Action, historical, comedy, time travel, romance, biopic, melodrama, sports, horror, thriller, crime, fantasy–you name it, he’s done it all. Korean-American actor Ma Dong-seok (also known as Don Lee) is by no measure a stranger to the entertainment circuit on his homeground.
In 2016’s zombie hit Train to Busan, Ma played the supporting role of Yoon Sang-hwa, a man who valiantly sacrifices himself for the greater good. The breakout performance propelled him to international popularity and cemented his status as one of the most successful actors in South Korea. Perhaps it was this display of heroism, coupled with his ‘tough guy’ persona, that landed him on Hollywood’s radar.
Fast forward to 2019, Ma was handpicked to join the cast of Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) Eternals alongside a star-studded and culturally diverse lineup of actors including Gemma Chan, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Angelina Jolie, Kumail Nanjiani, Lia McHugh, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Barry Keoghan, Harish Patel, and Kit Harington
Based on the Marvel Comics of the same name, Eternals is centred on an immortal alien race that emerges from hiding after thousands of years to protect Earth from the Deviants. Ma plays Gilgamesh, the strongest Eternal who boasts powers such as virtual indestructibility, near-limitless stamina, superhuman strength, and more. He chats exclusively with Tatler about the Marvel epic, director Chloe Zhao, and Angelina Jolie.
Together with Claudia Kim (Avengers: Age of Ultron) and Park Seo-joon (The Marvels), South Korean talents have become highly sought-after commodities. How do you feel about being a part of this influx of hallyu (Korean wave) that’s storming into Hollywood?
Korean films and TV series and K-Pop are expanding very rapidly into the world and it's something I’m very proud of. Through this hallyu, a lot of Korean talents are working outside of Korea but I wish that there were more chances for not just Korean but also Asian talents to shine brightly on the world stage
As for myself, with Eternals coming out, I hope to be working more in Hollywood from now on. I hope that I can make a good example and pave the way for more Korean talents to work in Hollywood.
Eternals is a milestone for you in more ways than just one–it's your Hollywood debut, your first all-English-language movie, the first Korean male actor to star in an MCU movie, and the first Korean superhero. What were your initial reactions when you first heard that you got the role?
I knew Sarah Finn, the Marvel Studios' casting director from back in the day. When she contacted me to tell me that I was cast as Gilgamesh, I was elated. I have been a big fan of Marvel movies as well as director Zhao so you can imagine how happy I was to hear the news.
I had always wanted to be a part of a superhero movie but never had I ever imagined that it would be an MCU film. The whole journey was exciting and I learnt so much from the process. It was pure joy to work with Zhao and the rest of the cast and crew.