Bo Chang aka The Troll Farmer
Actor Name: Aaron Yoo
Aaron Yoo Interview
Q: How did you land this gig on The Blacklist?
A: I got a text message from my manager and he was like, 'Hey, would you be interested in being a blacklister?' And I was like, 'Oh, okay. That's a cool show. Send it over, let's look at it.' And so they sent it my way, and I took a look at it, and in general I'm not against playing techno geeks of any kind, or the hacker sort of job description, but I'm also not immediately for all of those things because some of those roles, they can be stereotypical. But when they're well written, there's something very cool about them because they're really of the moment and of the new world in which we live.
A: I read something recently that one out of two Americans has had their information hacked, or taken by hackers in one of the many, many corporate and government hacks that have happened in the last two years. So it's so crazy to me. You now just have to assume that your information isn't safe. So that sort of thing is fascinating to me and it's just really about the character. I took a look at it, and it's interesting in a bunch of different ways. One of which, is exactly what this guy does for his job is whether or not it's true. It probably is a real thing to be honest, but this fictional idea, or this idealized hacker where he works for government agencies and can erase people and events by not deleting information, but by flooding information and by unbalancing global markets.
A: A person like him in the world of The Blacklist is probably responsible for the stock market in China crashing, and then this global stock panic we have going on right now. The idea that in the world of The Blacklist there's someone out there like that, and the fact that he's young because a lot of these people are kids. They have more ability and power than they have a sense of morality or ethics because it's almost like putting the world at the fingertips of a four year old. We live in that age right now, that online you have trolls, and he's called The Troll Farmer, and trolls is the term for those people online that are anonymous even if all they're doing is posting nasty feedback at the bottom of articles.
A: You publish an article and if there's some person out there who wants to anonymously blast anybody, they just go to the comments section and pour out either love or hate or whatever it is without fear of reprisal. The idea that we live in that world is fascinating to me. So it was a character that peeked all my real world interests.
A: Also the structure of how he appears in the episode. Sometimes you have a blacklister that you see from the beginning of the episode and you follow their crime, as it were, as it's played out in front of you. Other times they're people you hear about or you have knowledge of, and it's almost like a detective chase. And a lot of those times you still see the person, they just have to find them. Then every once in a while you get someone like this character, like The Troll Farmer, you get someone who's referenced and you're curious about. I kept thinking about it almost like JAWS or Alien where you know that person, or that thing, is there in the background and you build up that expectation of what that person is going to be and then you see him. So I thought there was something pretty intriguing about that.
Q: You've talked about the kind of world Bo Chang lives in and what he does, but who is he? And what is his relationship with Reddington going into the show?
A: You know, that's so funny because the first conversation I had with the director, Michael Watkins and James [Spader] was literally that. I was like, 'What was this relationship?' It's interesting because you meet the guy at such a stress point, and it's a fracturing of a relationship that's already existed. And I think about a guy like this, who's the kind of person who gets into and lives purely in an online sense and then builds his own network? He's almost like the Reddington of the dark web. I would tend to think a person like that, or at least how I imagined Bo, was that he was a person who has real world social issues. He lives in this house. He never leaves it. He smokes e-cigarettes like a chemical factory, and he is a person who probably from the beginning of his life wasn't able to associate with humans in a person-to-person context, and so have the extension of having a presence online where he can deal with people in an anonymous sense and then he could control things.
A: He's very much a person who needs to all of his ducks in a row, which is why when Reddington comes and screws up the timing of the plan it totally freaks him out because he's like, 'I have a process.' I get the impression that he's very O.C.D. which is hilarious because his troll farm is a complete chaotic mess and that just adds to his anxiety. And it's a person who, it's almost like the chaos he's able to cause online is his therapy. It's in doing those things, and exerting control over the online universe and being able to influence things there where he's incapable of doing that as a person, that's where he gets his release. That's his Zen in a way.
A: So Reddington, we figured out, found this kid and in a lot of ways set him up with this, because he might be a brilliant hacker but he does not necessarily have the organizational skills to create and to manage all of these people. But Reddington is almost like a sports scout, you know, diamond in the rough, and you're like, 'I know what you're capable of and the potential you have. So I'm going to take you and groom you, and I know I can put all my money on you being an all-star.' And so Reddington did that from the beginning, and he owed him a lot, but he's also had to repay him over the years a lot, and a lot of the same work he's done for governments, he's done for Reddington. On top of that, as you see in this episode, he's just one of Raymond's various and multifaceted insurance plans.
