On December 18th, Kang Ha Neul finished filming “Misaeng” at 1 in the morning. We met Kang Ha Neul who has yet said goodbye to Jang Baek Ki. Unlike his character in the drama, Kang Ha Neul was quite cheerful. His bright smile never disappeared. Still, he was serious when he talked about his acting philosophy. He was an actor with overflowing charm.
“When all the filming was over, I went home and drank some soju on my own. I said to myself “good job, Haneul-ah”. While telling myself “Misaeng” was a great opportunity, I drank one bottle (laugh). When I was filming, I wondered if my personality would survive Jang Baek Ki’s personality as it was written. It’s something that worried me. There were times when I had doubts and wondered if I was doing things the right way. Now that it’s over, everything is cool (laugh). I actually feel sorry for people called Jang Baek Ki. I was the lucky one. Right now, I feel like there’s something missing in my life. I feel empty. I’m thankful that so many people liked me. However, the bigger this thankful feeling gets, the bigger the feeling of emptiness gets.”
Although he played in various dramas such as “Monstar”, “Two Weeks”, “The Heirs”, “Angel Eyes” and some movies like “Battlefield Heroes”, “You’re My Pet”, “Mourning Grave” and he also did a couple of musicals, his popularity with “Misaeng” was quite uncommon.
“I didn’t know my popularity would reach this point. Of course, the webtoon was a success, so there was the expectation the drama would turn out well because the book was good. As an actor, the filmography is something important. Can you figure out everything I did just by watching one project? When you read an actor’s filmography, I think you can see this actor’s values. Every project I did until now were good. And from this perspective, I think “Misaeng” was also a good choice.”
Kang Ha Neul actually turned down the role the first time it was offered to him. “I was filming the movie “20” at that time. And I felt that filming two projects simultaneously would be an inconvenience for the “Misaeng” filming. “Misaeng” would have to wait because of “20”. It made me feel uneasy to have them waiting for me, so I respectfully declined the role. I said I didn’t want this kind of situation. However, director Kim Won Suk, writer Jung Yoon Jung showed me great support. They gave me strength. I was thankful. Lee Jae Moon-PD too, these three people gave me strength. I’m really thankful. They were like my saviors.”
What does he think of Jang Baek Ki?
“Some people might think Jang Baek Ki was the villain, but I didn’t portray him with such one-way of thinking. Jang Baek Ki is a three-dimensional character. I think he’s the most realistic character among the 4 “Misaeng” characters. If you only look at the other characters, he can be seen as an evil character. And this was what I wanted to portray. I wanted to show this guy Jang Baek Ki who felt jealousy and envy that are human feelings but who can also find happiness and enjoy simple things. He was an office worker, but I have never worked in an office and I never thought I’d be an office worker. I think “Misaeng” isn’t just about office workers, it’s a story about people. The webtoon is about people and I hope the drama also deals with stories about human beings. The fact that Jang Baek Ki was an office worker wasn’t important.”
Kang Haneul said he put much efforts into bringing life to the character called Jang Baek Ki.
“I worried a lot because Jang Baek Ki had this image of the elite office worker. Every elite worker is probably not like this, but I tried my best to show a standardized image. I made efforts not to have tousled hair, to wear neatly my suit, to tie up my necktie. The Jang Baek Ki you see from episode 1 to 4 is someone you can see in real life. I wanted to express the Jang Baek Ki who can show a smiling face but actually doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. I’m talking about “expressing”, but it’d be accurate to say I wanted to hide. Starting from episode 5, Jang Baek Ki’s dignity disappears. I think his grim side showed even more starting from episode 5 because he had to be more confident from episode 1 to 4.”
When asked if he could rate his own acting, he smiled. “I think any actor would answer just the same. When you monitor yourself at home, you see more what you don’t like than give yourself a good grade. You go “why did I do it this way? Ha, it’s so unfortunate.” You think you could have done better if you had tried a little bit harder. Any actor would feel this way.”
Jang Baek Ki aside, is there any other character he would have liked to portray?
“Many people will probably relate to this, but when you’re on the set, you tell yourself that no one else could have done this character. That’s why I tried my best to hear people say that Jang Baek Ki could only be done by Kang Ha Neul. Still, if there was another character… Ahn Young Yi? Hahaha.”
The “see you tomorrow” of Manager Kang (Oh Min Suk) who took shots at Jang Baek Ki became a hot topic. This scene was popular for showing in a touching way how a boss thinks of his hoobae.
“Honestly, acting a phone call is hard. You must imagine what the other person says. I imagined how this “see you tomorrow” would sound on the phone. Although it was only through my imagination, it gave me goosebumps. It felt as if Manager Kand had talked to me directly. This “see you tomorrow” was thrilling just by imagining it. This “see you tomorrow” was a meaningful scene for me and I think it’s a scene any office worker can relate to. A survey said that the lie people say the most is “hello, how do you do?”. (laugh) “See you tomorrow” can be said unconsciously, but I think “Misaeng” shows how the words can break people’s heart.”
What is his favorite Jang Baek Ki’s scene?
“That “see you tomorrow” secene. There’s just something thrilling about it. I kept worrying about how to portray Jang Baek Ki’s attitude about Jang Geu Rae. Jang Baek Ki is jealous and envious of Jang Geu Rae, yet it wouldn’t work if it was obvious. It really worried me. I mean “I don’t think you and I are on the same level. Still, I’ll see you tomorrow” put an end to Jang Baek Ki’s long worries.”
