Interview With Voice Actor Johnny Young
Somewhere in California, there’s a community that is giving new life to the gaming industry. Free to play games are becoming one of the fastest-growing areas of gaming. With the entire industry having an estimated worth of just under $160 billion, 85% of this revenue comes from free-to-play games. Fighting to stand at the top of that list, with over 100 million players to date, is Apex Legends.
I was lucky enough to sit down with one of the Apex Legends himself, Johnny Young – AKA Crypto. Or even Tae Joon Park – depending on who you ask. A huge fan of gaming himself, Johnny is passionate about what the game has offered him, and the wider world. So, naturally, we jump straight into talking about Apex and how he got the part.
“I keep saying to myself ‘I don’t why people keep hiring me for these jobs’. I have no idea,” he laughs. “This going to be a long story – where would you even like me to start?”
So, as always, we start right at the beginning
Johnny grew up in a relatively strict household, but his love of a strong story has woven throughout his life. Comics, video games and films have been something that he’s enjoyed from the get-go. In particular, he recalls the first film he ever saw in the cinema.
“It was Tim Burton’s Batman,” he tells me. “I was like 3 or 4. And I still remember the exact shot. It was one of the opening scenes. The way the shot panned. And the way Batman turns around, with his cape flying outwards, I still remember it”.
He then goes on to tell me how his sister used to make him masks, so that he could ride his bike and pretend to be Batman. As it turns out, Johnny was a major introvert – and acting wasn’t on his mind at all. Instead, he was a member of a swim team and did martial arts, with the intent of joining the military. That is, until he was told to join a club by his mother and “stop being so lazy”. That club, which he joined in college, was an acting group.
In fact, Johnny Young had entered the Lees Strausberg Theatre and Film Institute
He gives a cheeky grin as he goes on, saying “I fell in love, straight away. I dropped out of college. My parents FREAKED out. And they said, ‘we’re not going to support you.’” His face falls a little, but he goes on. “My hero was Al Pacino. He worked in a restaurant. I figured I’d just do the same thing.” And that is exactly what he did. Working at the California Pizza Kitchen in Beverley Hills, he used his earnings there to support his new dream of becoming an actor full-time.
Until, one day, his dad asked him again if he was serious about his goals, to which Johnny responded “yeah… or I’m gonna die trying!” At the time, it was near-impossible for an Asian-American to get a solid acting career off the ground. And, while Johnny brushes off this sad fact with “it is what it is”, it led to a series of events which would help to shape his career. Instead, his dad set him up with some connections he held in Korea. And the two decided he would head to the other side of the world to try and make his mark over there.
Without speaking the language, he enrolled in Yonsei University (an extremely prestigious university – not entirely dissimilar to our OxBridge) and he threw himself into his new studies.
Johnny hovers between bashful and proud, trying to quickly move on from how he went to one of the best universities in the world, and how he somehow managed to learn Korean without any prior lessons. “My dad wanted me to be in a Korean pop group, because it was quicker. And, if you can keep to a beat, they can teach you the rest,” he explains, “once you release an album, you become famous. Once you’re famous you can get into drama. And then you can start your acting career.”
However, Johnny refused to go down this road – mostly because of the manufactured aspect (it’s no secret that K-Pop bands have a training regimen that can be pretty brutal). But also because he didn’t want to be a part of a Korean pop group (sorry, K-Pop stans). Instead, he learned Korean and signed with a manager. But that didn’t work out, so he came back to the US and, within a week, was dragged to a networking event by his friend.
As you can imagine – after spending an extended period of time immersed in a completely different language and culture – he was struggling to recall his English, at first. “I felt like I was fresh off the boat again. Or off the plane..” he laughs, before continuing, “a manager saw me, signed me and I did a few stage productions at the Greenway Court Theatre. Then I got a part in a horror movie. It was my first role in a movie, and I played Jimmy Dolan – the next-door neighbour. And I basically just show up and die.”
Ah yes, the classic actor’s entrance into the silver screen world.
