Welcomed to Dongmakgol – An Interview with Steve Taschler

Having recently revisited the now pretty-much-established-as-a-classic Welcome To Dongmakgol (Park Kwang-hyun / 2005) for the second episode in the ‘What’s Korean Cinema?’ podcast series, I was lucky enough to pose a few questions to Dongmakgol’s ‘U.S. Navy Pilot Neil Smith’ himself – a.k.a. actor Steve Taschler…

[Martin Cleary] Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

[Steve Taschler] Well, I am 35 years old and born and raised on Las Vegas, NV.  It sounds crazier than it actually was.  My family was very normal.  We had normal blue collar jobs and kept a good distance from the casino’s and the “Vegas lifestyle.”  I’ve been involved in some sort of artistic expression throughout my life.  Mostly singing and acting. I moved to Los Angeles in 2000.  I love the outdoors.  Hiking, biking, snowboarding.  I spend most of my time now on the beach with my dog.

[MC] Do you speak Korean?

[Steve Taschler] I don’t speak Korean.  Of course the language barrier was difficult, but it’s funny how we’ll find way to communicate in other ways.  We always understood each other. I did my best to learn as much as I could and could get by well on my own.  There were a couple people on set who could speak fluent english and were always willing to interpret.

[MC] So how did you become involved with Welcome To Dongmakgol?

[Steve Taschler] I found an add for the audition on a local casting website. I went to one audition and received a phone call a month later with the news that I needed to get a rushed passport.  It all happened really fast.

[MC] Had you seen the original play before you started work on the film?

[Steve Taschler] I hadn’t seen the play.  I wasn’t able to read it either because there wasn’t a translated copy available.  I did get to meet the cast of the play.  They were awesome.

[MC] What was the experience like working on the film? Was it a long shoot?

[Steve Taschler] The experience, for me, was much like that of my character in the movie. I was constantly learning about a new culture, and often times doing it at the expense of embarrassing myself.  Like when I would ask for chopsticks but accidentally say “f” you. Everyone thought that was hilarious.
I also got to see more of South Korea than, probably, most koreans.  We shot in some towns where the people rarely see white men.  My welcome could never have been more warm.  Korean people were incredibly accommodating and overly protective of my comfort everywhere I went.

Being on set was very different from any set in the US. The crew was the hardest working crew I’ll ever have the pleasure to work with.  They worked day and night.  At times we worked for 30 hours straight.  In freezing weather. Staying warm meant bundling up and hanging out in a tent with a space heater.  Often times crowded around a bonfire, which was always the most fun.
The food took a little getting used to. Eventually, though, i absolutely loved spicy fish soup for breakfast. I still go to Korea Town and eat korean food regularly.

My stay in Korea was six months long. Which was exactly was we projected.  This in itself was a miracle with all the delays we had. If it wasn’t snow falling on the Dongmakgol village when we were supposed to be shooting a summer day in the village, it was hurricane like winds blowing over set pieces and destroying them.  We dealt with a lot of weather delays but always came out on top.How did you feel about the finished film?
I was amazed by the finished film. The first time I saw it was when I went back to Korea for the premier.  We went to a theater and watched it with a full theater.  I couldn’t have been happier.

[MC] Do you have any anecdotes that you can share from during production or after the films release?

[Steve Taschler] I wish could come up with something philosophical, but all I can think of is to just stay open minded. Make the most of everything and don’t be afraid to take risks. So many people told me horror stories of working over seas and in Asia especially.  If I had listened to the handful of people who had paranoid advice for me, I would have missed out on one of the greatest things I’ve ever done.

I would like to thank Steve Taschler for his time.