Jessika Van Interview on ‘Seoul Searching’ and ‘The Messengers’

Jessika Van Interview on Seoul Searching and The Messengers
The cast of ‘Seoul Searching’

One of the last movies I saw at Sundance became my favorite, the ‘80s John Hughes inspired Seoul Searching. Starring an all Korean cast, the film is based on a real camp that existed in the ‘80s where the children of Korean emigrates were sent to get back in touch with their roots. With all those teenagers away from home, you can imagine the crazy hijinks that ensued, as well as some genuine coming of age.

Now that I’m back from Sundance I got to interview some of the Seoul Searching cast by phone. Jessika Van plays Grace Park, a preacher’s daughter who dresses in all black and loves Madonna. Van will also be seen this spring on The CW’s new show The Messengers. Keep a lookout for Seoul Searching. We’re hoping it gets picked up so you can see it in theaters everywhere.

Many of the cast were new actors, but this was not your first movie. How did writer/director Benson Lee find you?

Jessika Van: “He actually found me through Albert [Kong]. What happened was I actually had heard about this for a while because I had had a lot of friends participate in the open call on Facebook, but because my reps at the time were already keeping me very busy with television stuff, I didn’t jump into that. It kind of just went past, and quite a bit of time later, like months later, I had met Albert once because a film of mine had been one of the three films nominated for USC’s First Look short film award. So he had had a film playing with one of mine and I’d gone up to him because I thought he was a great actor and complimented him. We’d become Facebook friends and that was it, didn’t talk to him after that. And I got a Facebook message from him one day that said, ‘Hey, you know, I think there’s a part. Let me know, maybe I could give the director your info.’ I’m like, ‘Sure.’ So Benson got in contact with me and just sent me three pages. It ended up being that project. At that point they I think had cast pretty much everyone else. Benson was in a huge rush at the time. He was like, ‘I’ve really got to cast you right now. You’ve got to come in in the next couple days.’ So I rushed in and read with Albert, had a great time talking with Benson, loved the character. Then he ended up having to push the film another six months. It ended up taking him a lot longer to actually go to Korea.”

I’m glad you stuck with it.

Jessika Van: “Oh yeah, I was excited. I wanted to do it from the start. I was thinking, ‘Really? This is great. I’ve never been to Korea. When can I get on the plane and how do I make this happen?'”

Benson was very clear that he was inspired by the John Hughes films. Did you start out with a type like “the jock,” “the slut,” “the bitch” like the Hughes movies, that of course became deeper as the movie went on?

Jessika Van: “For me, it’s actually funny. I kind of went at it through more of a dramatic, deeper right first, archetype-wise. When he first told me about the character, I hadn’t read the script. So all he told me was these three pages and it’s a pastor’s daughter. I had played this really heavy, heavy, heavy short film that had won a couple awards. That one was a pastor’s daughter, but think the opposite of Seoul Searching. She’s got some really dark family secrets. She’s on the brink of maybe suicide attempts. It was the opposite end of that. So I started from there, having him tell me that that was the character and that she loved Madonna. Then I went to find the lighter, younger teenage side of it from that.”

How did you like those fabulous Madonna outfits?

Jessika Van: “I love Madonna anyway and I started geeking out as soon as he told me that the character loved Madonna. I was looking at all her old pictures. I was watching all her old music videos and she just made such amazing, stylish choices. They’re so outside the box and I love lace and everything. It was really fun, but toward the end, I have to say, I wore that one outfit in the black with plastic bangles that go all the way up my arm. Those are pretty tight because I have small wrists, but a hand that has to get through those bangles before you can get to my wrist and arm. They were like, ‘Do you want to keep these bangles?’ I’m like, ‘No.’ It was so painful to get them on for every day for so long, that I was over it by the end for sure.”

Did they ruin the sound because they’d clank around?

Jessika Van: “No, they were plastic which was genius because they wouldn’t clank. So those wouldn’t clank but my necklaces, I have a barrage of necklaces on. Those actually cut me more than once. The craziest was this one late night when Justin and I were filming the scene when he comes to pick me up and take me into the room with the girls. One of the necklaces is a cross and it’s metal. Somehow I think when he picked me up or was pushing around, it must’ve gotten pushed into my shoulder. So we looked at my shoulder after and there’s a cross, not burned in, but basically imprinted into my shoulder. We were all like, ‘Uh, okay.’ Pretty creepy.”

When you shot the scene where you all arrive at the airport, did everyone get a different setup like it is in the movie?

Jessika Van: “I think he did have the music play while we were doing that. Benson was really great about having a lot of the music involved early on so we could feel the feeling that he wanted to give.”

Of course we’re hoping for big things for Seoul Searching, but what is next for you?

Jessika Van: “There’s actually quite a few things. I really hope we get to release on the big screen because I think it’s a film that needs the energy of a theater. But I just feel so blessed. There’s a lot of things cooking right now so I don’t really know what to say, but I know that I have a TV show that I filmed. I went straight from Asia right after Korea. I didn’t get a chance to go back to the U.S. I was rushing to film this TV show called The Messengers, and then I spent three months in Albuquerque. So my skin kind of had a heart attack but that show will premiere on April 10 on The CW. At the moment I’m working on another indie film and I’ve got another couple indies lined up that I really hope great things for because one of the films, the script was on the Black List and was a Nicholl Fellowship semi-finalist. So fingers crossed.”

Which was the film on the Black List?

Jessika Van: “It hasn’t begun production yet but it’s called currently April Flowers. They’re trying to round up their financing. I think they’ve gotten about half, but it’s tough with indie films. I’m sure you’re well aware.”

So you’ll be a regular on The Messengers?

Jessika Van: “Yes, they filmed the pilot before I got involved but once I join in, I’m around for good. I can’t say too much about the character other than she’s a grifter who shows up to join the rest of them because her money’s been stolen. She’s from Hong Kong. She’s a poker playing con artist. She’s a con artist. She gets around by trying to figure out how to get what she wants and she’s made some money at it, but then she kind of has a choice to see what she believes in, whether she’s going to continue on her path or change it completely.”

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