Right after that, he managed to get the part of Korea-town gangster, Justin, in Crossing Over. Here, he beat out the hefty competition to work alongside Harrison Ford, Sean Penn and Ashley Judd, and get his first speaking role. A role which got him his SAG card and, apparently, blew his mind a little.
He gets excited when he goes on to describe his first meeting with Harrison Ford. “He was just there, with a black shirt, the silver hair. I walked in and just..” before showcasing his gormless face. Apparently, he stayed like that and stared at Ford for a long time. And Ford stared back in response, for a good minute, before getting in his car and driving off. Johnny brings his hands to his forehead and groans “I was such an idiot, why didn’t I say something?!”
After this, however, the roles died back down again. And, despite handwriting 300 letters and practically wallpapering the town with his headshots, he was only receiving extra work. Which, as we know, often isn’t regular enough to pay the regular bills.
This, combined with the crash in 2008, forced him to rethink his life and career, again.
Of course, when the ’08 crash happened, his family struggled. A lot. When your entire livelihood centres around a market, which then basically doesn’t exist anymore (at least for small businesses), you can imagine the turmoil and hardship the whole family faces. Johnny’s face turns uncharacteristically sombre as he states “I never, ever wanted to see my family go through something like that again.” So, he put his acting career to one side and took some time to help everyone out.
Instead, he got himself a job doing real estate. Not just the buying and selling fun that we see on TV – but the all-in business management and commercial aspects. Learning about leveraging debt, investments, and how best to use what money the family did – or didn’t – have. His work was officially off his radar, but he did get a callback to be in a film, with a script he loved.
Taking the risk of being in a feature film is no small feat in itself. And it’s certainly not an easy task when you’re trying to travel the world, pulling long shifts in indie’s, and making calls to prospective buyers back home, on your breaks. He recalls working on Ayla – his first role that didn’t include extra work, being a gangster, or being taken out by a ghost.
“At the time, half my foot was out the door. I was like ‘I’m done with acting’. I hadn’t done anything in like a year or two. I just figured this would be my last one,” he says. The movie, however, had other plans for him. It was selected by Turkey to be the country’s candidate for ‘Best Foreign-Language Film’ at the Academy Awards, even winning awards from across the globe at various film festivals.
And, while the industry didn’t immediately pop Johnny on their shoulders and hail him as the next Leo DiCaprio, it did remind him of how much he loved acting.
It took a couple of years for him to break back into acting in a big way – but it came from a friend he had made along the way. A huge gamer, he had grown close to another member of The Diversity Showcase, Charlotte Chung. And, when he discovered the actress had multiple parts in games, he immediately texted her.
“I was like ‘this is amazing! How do you get into this stuff?’” Being an awesome friend, Chung rang him straight back – and spoke to him for about 3 hours on how to get into voice acting. Despite not having a voiceover reel of his own, she also took him down to her agency, where he argued his case to get his first voice-over gig. He rolls his eyes at himself as he goes on, “imagine being this agency that’s been around for years. Then this kid with no reel comes in. And he’s talking like ‘I’m gonna be the next Troy Baker’. But they still gave me a shot!”
But Young and Chung’s friendship goals don’t stop there. After a year of auditions and no work coming in, she called him up to ask whether he had sent in a tape for Dae-Hyun (Overwatch). He sent it over to her, and she got back in contact to tell him that it wasn’t good enough, to do it again and send it back, again. Despite never getting to see the director himself (only hearing him through headphones), and having multiple call-backs, he was finally told he had landed the role.
Following on from this, Johnny was sent another script. Becoming animated, his hands fly around as he exclaims “I was like ‘I know what this is!’ and when I got the audition and everyone was lined up there, I was saying ‘guys! I know what this is!” To which they responded by shutting him in a booth and telling him to crack on with the audition.
Not surprisingly, given the ups and downs he has encountered in his career, Johnny figured this would be a “one-and-done”. But they kept calling him back for more lines, for more seasons and more lore – the latter being a major part of the Apex world, and a large part of its success. So in-depth and well-written that even non-Apex players (like myself) can appreciate the Apex/Titanfall world.