A: When you think of the Godfather when Brando was like 'There'll come a day when I'll come to you and I'll, I'll ask you for a favor.' You know, like that. It's like Reddington, his whole network, is built up like that. 'I scratched your back and now…' I was re-watching some of the stuff from the end of last season, and there's a point where Tom, Ryan Eggold's character, says to this doctor that's accepting a half a million dollars to patch up Reddington's bullet wound and he says, 'You don't want to take any favors from this man because then he'll own you.' And that is kind of where Bo is, he's been owned by Reddington even though there's something of a father-son thing going on there because he's raised him. So there's that happening over the course of the episode that by the end of it, Bo basically loses it and is like, 'I've had it with you.' He basically tried to do the Padawon to Jedi Master thing, 'I'm not under your thumb anymore.' And of course, Reddington turns around and is like, 'Oh if that's how you feel about it. You've always been just a chip in my game.' So he plays him.
Q: Then does that there's now no possibility of Bo returning?
A: I don't think that there's 'no possibility', I do have some idea that he comes in and out of reference at a later point, and his skill set is so, not only just vital, but powerful in a way considering the narrative of where this season seems to be going and what the narrative sets up. Do you remember those Kurt Russell movies? Those Escape movies, like Escape from New York and Escape from L. A.? It's very much like that. Or like 24 or I think of Homeland, there's like that feeling to what's going on in that first episode and I can really only reference that. I have a buddy who's working through this season but I'm sure he can't talk about it, and I haven't asked him where it all plays out as it goes. But there's definitely a need for them to escape in a world that we live in now where you can't escape the drunk photos that were posted to Instagram, you know what I mean? So I think it's quite possible that he's on the radar. He stays on the radar, the FBI's radar, so I don't know if that means his massive hair-do will rear its ugly head again.
Q: [laughs] So he has a particular look about him?
A: When we started it up, I was talking to the hair and makeup people, and I was like, 'This guy should really have a lot of pimples,' which I don't unfortunately. Well, I guess fortunately maybe. But I do have a lot of hair. So we were talking about trying to get it to look like he doesn't really shower on a regular basis kind of feel. He wears the same clothes. Doesn't leave his house. Like keeps the blinds drawn. Like that kind of thing.
Q: He's a writer.
A: [laughter] Awww, touché! [still laughing] That was hilarious actually. Exactly.
Q: So we've talked about Bo's relationship with Reddington. But what about with Liz? How does their interaction play out through this episode?
A: Liz is really just a detail for Bo. She's the crux, she's not a minor detail. She's a major detail, but she's a problem and the reason why his job is being made difficult because he's had time to prepare for Reddington, and he's having to do what's taken him years to put together and Reddington's giving him seven days to do it, and then shows up at his door in 24 hours and is like, 'It needs to be done now.' So there's almost from the start, he has a displaced animosity toward Liz. What he really wants to say is, 'Get out of my house. You play by my rules.' And he actually says that, and Reddington basically says, 'No. This is my game you're playing, so sit down.' So because of that, and because he's become used to controlling his whole troll farm and his whole network of internet provocateurs that he has now the kingpin of, and then the big drug kingpin that comes into the local house and is just like, 'You work for me. Don't forget that. You may be the boss of this neighborhood. You have your own little fiefdom but I'm the emperor.' And because he can't come back at him because of that, he kind of displaces that onto Liz.
Q: Based on the information I have about who The Troll Farmer is and what he's done in terms of his disinformation campaigns, what are the specifics that he does to help manufacture reality in order to help Reddington and Liz avoid capture by the Feds?
A: The basic idea is that D.C. is blanketed with CCTV and, on top of that, Reddington and Liz's photos are blasted all over the national news media, Twitter and every other online source and forum that there is. You know the term 'native advertising'? It's like where news outlets, like say the Huffington Post, or any news outlet that publishes a story that says, 'Top 5…' something, or '10 Things You Should Know About…' something, that's actually an advertisement. They're paid to put that up, to put those lists together, but they disguise it as new content.
A: So The Troll Farmer is doing a version of that for Reddington and Liz because what they're trying to do is escape under the cover of something. Back in the day, you would escape under the cover of night. But in a world where everything is watched everywhere, there is no night. So instead of trying to put everything in the darkness, what The Troll Farmer's trying to do is just blast everything with so much light that nobody can see anything. So when Reddington and Liz are preparing to make their exist, what he's doing is creating sightings on Twitter. He's creating fake security cameras and saying they're escaping to the south east. And he's creating anonymous Twitter postings from live Twitter accounts with pictures of them trying to go north. And basically putting them all over the city in every single place that the FBI and the Capitol Police and everyone else involved couldn't possibly sift through all of the noise to actually find out where they are.
Q: Now no one will be able to trust the Internet for anything.
A: [laughs] The only thing you can trust the Internet for is sports scores and people's half naked photos.
Q: Well, maybe. There's always Photoshop.
A: Yeah, there's Photoshop, exactly. [laughs]
Q: You mentioned a little earlier about the look you wanted for this character, which leads me to wonder how much of your work as a cinematographer, and the look of things, influences you as an actor?
