Idols in Dramas: Why D.O of EXO?

So what prompted my interest in this whole topic of “idol actors in dramas” was the news that D.O (real name Do Kyung Soo) of idol boyband EXO has been offered a role in upcoming SBS drama It’s Okay, That’s Love, and while talking to Hanjae we started discussing why he was chosen out of the group’s 12 members. Fellow EXO member Chanyeol, for example, has shown promise in the realm of acting with multiple music video appearances as well as his solo appearance in SBS reality/documentary show Laws of the Jungle, while snippets of D.O’s script readings on various radio shows seem to suggest that he may have more room for improvement. That begs the questions: Why D.O? How is one idol member chosen over his fellows?

Lynny: I’m thinking specifically of a Sukira (Super Junior Kiss the Radio) radio broadcast where D.O, Chanyeol and Sehun were asked to act out a drama script. Out of the three, D.O seemed to inject the least emotion into his lines; the delivery was fine, but I definitely felt more for Chanyeol and Sehun than I did for D.O in that scene. It makes me wonder who chooses which member gets to act in a drama, particularly when they may not be the most obvious choice as an acting representative. Is it their management? Or is it the writer/PD who makes the pitch for that one member?

Hanjae: I think these types of decisions are made almost entirely at the discretion of the management. Of course, it would make sense that productions may seek a specific member at some stage – it’s natural that a more popular member would receive a higher number of “love calls,” so to speak.

Lynny: I think the “love calls” would only actually start to happen once some of the members have actually acted in something. In the case of EXO, I think we only had Suho making a cameo on The President and I? At this point in time, I think the “love calls” are mainly for endorsements.

Hanjae: Yeah, exactly. Regarding this example of D.O, I’m uncertain whether production crews would try to cast a specific member out of a total of 12 when they’ve only just begun to explore solo pursuits, unless it’s a member with outstanding renown. I get the sense that EXO is still far better known as a group than for its individual parts, though. They would at least have to take part in certain activities (e.g. variety appearances) and see their popularity skyrocketing before SM Entertainment would sit up and take notice – “Hey, we’re getting drama casting calls for this member, let’s go with it.”

Lynny: So what do you think? Scripts are sent to the various management companies – or in the current case, SM – and they choose one of their current idols?

Hanjae: Only a very privileged group of actors/actresses/artistes can actually expect to be sent scripts, from what I gather. Jeon Ji Hyun or Kim Soo Hyun, for example, are probably flooded with so many scripts that they can’t handle the flow. Most would actually have to audition.

Lynny: That would depend on current popularity, right? The success of their latest drama or film, in particular.

Hanjae: Yep, and in this case you would imagine that EXO is big enough that drama productions would be interested in the involvement of one of their members, since it almost guarantees increased investments and higher chances of overseas export. You can practically see the dollar signs already. But still, it’s hard to say whether productions are sending in scripts with memos saying, “Any EXO member would do!” or “I’d like to cast so-and-so!” Either way, we can be sure that SM is working its connections to source suitable roles.

Lynny: Okay, but why D.O? Does he fit the character description the best? Like how Big Bang’s T.O.P fits the role of Vick for IRIS? Or ZE:A’s Park Hyung Shik and CNBLUE’s Kang Min Hyuk fitting their roles as Myung Soo and Chan Young for The Heirs? Because with some idols-turned-actors, their looks and persona seem to fit the character they’re chosen to play.

Hanjae: Call me a cynic, but I think it’s more likely that SM had decided that this is the area they want to promote D.O in. They will have to sort through the available roles and choose one that suits their idol candidate, of course, but I wonder whether that comes as a later step in the process. Basically, the company decides that Member A should have the opportunity to do a solo activity and it’ll be ACTING. They start shopping for scripts, and for a company with the clout of SM and EXO’s current popularity on top of that, it’s not hard. A lot of other factors presumably have to fall into place – what role in what script? Does it suit their idol? Who will they be acting with?

Lynny: So it’s basically based on what their company wants to promote them in? Acting talent and passion completely disregarded?

Hanjae: I wouldn’t say completely disregarded – there are plenty of cases where idols make their interest in acting known to their company and logic suggests that it’d be foolish not to consider (even briefly) whether an idol would be able to carry off the role without embarrassing themselves completely. How heavily these aspects weigh on the final result is another matter, but regardless… at the end of the day, the company has to pick a role that would have the best chance of promoting their idol and the boy/girl group as a whole. Whether the idols themselves are interested in acting or actually possess any talent would be secondary, I’d imagine. Marketability first and foremost.

