The interview progressed through the “alcohol telling the truth” process. Here in front of a good draft beer. Sitting face to face in an Itaewon’s pub on a Saturday night. The photo shoot had already been going for two hours. Because he changed clothes four times for four cuts, he was thirsty. That was the excuse we agreed on to have a drink. Throughout the conversation, I wasn’t the one talking the most, it was Kang Ha Neul. Just a month ago, he was the anxious and taciturn “Hyo Shin-sunbae” (the role he played in “The Heirs”). As time went by, as stories were shared, there many surprising things. For instance, his words going nicely out of tracks.
He had decided not to enter college as a way of rebellion against the standardized college entrance exam system. That happened during his second year of high school. Going back and forth working in plays and musicals, and also working on his filmography. More than stubbornness, he was full of the actor’s determination. In the musical “Thrill Me”, he took on the challenge to play Richard and Nathan, the two main roles. This is what he did in 2009 and 2010. When asked why, he said he was painfully aware of his own limits and was worried. “I cried a lot while rehearsing for this production. It’s not because I didn’t immerse myself in the role. I thought the depth of my acting was actually shallow and that made me cry.”
As if expressing fondness, each answer to my questions were about his [musicals] performances… That’s how it was when he talked about the reason he started filming dramas or how he felt about how he spent 2013. He didn’t even seem excited about the public recognition he started getting. It’s strange. Anyone would wonder if 2013 wasn’t a memorable year for him. From standing on stage for the musical “Assassins” to the drama “Monstar”, the play “Rebellious”, then the drama “The Heirs”. Some would say he’s a lucky rookie following the lucky fate of the productions he played in. It’s an unknown perspective. To him, 2013 was actually a year of misfortune. I asked him the reason.
Did you rest a little since the end of “The Heirs”?
I had to take care of some delayed stuff, so I couldn’t even go on a trip. Before, every time I finished a project, I would go on a trip. This time, I still have many bills to pay (laugh).
While going to the filming location, you kept using public transportations.
Yes. A lot of people ask me about this. They ask me if it isn’t uncomfortable for me to take the bus now. So I want to ask what is there to be uncomfortable about. Why should this be uncomfortable?
Because there are people who recognize you and take pictures.
It already happened many times ever since I started doing musicals. There were many fans waiting for me for about an hour which it’s the time it takes me to wash up and get changed after a show. Taking pictures, posing for pictures wasn’t uncomfortable. I think it’s one of the prices to pay when you’re an actor.
“Won’t Kang Ha Neul receive the Rookie Award?” This was quite the expectation at the SBS Drama Awards last year.
I’m not fixated on awards. Besides, I have yet to play a role worth winning an award for. Even if they had given me the award, I think I would have been embarrassed and worried. So, I think it’s a relief that I didn’t get the award.
In 2012, you were nominated for the best actor award at the Korea Musical Awards for your role in “Assassins”. How did you feel about that?
It’s a role that gave me solace and security. When you do a show, you can’t monitor yourself like you do it for a drama or a movie. You go on stage and once the performance you’ve done that day is over, it’s over. It will live on only as a memory for you and the audience. “Won’t today’s performance be a problem for the audience or the other actors?”, “won’t my acting be weird today?”, I had this kind of worries. So when this “Best Actor” award nomination happened, I thought “ah, so my acting isn’t that weird” and I was relieved.
The two dramas you filmed in 2013 were both hits.
People around me say “this year was really a blessed year for you”. This is because you see it from the outside. Of course, I think I was lucky. I did good projects, made good connections, so things turned out well in the end. I’m happy about that. But if you dig a little deeper, this was a year of misfortune for me.
I gained many things, but there were also many things I had to give up. For instance, I’m quite sad when I hear from my family the words “even if I’m busy, let’s stay in touch”. And I was used to reading a book every two weeks because I think reading is a way to study acting. But I used the fact I was tired as an excuse for not reading because I didn’t have a lot of time just for me. Do you know what I think about when I film a drama? Filming a drama is a job that needs quickness all because you keep running after time and space. This quickness keeps consuming everything I have. I must study to show a different acting which is something I can’t do right now. At this rate, I know everything about me will be revealed. My discontent about this keeps growing. So, yes I got to do great projects, but that didn’t make me happy. It’s a time for me to study more. This thought keeps running through my mind.
So this is the time for this.