Thus, Johnny Young suddenly found the acting world falling into place around him
His martial art training came in handy for the movements he would learn in mo-cap. The theatre experience would give him the imagination to power through tough scenes. His knowledge of Korean made him ideal for a character who shifts between the two languages. For all of the hard times Johnny has had to deal with in his life, they have – for better or worse – made him the perfect choice for a character loved by millions.
It was when he first went in, to mocap some of his scenes, that he met Roger Craig Smith. “He’s just the nicest guy, ever,” he gushes. I tell him I’m pretty sure everyone in the gaming industry has a crush on that man, to which he responds, “I have a crush on him! I’m a straight man – but for Roger..?” Well, we can’t fault a healthy bromance – though, for the eager-to-rumour crowd, I should stress that he’s kidding. I think.
“It was kinda crazy to walk in and meet Roger. I knew who he was – cause he’s the voice of Batman! And then to have 2 to 3 days of actually acting with him. It was awesome.”
You’ll be pleased to know that it’s not just Roger who receives high praise from Johnny, however. Indeed, Respawn in general receives a ton of high praise, too. For Young, one of the best aspects of the game is the story, which he describes as “brilliant – in the sense that they took chances. It has something for everyone. They essentially ripped out the guts of Titanfall, got rid of the Titans and put everyone in an arena. And then gave everyone these incredible characters with full lore.”
As fans of the game will already know, Apex Legends dropped without any marketing. It hit online stores as a free-to-play game, before using its popularity within the marketing itself. Even now, 2 years later, the videos released by Respawn are either story-driven lore – or collaborations with the community that has grown around the game. Even if you’re not a fan of battle royale games (hello), you could still easily sit down and watch the new season release trailers and appreciate them as standalone content.
If That Doesn’t Sate Your Appetite For Good Content, There’s Always The Comics And Pathfinder’s Quest
Speaking of, Johnny proudly holds up his tome, showcasing his nerdy side as he starts telling me about all the benefits of the book. He states, “It’s filled with all of the lore and really does have something for everybody!” Even the negative feedback the actors receive about the game – which usually comes from overly-hungry fans of the franchise – is spun into a positive light by the lad.
I get both sides. But if they didn’t like the game, they wouldn’t complain at all. They just wouldn’t be playing it,” he explains. “It’s usually because they’re just so eager for more. It’s like ‘guys! It released yesterday. Give it a minute!’ But they will just inhale it. And now we have this completely different market that’s being taken on.” He’s referring, of course, to the new 3v3 arena system. A part of the Legacy update, this will be releasing across the board on 4th May 2021.
In the meantime, let’s focus on what Johnny is doing, now
Given what we’ve said so far, it will come as no surprise that Johnny has been savvy enough to work with his fame – rather than rely on it. “I was thinking that [Apex] would be the last Big Thing I was gonna do. So I thought ‘if this is it, then who gives a shit’, and I decided I was going to do it all”. And, lo, his Twitch channel was born in November 2019.
Close to his family and the friends he made in Korea, he originally heard whisperings of the Coronavirus long before it hit headline news over in the Western world. Thus, the business mindset he picked up while he was doing real estate – combined with a wonderfully bizarre passion for prison-based documentaries (Locked Up, in case you’re wondering) – was a major boon in his preparations for the pandemic.
He decided, then and there, that he would throw everything he had into bettering himself and solidifying his future – a mindset he compares the rehabilitation of prisoners. Keeping himself busy with his Twitch channel wasn’t just about creating another source of income. It was the routine, the mindset and the dedication to knowing and learning as much as he could.
(Initially, he decided he was going to dedicate 6 hours a day, every day, to streaming. However, another VO booking came along, so that was whittled down to 3 days a week, with 3 days a week in VO sessions. I know, right? Pfffft, lazy.)