 Even taking marketability into account, it seems like SM can easily go for Kai instead, for example – he’s considered one of the visuals of the group. The fact they didn’t makes me think that there must be something else to their decision to choose D.O. I don’t know whether D.O can act the part of his character, but he sure as heck is the best fit for his character’s description in It’s Okay, That’s Love.

 So you think D.O was picked to suit the script that SM received?


Hanjae: Do you want to expand on that for me?

Lynny: Hahaha ok ok. I’d say that the company plans to promote their idols in order to increase their popularity as a whole, rather than targeting a specific member to promote. If you look at it, fellow EXO members Suho and Baekhyun scored a hosting gig as Inkigayo MCs and D.O scores this acting gig. Two different areas of TV, but twice the promotion for EXO.

 Ah, so you think SM approaches the process with the idea of finding good scripts and then picking which member suits what script they settle on?

 Yeah, I think they approach the process with the intent of finding a script that will suit one of their members.

 So… “equal opportunities for all,” then? Whoever suits the script gets it first?

 Maybe not all. I get the feeling that SM doesn’t want their Chinese members in Korean dramas at the moment, if only because they’re not yet fluent in Korean. Otherwise, equal opportunities for all, as you said. I’m only talking in terms of dramas though – for variety shows and particularly MCing, I think they would choose more outspoken members for the job. And that why SM is grabbing all these opportunities: D.O in a drama (and the movie The Cart, which premieres in July), Suho and Baekhyun MCing, Chen in S.M. THE BALLAD.

 Well, as I said previously (and not particularly coherently, damn sleep deprivation), I’m pretty cynical about how big companies like SM work, so I’d be more inclined to think that the process is reversed – SM decides on the member(s) suitable for acting and take it from there. No one can deny that EXO has been everywhere over the last half year – doing group promotions, subunit promotions, starring in their own reality TV show, having special MC appearances on weekly music shows and even special DJ gigs.

Lynny: In fact, we forgot to mention that D.O also has a starring role in a movie with Yeom Jung Ah – titled The Cart – which comes out in cinemas in July. So that’s two acting roles for him. Clearly, there must be a reason why SM picked D.O over some of the other members.

Hanjae: Like you said, perhaps they’d take who has acting potential into account as well (in which case we’d have to wait and see), but there’re also a number of other issues that we have to consider. Does the member have the image for acting? Would they be better in another type of solo activity, such as MCing, variety show appearances and the like? SM is of course interested in promoting EXO as much as they can to maximize profit – the more members can succeed in each entertainment sector, the better. More than equal opportunity though, I believe that the considerable exposure over the last half year wasn’t just good promo. It was a chance for SM to assess which members are likely to excel in which area – which ones are setting themselves apart and would be worth the investment of solo promotions in that category. They would have a pretty good idea by this point which members would be more suitable for acting, MCing and so on. Then you’d factor in all the other aspects, particularly image – I’ve noticed that it’s often the quiet members with either “pure and innocent” or clean-cut images that go into acting.

Lynny: That’s not always the case, of course.

 Yes, definitely not always – look at all the CNBLUE boys in their respective dramas, and “pure and innocent” are not the first words that jump to mind when I think about Big Bang. Each company works differently and there are any number of different roles that suit other images. But at least with D.O, it’s not hard to see why SM would pick him as one (I’m sure at least a few of the other members would soon follow) of the acting candidates. Even with image aside, I can’t see him doing any hosting or variety show appearances at all.

 Nope, he sure doesn’t fit that bill. Suho even said that D.O is bad at doing adlibs and that he always follows the script, leaving Suho hanging with his adlibs and making it more awkward. And we know that adlibs are a must if you want to be successful in hosting or variety show appearances.

 Yep, which leads me to think that SM hones in on their idols’ characteristics and decides which areas they’re most likely to succeed in – categorizing them as “likely actors,” “talented singers” and “good for variety shows,” for example – and focusing their promotions in those directions. D.O, while one of the group’s main vocals, is probably not yet ready for a solo venture on Immortal Song 2 and SM isn’t fond of the idea of letting members of a group promote with solo albums or singles, so acting is his most likely path for the immediate future. So… cast the net for suitable scripts, and off they go.

 Okay, your theory does make sense, but I’m sticking to mine, hahaha.

Fair enough, haha. I suspect other companies work in similar ways to determine what solo activities their idols can explore. Whether they ultimately succeed is another question, of course – does this formula always work? We’ll talk about that next time.


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