“I really liked the scene where Jang Geu Rae and Jang Baek Ki sell socks together. I thought that if Jang Geu Ra and Jang Baek Ki were real, they’d do something like this. When we were filming, it was filled of friendliness. I was really happy with this scene. I think it was really a happy scene.”
Many “Misaeng” actors are from the theater world. People might not be familiar with them, but their acting skills are outstanding.
“It was great to see so many sunbaenims from the theater world. I started acting and kept doing plays. “Misaeng” sunbaenims kept sharing their theater stories. When I speak with plays directors or actors, we understand each other. I even thought to myself “if I’m serious about it, I should be at the theatre practrice room”. I was a fan of Lee Sung Min-sunbaenim. I fell for him when I saw him in “Go Go 70” and I asked myself how I could act like him. I also saw the play “Café Noir” of Lee Sung Min-sunbaenim. The play was about 3hours and a half long. I tried not be too obvious about it, but I forgot everything when I watched Lee Sung Min-sunbaenim act (laugh).”
Kang Ha Neul picked a Lee Sung Min’s scene as his favorite scene in “Misaeng”. He chose the scene in episode 8 when Lee Sung Min is worn out on One International’s rooftop after he got reprimanded by his boss because of a contract.
“I cried a lot while watching this scene. To be honest, Lee Sung Min-sunbaenim had nothing to hook you on until the nosebleed scene. He just showed good acting (laugh). Yet, he made me cry in the following scene. In the scene when he receives a text from his son and says he’ll buy BBQ chicken [t/n: yangnyeomttongdalk], I thought about my father. When I was a kid, he often bought BBQ chicken before coming home from work. I remember those times, so I called my father right after watching this scene and I told him to be careful with his health because the weather is cold. I really cried a lot after that. To be honest, I like fried chicken better than BBQ chicken. However, the word BBQ chicken stirs something in my heart. What we call a drama is because there are many dramatic scenes that give emotion, but this scene isn’t a sequence like that. I think it’s a scene that really saved the small details. When I’m acting, I don’t know how much something can be emotional when I watch the drama.”
He said he grew a little bit closer to Byun Yo Han who played Han Suk Yool in this drama.
“He’s the trend nowadays. Byun Yo Han-hyung. We really became close. We knew each other before “Misaeng”, but we really grew closer through “Misaeng”. His personality really matches mine. When people see me, I seem to be a bright person, but I’m not like that. Yo Han-hyung is the same. Being able to have a serious talk without laughing was really great.”
He also really became friends with Im Siwan and Kang Sora. “The chemistry between the four of us was great. I’m closer to Siwan-hyung and Sora-ssi. Siwan-hyung and I drank alcohol during filming. I can drink up to 3~4 bottles of soju, but Siwan-hyung is serious game too (laugh).”
His skin was really milky-white as I looked at him talking about his alcohol tolerance. I got suddenly curious about his secret to have such a creamy complexion if he could drink so much.
“My parents who were drama actors are good drinkers. When I go home (Busan), the family gathers in a bar. Not long ago, my younger brother and I drank more than 5 bottles together and our faces didn’t get red. It’s in our genes. My skin? I’m a Gyeongsang-do guy. I’m reluctant about skin stuff. I just apply a lot of moisturizing cream on my face.”
The line between the viril guy and the gentle guy is often blurred when you listen him talk.
“I left home and I’ve been living away from my family since my first year of high school (Seoul Guhak National High School). I felt lonely at first, but I’m comfortable with living on my own now. And I love candles. My philosophy is that there should always be a scent in a home. Right when you open the door, there must be a good scent. Of course, when I started living on my own, there was a stench. Haha. Now, what I love the most is to light up a candle and relax while listening to music.”
“Ever since I was a kid, my nickname was “the old-like kid”. I think my personality doesn’t change. Although I try my best not to be this way, I still am,” he said, laughing.
The “Misaeng” cast is leaving for the Philippines on December 22nd for some vacations. Kang Ha Neul can’t go because he has to rehearse for the play “Harold and Maud” in which he plays the lead role. He will be on stage starting from January 9th at the National Theater of Korea.
“It’s unfortunate that I can’t go have fun. However, theater is important to me. It’s valuable. I always need some time to reorganize my thoughts, so I hate how I’d start a project right after I finished filming one. However, theater, being on stage is what I need in my life right now. I missed out on many things while filming dramas. I need to remember that acting is about the things I can do and not the things I’m worried I can’t do. I needed something to fill this void. It’s theater, it’s being on stage.”
The last episode of “Misaeng” is broadcast on December 20th. Nothing filtered about the ending. Will there be the Jang Baek Ki-like ending Kang Ha Neul dreamed of?
“Jang Baek Ki was my latest role. In a couple of years, Jang Baek Ki would become the manager. He’d be our manager. I’d be wearing the bluetooth earphone and a newcomer would impose me his/her business plan. I hope he’d get this ending. Things would come in a full circle. I hope Jang Baek Ki will get a happy and heartwarming ending.”
When asked if there’s something he’d like to say to the viewers, he chose to talk about elephants.
“As I lived my life, I thought about what art was. I read the book talking about it and, although I can appreciate the story of the elephant in the refrigerator, it doesn’t give me emotion. Art is the same. It’s not about understanding it, it must give you emotions. I think emotion is empathy. “Misaeng” makes you feel you can relate to what is going on. No matter which role I’ll play or the projects I’ll do in real life, this empathy feeling will be a priority when I make my choice. My standard of what I think is a good project will be this “empathy”.”