A: I don't know if I let those two parts of my brain interact because acting is a process of being and doing, and doing is the most important thing. Cinematography is act of seeing, and the camera itself is doing its own thing, it's another character. I am, from a technical stand point having worked in this business for a while now, that I've always been aware, even from the beginning, of my relationship to the camera as an actor [laughs] because I want them to see me. Although interestingly enough, the way that this character is built, and this episode is shot, you don't really see him a ton. You hear him, you hear about him, and he's kind of moving in the background; in the shadows in between and, by the way it's shot, it always through a lot of people.
A: But it makes sense for him because he's more of a presence than a person. When you think about online trolls, you think about this amorphous, angry, nasty thing, and you know there's a real person behind it but it's like pulling the curtain back and seeing Oz. So it sort of ruins the whole thing.
A: But as far as working with a camera, I'm very aware that a performance is there to be filmed so I'm always trying to help the camera guys and the cinematographer and the director put that performance on screen. Because I know sometimes I'll want to do something, but from a technical standpoint, that's not going to play very well, especially in TV because you can't just sit there and wait to create the perfect shot. And I'm always like, 'Hey guys, if this isn't working, I see what you guys are doing as far the camera moves and the kind of shot you're setting up, so if you need me to take this action, find you guys or change it even,' it's self-serving, but if it isn't doing anything for anybody else, I'm pretty flexible in that sense.
Q: The Tomorrow People, despite having been disappointingly short-lived for its fans how has that experience, and the expose of a series, helped to advance your career in any way?
A: Being on a show that was so well received is in a certain sense, even if it didn't make the Nielsen numbers to continue its existence, it's always a good thing. I find that in a way, I enjoyed it, it's a similar character, I mean every character I've played has me at the center of it, but I do think I have a pretty wide body of very varying characters within the realm of the kind of human being that I am. So there's also a sense that being able to do a high action show and getting to show a lot of different sides of my acting scope is really nice as a compliment to the movies that I've been in. My agent always talks about building a brand, and I feel like it's another thing I put alongside the movies that kinda reinforce that idea really well. And on top of that, I can do some martial arts, which is pretty cool.
Q: So what's next for you, both as an actor, and behind the camera?
A: As an actor there's a film that I worked on earlier this year that will come out next year, and I am waiting to hear about another thing that I can't really talk about.
Q: What's the one coming out next year?
A: It's call Money Monster and George Clooney plays one of those guys you see on CNN or Fox News or MSNBC, the financial advisor shows. He gives these can't-miss stock tips on his show and one day, Jack O'Connell, plays a guy who walks into the studio strapped with a bomb vest and holds them up at gun point on live television and says, 'You gave me this stock tip that ruined my life,' and basically holds him hostage on national televisions while Julia Roberts, who is his director in the booth, is having to talk Clooney through not getting himself killed on national TV while they're trying to figure out what to do. It's kinda like this whole thriller, espionage, old style like those 1970s, I keep thinking of a Sidney Lumet Dog Day Afternoon, or one of those like old classic Hollywood movie-in-a-bottle kind of thriller.
Q: And who do you play in this?
A: I play a somewhat, again, although I've rarely played people having anything to do with the computer world, but I play someone in the computer and finance world, and it has something to do with the plot so it's a give-away if I say what that thing is. You kinda see him, and he's hinted at as the movie goes along and then he's involved in figuring things out at some point.
A: I also have a pilot going out to studios, so we'll see what happens with that, but it's in the very early stages. So it's being shopped around so I wouldn't say that's something that's going to be on anyone's television anytime soon. It's a pretty original idea.
Q: So you're acting in it? Did you write it?
A: You know, it's funny. I'm always being pushed to write things for me to be in, which I'm trying to do as well. But then I find it takes me so long to write things that I've aged myself out of every part that I've ever written for myself. So then I had an idea and the character didn't really fit for me, but it was a really good idea, so I was like, 'I'm going to write this and let it be it's own thing, and try to put this on television as a good piece of television.' I have a much more complicated idea of something I want to write for myself, but it's sort of stylistically and thematically difficult so this one came out much faster and easier. So that's on its way. So that's the future.
Q: So you're not doing any more cinematography work?
A: No, I've mostly been moving into writing and then directing, and then coming back to acting. Eventually my goal is to write and direct. The thing is to write and direct, and act as a separate career, because those two things feed different sides of me, like I was saying, from a technical standpoint. Acting is a very left brain activity, and writing and directing is a very right brain activity, and I find for me, they interfere with each other. 'Cause you don't want to be analyzing what you're doing because then you're thinking, 'What would I do?' instead of just doing it. And then it's not really real.
A: I find it very impressive when people can act in things they're directing. To me, I'm like, I can't. I'm just in two different mind frames when doing those different things.