[Warning: The following contains spoilers for XO, Kitty. Read at your own risk!]
Minyeong Choi didn't realize just how much Twenty-Five Twenty-One, the last series he starred in, was a global hit. The actor was not active on social media in early 2022 when the Korean drama — one of my all-time favorite shows — aired, and he missed the weekly reactions from viewers around the world as the tvN series streamed on Netflix. It wasn't until Choi was announced as part of the cast of XO Kitty, the new To All the Boys spin-off series, that he discovered Twenty-Five Twenty-One's reach when fans online recognized him as that character. "There were a lot of comments talking about me like, 'Oh, he's Baek Yi-jin's younger brother.' Or, 'Yi-hyun!'" Choi recalled. "That was when I noticed, wow, Netflix power."
Before Twenty-Five Twenty-One, Choi starred in more than a dozen Korean series — most often as the younger version of the lead character. Now, the 20-year-old actor is stepping into his first male lead role as Dae, Kitty Song Covey's (Anna Cathcart) kind and gentle boyfriend in XO, Kitty. The new show from Jenny Han follows Kitty as she travels to boarding school in South Korea to meet Dae, hoping to experience the kind of sweeping romance that she watched her sister Lara Jean (Lana Condor) experience with Peter (Noah Centineo). But when Kitty lands in Seoul, she finds out that Dae is keeping some major secrets — including having a girlfriend.
Starring in a U.S.-produced show was not something Choi expected so early on in his acting career. He had sent in a self-tape after seeing an open casting call at the end of 2021 and did not think he would land the role. "I was really lucky," Choi said.
Being a part of XO, Kitty has only heightened Choi's interest in opportunities abroad. For his future projects, he's not only looking at Korea or Hollywood. "I could do things in France or England," Choi said. "If I have the opportunity, I would love to do that." And the actor also recognizes that, given his age, the world is his oyster. "I'm still young, so I want to experience a lot of things, different kinds of roles that have different personalities — even in different platforms," Choi said. "I want to be in movies, I want to be in shows, I want to be in musicals, for sure. And I want to do a play."
Over Zoom, Choi talked to TV Guide about starring in his biggest project yet, learning English through filming XO, Kitty, and LGBTQ representation in the series. He also discussed the emotional airport goodbye scene between Dae and Kitty in the finale and what's next for their relationship.
Was being in a U.S.-produced show always something that you were interested in?
Minyeong Choi: I was interested for sure. But I never thought it would happen this fast, and in this period of my life. When I first auditioned, I didn't even expect to get the role. But that's not how I am usually — for most of the things, I go for it to get it, or to be in first place. But this time, the one thing that I expected from this trial was to feel how American auditions are like. My goal was to meet the producers in person, and feel the vibe of the audition in the States. But [I] happened to get the role, thankfully.
Dae speaks both English and Korean in the show. When did you learn to speak English?
Choi: I lived my whole life in Korea, except I lived in Canada when I was 7, for a year. But to be honest, mostly my English is not from that experience. Most of [it] is from XO, Kitty. After I got cast, I learned a lot while filming and hanging around with the cast. But the thing that I got from the experience in Canada was that I wasn't afraid of English, so that's why I could participate [in] the audition. If I didn't have the experience, I wouldn't have.
Was the audition in both languages?
Choi: Mostly English. When I had the chemistry read with Sangheon [Lee], the showrunners asked us to do it in Korean. There was no script in Korean, but they just told us to do it. I think they wanted to see the chemistry in Korean.
I loved your characters' dynamic. And once you started filming, what were differences between working on a U.S.-produced show compared to the Korean projects you've been in?
Choi: It's really hard to answer that question because everything was filmed in Seoul. It was a U.S. production, but half of the crew were Korean, hired in Korea. So it was not like, fully American production. But one thing that was really different from Korea was that the States had different directors for different blocks, and we didn't do that in Korea. We have the director, and he or she or they just direct it all. So that was an experience for me.
What was it like being in an American project that references Korean drama ideas — like with Kitty falling and Dae catching her in slow motion?