Yes, I mean I’m someone who really needs to be on stage. Being on stage is the moment when I charge my battery and I study. I still need to be scolded and I must be broken. However, when I film a drama, acting is only made in a rush and I get desperate of being on stage again. I must always feel unsatisfied, but when I film a drama, I quickly forget about all these things. It’s not something that really makes me happy.
So should we talk about the filmography you’re building up on stage through musicals? You played twice in the musical “Thrill Me” but portraying two different roles. You performed one after the other.
I think “Thrill Me” is what you call a very good production. While playing “Richard” in 2009, I already wanted to know more about the character opposite from me. I thought I’d find out what would be the limit of my acting if I were to play both roles. So in 2010, I played the opposite part, it was the role of “Nathan”. The performance was intense. Playing these two roles was big eye-opener.
Is there a specific reason for you to do so many plays like “Prince Puzzle”, “Black Mary Poppins”.
I’m always greedy when it comes to plays. I’ll tell you why I started filming dramas without stopping going on stage. When I was performing, the thing I hated the most was how sunbaes, colleagues and hoobaes I knew would hold good performances as college performances and since there was no audience, so the doors were often closed. I hoped that more people would see these good performances. Since people didn’t even know those shows were hold, they couldn’t come. It was very unfortunate. So if I starred in dramas and got even just a little bit of recognition, wouldn’t people come and see those shows at least for me? I hope that people would come and see me but end up experiencing the performance, that my other good sunbaes and hoobaes actors would be known.
If we compare the life of an actor to climbing a mountain, which point do you think you have reached right now?
It’s something I heard one day. You can clearly see the top of the mountain from the outside, so it seems like you can easily climb up. However, if you enter the mountain, you can’t see the top from the inside. So you’re closer to the top than those on the outside. What I mean is that I entered the mountain which is the hard part because I’m not looking at the top which is far away.
People say you’re an actor who is good at immersing himself in a role.
To be honest, I don’t know what “immersion” means. My main focus is to match the actor I’m playing with. I have to give just like I receive from my partner. Just like the name of this pub, “Ping-pong” is exactly what acting is. People also use the term “possession” a lot. I don’t really believe in that. I think no one can be as rational as an actor. Even if I cry in one scene because it’s very sad, I’m already anticipating the next cut, the next cue because all I must think about is how the stage will change, where the lightning will go.
How would you describe your personality? Aren’t you one of the the blunt Busan guys?
You must know since you talk about it, but… I’m not this kind of Busan guy, am I? (laugh)
That was unexpected.
I’m not a blunt person. I struggle to reveal honestly my emotions to others. When it’s a good feeling, I can show it, but when it’s a negative feeling, I can’t talk about it because the other person might feel burdened or might worry.
It must be hard to endure.
They say it can give you mental illness, so I have my own way to release the stress. I go on a trip, I stay at home and blast music I sing along to… Also, I have four friends I met in college and we see each other almost every day. Ah, I will see them today. They really have no interest in women. When we see each other, we go to the movies, we talk about the movie, the director’s intention, we talk about stuff like that (laugh).
Are you in a relationship?
I met someone as soon as I turned 20. We were together for three years and we broke up. The reason I’m not dating right now isn’t because I still suffer from the aftermath of the breakup, it’s just that I still prefer spending time with my friends for now.
What kind of woman do you want to meet?
I like a woman who loves her job and her dreams more than her boyfriend. I find attractive women who have solid dreams and work hard for them.
You turn 25 this year. It’s the Year of the Horse. Acting put aside, is there something you really want to try?
Right now, I’m learning Muay Thai. I want to participate to a big competition. I’ve loved martial arts ever since I was a kid, so I started to learn properly. I don’t care if I get hurt or injured. Your hands get swollen and get ripped, but I don’t really care. I’ve found out there are many ways to win without striking (laugh).
I wonder how you will spend 2014.
I made a resolution on January 1st of last year. I didn’t know what I would do for the upcoming year, but when the end of the year would come and I’d look back, I hoped that I’d still be moved by my passion for acting, my tenacity, my principle or that my energy wouldn’t have changed. I thought about it in December and I think I did well, so on January 1st of 2014, I made a resolution. More things will come my way. There will be spectacular days, bad days, good days, I will experience them all. However, when I’ll look back at myself in December, I hope being able to say that I protected well these feelings of the beginning. This is how I want to spend my 25th year.
Original article: singles
Edited by @canoeknits