[October 2014 – Cosmopolitan] “Misaeng” main actors – Interview

Cosmo - Misaeng

“Jang Geu Rae”‘s other name, Siwan

We’re fairly used to saying “actor Siwan”. What do you think is the thing about you people react to? Personally, it’s your eyes.

I have yet to figure it out. Hahaha. I think I’m in the process of figuring out. Isn’t it because I’ve been portraying smart and earnest characters? If you say it’s my eyes… Could it be because I induce sympathy? Haha.

I think the pressure to be in a drama based on webtoon “Misaeng” which is the textbook of the Korean salaryman isn’t little. It’s fair to say that Jang Geu Rae is a mere beginner in the working world, but it’s definitely not easy for him to understand the sorry and the delicate emotions of the office. Did you have your own personal method to immerse yourself in this character of an office worker?

My friends who work in companies in real life helped me a lot. I asked them to tell me everything about the office life. It started from their superior’s critics to the most trivial details of a daily day at work. I heard so many stories. To be honest, I thought office workers had a life easier than ours because they have fixed hours to go and leave work. They don’t have it easy, how can one live such a hard life, they must be under so much stress. These were the various thoughts in my mind after that. I thought being an entertainer was the only exhausting job, but when I looked at the bigger picture, I realized that we’re all the same and we all live a life of “struggles”.

What kind of person do you want to become?

A free-spirited person. Someone who can face anything with a free mindset. This free mindset about time and material things is important because if you don’t have enough of these two, you end up living with anxiety. Having a free mindset in any situation, this is my life’s ultimate goal.

Heaven of curiosity, Kang Sora
In order to understand the doctor you played in your previous drama “Dr. Stranger”, you observed real operations and attented practice sessions. For “Misaeng”, you volunteered as an intern in a real-life general trade company. Now that you have your own experience of what a company is, what do you think?

Although I spent three days in a room doing nothing but watching them, we ate lunch together, we held huisik together. Things like that were exciting. Starting with the culture of exchanging cards, coming to work every day at the same hour, each one of these things.

It seems that’s what happened between Ahn Young Yi and Jang Geu Rae. What do you think can bring together two people who don’t have the same wealth or the same background?
To be honest, I don’t think spectrum is important. More than wealth or background, isn’t it more important that two people just get along well? The problem is how those differences can make the other or myself feel like we come off short or we’d be resentful for pointless harm. In a situation like this, wouldn’t we be making things hard for each other?

Do you love the person you are today?
I’m satisfied with who I am. If I was asked to trade my place with someone, I don’t think I would do it. I think my life is where it should be. Even if something bad happens, wouldn’t have the strength to pull out of this? Before, I thought it wasn’t okay to complain in front of others because I had too much pride. I think I’ve realized lately how talking about my struggles and asking for help is the way to break this mold.

“Working man” Lee Sung Min

You said you didn’t read the webtoon on purpose. Is it true?

This was falsely reported. Of course I read it. However, I did think that I wouldn’t read it anymore once I’d have the drama script. The webtoon was successful, so I think people are greatly attached to the characters. That’s why my hands were often itching to check the manhwa once I received the script. So what I meant was that every time I wanted to read it, I told myself not to and it was better not to read it.

How is the Oh Sang Sik you will show us?

First of all, he looks different. I couldn’t make myself have red eyes. I read one interview of writer Yoon Tae Ho and he said he gave him red eyes to show how exhausted he is because he’s a workaholic. I talked with the director about if my character should have red eyes. We decided to make him eerie and turn him into a middle-aged workaholic with a disheveled look. Althought I cared about details about his appearnce, we worried even more about how to express the affection and the humanity he has for his work and for other people.

So what kind of person do you think Oh Sang Sik is?

I actually asked a team manager of a real general trade company. I asked him what kind of person this character is. He told me that he was an “harmful character”. His own principles are clearly defined and they don’t mix well with the company’s rules, so he can harm the whole organization in the end. However, I think this is the biggest charm of Oh Sang Sik. Won’t the readers think that the fact he makes no compromise shows him even more as an ideal? After spending more than a month with him, he’s unexpectedly someone very joyful and bright.

Perfectionist Kang Haneul

Did you read the webtoon “Misaeng”? What did you think about the most while you were reading?