Through his Twitch channel, a community has developed. A following which enjoys Johnny’s gaming exploits and even being kind enough to send him birthday videos. When I ask about how he’s found the community as a whole, he takes a deep breath, before answering. “It’s been tremendous. Overwhelming, even. It’s been insane! Initially, I had started the channel for work purposes. But what I got out of it..” he takes a deep breath, before continuing, “so many people that came together. They’re helping each other. It’s just amazing.”
I ask him about his birthday message from the fans, to which he responds “that’s just it! I went into this with blinkers on and had my head down. My attitude was ‘I need to stream. I need to edit. I need to work.’ But getting that message from everyone. It made me take a minute. I sat back, took and breath and just starting crying.”
The internet, he tells me, is full of people who are good. They want to help each other out – and this community is a great way to remind him of all of that. Especially when the trolls come out to play.
Outside of work, Johnny Young is a passionate family man
As we know, things haven’t been easy for Young. But, through it all, many of the decisions he’s made have come down to doing what’s best for his family. His mum and dad ran a real estate business, and Johnny would often be brought in to help his mum by translating the admin from English to Korean and vice versa. Thinking back, he says to me “I can’t believe she would handwrite all of these documents. All these filing cabinets. All in a different language – and she was running a successful business in California.”
After everything – the crash, the ups and downs and the struggles – I ask him what finally made him feel like he was ready to stop working elsewhere and do voice acting as a full-time job. “For the longest time, I was just treading water. The whole time, I was really just trying to survive.” He says, “Then dipping my toe into this game and we didn’t know where it was going to go. Then it was blowing up… I know it means different things to different people who are a part of the project but -[he briefly pauses]. Well, the team knows how much of a nerd I am and how much this means to me.”
I quickly get the feeling that – although his family is secure now – the ripples of the impact are still felt by him, today. The work he does now, the community that’s been created around his gameplay on Twitch and everything that comes with the job – I’m not entirely sure he’s allowed himself to believe it’s all actually happening. Of course, this is all conjecture on my part.
Still, it’s not my job to upset anyone – and I would never want to.
So, instead, I ask him about how he copes with the trials and errors of life, now. In particular, how he deals with rejection – a theme that’s a part and parcel of any creative world. For the first time since we sat down and started setting the world to rights (I’ll save you from our exchanges surrounding politics and medicine), Johnny takes a breather before he answers.
“When I was a kid, I dealt with that in a really unhealthy way,” he reminisces. “I responded by being angry. I would drink. I’d tell myself ‘screw that guy’ and it just built up anger. It wasn’t until I went through everything with my family that I told myself ‘there’s really more to life than this’. In the end, what happens, is what’s gonna happen. No matter how hard you try. Whether it’s God, the universe, energy – whatever you may believe in – it’s gonna happen if it’s meant for you. If it’s not meant for you, it’s OK. At least you grew. At least you learned.”
Taking away the personal aspect of rejection and reframing it to understand that it’s not necessarily a failure on your part – but rather a lesson that will help you in future – is a common theme in the mindset of successful people. As Johnny puts it, you can always pull something out of the experience – even if that thing isn’t money or a job that you wanted.
“It’s like any skill in life – or like working out. You’re gonna suck at first! That’s just a fact. You don’t have the repetition down. So, you need to build it up. The more times you fail, the faster you’re gonna get there.”
He refers me to a podcast he has been listening to, in which the host spoke about life as being part of a range of different emotions. The phrases were a little skewed along the way, mostly due to the host being high at the time, but the message was still worth hearing; Effectively, each part of life is made up of multiple colours and factors – and the different emotions we experience, whether they be sadness, happiness and everything in between, are one colour that makes up the picture. But you need all of the colours to create a masterpiece.
It’s this mindset which has helped Johnny to overcome so much, and travel so far.
Better still, all of his experiences give him the perspective to appreciate where he is now – and who he is, in all of his shy, yet excitable, endearingly awkward joy. His family and their security still hit the top spot in his priorities. His hard work and dedication have led to him leading a community that offers so much to himself and each other. And it’s also pretty clear that he’s made some incredible friends along the way – particularly within the Apex Legends cast and crew.
In Johnny’s own words, “the most important things are family, friends and experiences.”