Choi: I had two conflicting thoughts about it. The moments that are [described] as the K-drama moments are like, holding Kitty when she's falling and I'm coming in, and there's the slow motion effect. That was meant to be a K-drama moment. Half of my side, yes, I get it. But my other side was like, OK, I didn't know that people from different countries think about these kinds of things when they think about K-dramas. That was not my first impression of K-dramas.
What is your impression of K-dramas?
Choi: It wasn't that, I think it was something darker. I've never thought about what's the impression of K-dramas because I'm used to so many of them. But I didn't expect that to be the first impression of it.
There are so many genres within K-dramas, and oftentimes it's the rom-coms that take off globally.
I also wanted to ask about the airport scene where Dae and Kitty say goodbye. What would you say was going on in Dae's mind as he was rushing to the airport?
Choi: When I read the scene, it was sad and heartbreaking. Actually, this role, Dae, was an experience that I connected the most with in my acting life. I felt a lot of things from him. And even while filming that scene, I kind of felt like Dae wanted to hold her so he ran to the airport. But after he hears what she thinks about [the relationship], he just doesn't try anymore. Because he thinks that's the way to love her, which is sad. It is sad that the only way that he could love her is to let her go. He tries his best to not make her feel so bad. It's so different — when he was running to the airport and then after he hears what she thinks, it's a totally different feeling.
He wanted to hold her as in, he wanted to continue that relationship, right?
Choi: Yes. He says, I'll go first and then she talks about what she thinks. And that's when Dae recognizes, this is the timing that he has to let her go, and that's good for her.
Did he think it would be good for him too?
Choi: I don't think he thinks that much about himself. He always thinks about Kitty the most. And yes, to that question, it is making him comfortable, but not because he'll feel better if he breaks up. It's because he'll feel better if he knows that she'll feel better.
I was trying to hold back my tears during the airport scene.
Choi: I was holding my tears too, when I was filming. When I was reading the script, I never thought Dae would cry at that moment. I didn't want Dae to cry, and Dae didn't want himself to cry, because that will make her feel bad. But I started to feel things, and I had to hold my tears.
Can you share more about why he is the character you felt like you connected the most with?
Choi: It was my first big lead role after I became an adult. I just spent a lot of time thinking about him, and thinking about what he would think or what he would be like. And I spent a lot of time with the cast, I almost lived like Dae — lived with the people that Dae lived with. So I connected a lot with the cast and the characters. And that dynamic in real life really helps on the dynamic on the show, too.
Where do you see Kitty and Dae's relationship go from here?
Choi: I think he would not do much before Kitty does something. He wouldn't call her every day, he wouldn't text her every day. He would just wait and see how she feels.
I also wanted to ask about the show's twist. What was your reaction when you read the script and saw that Kitty has feelings for Yuri (Gia Kim)?
Choi: At first, I was surprised. I wasn't really used to these kinds of stories, like a lead having more than two love interests. I was like, what is happening? But what I love afterwards was getting to know that she could feel things for girls too. Those kind of things happen without warnings in real life, so I think that is how it should be on TV too and how it should be shown.
It was definitely meaningful to see the different LGBTQ relationships in the show. I grew up in Taiwan and watch Korean dramas, Asian dramas, and feel like it's still a lot more rare in Asian storytelling. What do you think is the significance of telling LGBTQ stories in a show that's targeted at younger viewers especially?
Choi: I really loved how XO, Kitty told the story of LGBTQ because at first, as I said, I thought, why are there so many love interests? But afterwards, I noticed that, for example, if there's only Dae and if there's only Yuri, it's like focusing on her finding that she could feel things about girls. But now what I feel is, there's Minho, there's Dae, there's Yuri, it's not about the gender — it's about, you could fall into anyone. It could be your long distance boyfriend, and it could be your boyfriend's best friend, and it could be a girl. I don't think XO, Kitty was really focusing on the fact that she could have feelings for girls. It's about, she could find a different part of herself.
XO, Kitty Season 1 is available to stream on Netflix.