I have no experience of an office employee’s life. Still, being able to relate to the “Misaeng” universe was exciting. If someone who has never worked in a company reads it and falls for things such as the story of my character, I think it means it’s a really good book.

What is the most difficult thing in your career right now?

The more I act, the more difficult acting is. There’s no correct answer. Feeling that you must have the right answer is something quite stressful and worrysome. I’m a perfectionist, so if I’m not satisfied with what I do, I get a lot of stress. It can reach the point that I can’t even sleep when I’m filming a project.

So what is the thing you need the most right now?

I need to trust myself. No, I need self-confidence. When I went to auditions in the past, the thing that got me depressed the most was the lack of strength that I thought I had. I think I’m lacking a little bit of strength. I think you must have some illusions about yourself at some extent to have this strength to move forward. Before, I always worried and was burdened by the idea of everything to be perfect in the moment. I think I was plagued with stress.


COSMO We gathered the 4 main actors of “Misaeng”! I think you must have discovered similarities between yourself and the character you play or the other characters. 

Lee Sung Min I saw something in my character Oh Sang Sik. I guess you can say he has this agressive/rebellious side? I don’t know if I’m different from the amazing salaryman he is, but I think we have the same intransigent mindset toward our work.

Siwan I’d say Jang Geu Rae. Especially the fact he’s naive. It’s a bit embarrassing, but his personality overlaps a lot with my personality in real life. That’s why I used my own personality to express the small details. Later on, when you watch the drama, even if you think “ah, this is Im Siwan right there”, I think you’ll like this image.

Kang Haneul I can also relate a lot to my character which is “Jang Bae Ki”. It’s not because he’s the character I play, but I’m always worrying about something just like Jang Baek Ki is. How he worries he won’t meet others’ expectations, the pressure of being a perfectionist. When I looked at the situations he was in, I often told myself “Wow, I’d do the same if it were me, he’s really hopeless”.

Kang Sora I think I have similarties with all of them. “Young Yi”, “Geu Rae”, “Baek Ki”, “Team Leader Oh Sang Sik”, I discovered a little bit of myself in each one of them. The way Young Yi works so hard to avoid being criticized, Baek Ki’s ambition and greediness, Geu Rae’s meticulousness, Team Leader Oh’s reckless side… People around me also discovered different sides of them in each character.

COSMO Right. Just like Sora said, “Misaeng” became a national webtoon because anyone can identify to at least one character. Meanwhile, you sometimes feel a bit sad when you read the manhwa and you go “if it had been in this situation, it wouldn’t have worked out”. I think there must be things you want to say to the “Misaeng” characters, especially about the one you portray yourself. Some encouragement, some advice or some insults or reprimands.

Lee Sung Min First of all, I’ll have to live with him until December. I hope he’ll be by my side until then. Like lately, we’ve been together…

COSMO You mean y’all are stuck with each other like glue?

Lee Sung Min Because this drama is an adaptation and the webtoon is based on was famous, I can feel there is a precise line to follow. That’s why it makes acting harder, but I hope he’ll stay with me until the end of the drama. What I want to tell to Oh Sang Sik is “let’s just be a bit more flexible”. If there’s a misunderstanding, go talk to that person and deny it. If you need to be strategic, so be it… You’re not alone, every team member must live, so let’s turn your personality down a little, hm?”

Siwan Jang Geu Rae is heartbreaking. I want to cheer him up. What I want to tell him is a message of hope I want to give to anyone who will watch “Misaeng”.

COSMO This is actually my last question, so let’s save it for later. Haha. What about the two of you? I think our Cosmo readers will be able to identify to Ahn Young Yi and Jang Baek Ki who are newbies overflowing with spirit and ambition.

Kang Sora “Don’t overwork yourself like that”. Ahn Young Yi is really too harsh on herself. She makes things harder for herself. She’s still in her mid 20’s. She can make mistakes because she’s still a newbie, but I think she set her standard way too high. It’d be nice if she went on a trip, if she went on dates, if she experienced failure. It’d be nice if she tried adventurous and non-work related things.

