
Aaron’s character, Alex, “comes in about half way through the season when a lot of things have gone wrong.” Alex is a “billionaire venture capitalist… much like Elon Musk.” Aaron says Alex presents the StartUp trio with “the devil’s bargain” and that it sort of reminded him of The Great Gatsby. “That’s what made me start thinking of this as the American tale… What if a benefactor came in and said, ‘You’re in a lot of trouble. I’m going to make all of your dreams come true.’ Even in the story, let alone reality, none of that comes without strings… [Alex] is the genie in the lamp and all the problems that come with it.”
However, Alex’s motivation is unclear. Aaron says it is absolutely not about making money, but he remains tight-lipped about what actually motivates the character. All of the characters are equally as complex. “[StartUp] tries to be as real of a story about human character and motivation as one can be in a world that gets sucked into the Miami underworld of crime. All of the stuff about startups and venture capitalism is really an avenue… for Ben [Ketai] to write a story about humans trying to better the lives they’ve been given.”
That even goes for Alex. “All of these characters come into this story as a thing that they are. Adam Brody’s character is a banker and he has a perfect girlfriend… Izzy Morales is a girl who has a lot of talent… who has been told no all her life, but believes she is destined to produce something great. Part of the story is them wanting to change the perspective of themselves, but doing so is one of those be careful what you wish for. My character has everything you could possibly want. He’s literally a billionaire…but even he wants something to be different.”
Ben Ketai writes these characters that move…It’s exciting to watch a character change and grow and want to move to a different place, and every character in this show does that. There are times when it’s a kettle about to boil, and there are times when you read the script and your jaw is on the floor.
Aaron says reading the script, at one point, he even yelled “No fucking way!” And woke his wife up who was sleeping in the bed next to him. “It’s not very often that someone sends you a script and says ‘hey we want you to be in this’ and then [the script] is phenomenal.”
While the show is very much a drama, Aaron says the set of StartUp was really fun. “We got to shoot at a house, where we all walked in and we were just like ‘what is happening?’ there were several pools, a zip line. It was insane. It was one of those moments where you pinch yourself and say ‘wow this is what I get to do for a living.’”
Aaron has nothing but praise for the show and his fellow cast mates. “It was one of the best work experiences I’ve ever had.” He went on to say, “I’ve never been so welcomed to a set… When I landed Edi [Gathegi] and Otmara [Marrero] met my wife and I for a quick meal and we were just off and running. We just goofed around on set. Martin Freeman is one of the sweetest people, but he’s got that Brit sarcastic sense of humor, so he keeps that running non-stop. I learned that pretty quickly. So we definitely had some really great times on set.”
However, they did shoot at a really fast pace, so there wasn’t a lot of time for goofing around. “Because of the style and the way it was shot, you didn’t get a lot of downtime.” Aaron says it is one of the most intense sets he’s ever been on. They would generally do 30 to 40 takes and sometimes up to 60. “You can shoot a scene for 4 hours normally and you’re only rolling camera for a handful of minutes. We would shoot a scene for 2 and a half hours and we’d roll camera the entire time”
Aaron’s not complaining, though. Ok, maybe a little bit. “It is an actor’s dream. It’s everything you ever wished for, like oh I’d love to do 60 takes of a scene. That’s super interesting. But at 30 takes you want to kill yourself and then at 40 takes you’re like I just got a new idea. And then at 60 takes you’re like I want to kill myself again… You’re obliterated, but in the best possible way.” For the most part, though, Aaron says it was an amazing experience that allowed him to stretch as an actor, helped by Ben Ketai’s directing style. “You have the freedom to get to do every stupid idea you’ve ever had for a scene… [Ketai’s] not like don’t do that do this, he says I see what you’re doing, why don’t we tweak that and we can make it even better.”
The cast also helped make the experience really worthwhile for Aaron. “In the brief periods of downtime we would either be messing around and cracking jokes or people would be running lines.” And when the cameras were rolling, “Everyone was giving such phenomenal performances. It’s an acting nerds dream… Edi Gathegi’s performance is, in terms of how people may think of him or think they know him, it is a revelation. Otmara Marrero is a bright, bright star. And Adam Brody makes such surprising choices… He would play a minor key, when you would think he would play [a major] key. Adam’ playing jazz and it’s amazing. And Martin Freeman is one of the best living actors… He can do a scene a hundred different ways and he does. He does some of the most incredible performances off camera too… when he doesn’t need to necessarily do anything but be there for you.”
Aaron says he “hasn’t been this excited for something in a while.” From the pilot script, it was apparent that StartUp embodies the “new age of television where it’s really about story and character and really pushing the boundaries of what long-term storytelling can be.”
Well, he’s got me excited for the show. StartUp begins streaming on Crackle on September 6th.