Kang Haneul I want to cuss him out, but I will contain myself. Haha. It’s just the feeling I had after trying to portray Jang Baek Ki. I hope he’d realize that the world is wide. Jang Bae Ki was raised as an elite since he was a kid, so he often lets his self-esteem takes over his self-confidence. [I want to tell him] I’m expecting you to change once you realize that this is a big world and there are a lot of people who are as good as you.

COSMO Looks like people will agree with your opinion as they’re watching “Misaeng”. I hope this “living together” feeling will come across in the end. As we gathered the 4 of you here to work together, what do you think create the synergy between all of you?

Lee Sung Min I still can’t see Sora and Haneul a lot. We haven’t filmed much scenes together yet, but I think this number will increase as time goes by and there will be this “our collaboration is really going well” feeling. It’s especially like that because I see Siwan and Kim Dae Myung who plays Assistant Manager Kim Dong Sik almost every day. There’s already something set between us. I’m the dad, Dong Sik is the mom, and Geu Rae is the son. It’s not just acting, it also feels this way in real life.

Siwan Can I say that being with the “Misaeng” team, there’s just this easygoing feeling going on? It’s such a nice feeling. It’s more than just this shining big feeling, I feel comfortable because it’s like I’m right where I should be.

Kang Haneul As for me, I think the three of them have so many things that I don’t have. I just stand quietly behind and forget about everything. I was already a fan of Lee Sung Min. No, to be honest I was a Lee Sung Min-holic. I watched every drama and movie he did. Being able to work with him is such an honor. The thing I learned the most with him is “harmony”. Acting in harmony [edit: the word he uses can also mean “breathing”, so it would be knowing how to breathe when you deliver your lines. I went with harmony because I think it’s a more general term that also covers the fact that they all act together]. Of course, when something doesn’t work out, it really doesn’t. Sora’s passion, Siwan-hyung’s carefulness. I’m learning by watching them.

COSMO Aside from the affection you have for your own character, how would it feel to have a sunbae or a hoobae like your character in your real life social circle?

Lee Sung Min Wow, that’d be exhausting, right?~. If it was a sunbae, then I think it’d make even things comfortable for me. However, if a hoobae comes to you every day asking “it’s not right, is it?”, well…

Kang Haneul Someone like Jang Baek Ki? Just like sunbaenim, I think I’d totally hate it? Haha. Having someone ambitious and serious around you can be very exhausting.

Siwan Just like I said earlier, Geu Rae looks so pitiful… If I had a hoobae like him who would be hard-working and with such sincerity, I’d want to take care of him. If it’s a sunbae, then I’d try my best to support him.

Kang Sora Is my character the best? Haha. The reliable one? If it’s a hoobae, I’d give him/her my trust, if it’s a sunbae I’d have deep discussions with him/her. I think it would be nice.

COSMOThis is the last question. There are office employees everywhere in Korea who are living a life of struggle like the characters in “Misaeng”. Even if it was just for a while, “Misaeng” allowed you to experience the live of an office employee, so what would you like to say to those people?

Lee Sung Min With this drama, I realized how office employees live intensely. I was really surprised. I mean, they are not just people who put on their tie and go to work and have a boring life. I’m very sorry for living 40 years with this misconception. I realized that these people are definitely not “ordinary people” like they say they are. To be honest, I even admire them. I will try my best to portray you in a way that you won’t be ashamed of.

Kang Sora Just like Lee Sung Min-sunbaenim, I really admire them and I’m even proud. They live every day so much more intensely than what I had thought.

Kang Haneul I don’t have thoughts like “we will comfort office employees as we portray this image of them” because, to be honest, I think it’s still something out of my league. However, I did think about one thing since the beginning. I hoped that if I portrayed someone among all the other office employees in the world, you’d say to yourself “there is definitely someone like him”. This might comfort you, but my hope is really that you think “ah, here’s a drama telling our story”.

Siwan I think the same as Haneul. I don’t think I can tell them something like “if you work hard day by day, an amazing outcome is waiting for you”. This is not the message “Misaeng” conveys. However, I hope that the fact that “Misaeng” is making efforts to bring out the joys and sorrows as well as the struggle of office employees will give you strength.

Interview: Cosmopolitan
Translation: @onesunnylady – thesunnytown.wordpress.com


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