So it was in September 2013
I feel like your Korean improved since last time.
No. When I’m in the US, I speak Korean only with Mango (his Golden Retriever). Mango is a Korean dog, so he doesn’t really understand English. (laugh) When I say “Mango, sit!”, he doesn’t know what it means and looks at me blankly, but when I say “Mango, sit!” in Korean, he listens. Isn’t it [=the impression that his Korean improved] because I’m comfortable enough to speak? In the past, I could hold a discussion in Korean and I didn’t feel that uncomfortable, but I didn’t speak often because there was a pressure of speaking perfectly when I was doing an interview or if I had to speak at an official event. However, it may look like I have improved because I’m comfortable now.
How was being on a Korean set after such a long time?
It was really nice. There’s this family feeling when I’m shooting a Korean drama or movie. This feeling that we can become close and friends fast. I almost never feel this way when I’m working in the US. It’s just work.
Because Hollywod is on a schedule every second.
When I arrive on set in the morning, I rehearse my lines in my trailer all by myself, then I wait, then I shoot my scene. Then I eat lunch, then I shoot my scenes. I go home, I sleep and I go through the exact same pattern the next day. It’s always like that. However, working in Korea is really like being with your family. Once work is over, you have dinner together, you have a drink and you talk a lot. If filming is outside of Seoul, you sleep in the same dorm. I was missing things like this. Kyung Goo-hyung, Chang Suk-hyung even suggested that we all went on a trip with their families and bring in their kids during their vacation. I also shot a movie in China and I worked as a model in Hong-Kong before. I worked in various countries like Malaysia, Singapour, but the filming set atmosphere in Korea is special. This is the kind of things I miss when I’m in the US.
How was your relationship with the other actors? You worked with Seol Kyung Goo, Moon Sori, they’re the best.
Kyung Goo-hyung has this masculine vibe, but he’s actually very nice and gentle. He’s even delicate/thoughtful. Once filming was over, I gave him a bottle of tequila as a gift because I was leaving the next day. I came back to Korea three months later and we met again. He told me “Henney, when are we drinking this tequila?”. And I asked “you haven’t yet?” and he said “Well, I was waiting so we could drink it together”. I was so thankful. I thought it would be only fair that he had already drunk it.
How was it to work with Moon Sori?
We reacted to what the other did while we were acting. When I was looking at her acting, an instinctive exclamation came out and I thought to myself “I must do well too”. She’s also very good at ad-libs and has a good timing for comedy. Timing is very important to figure out when a joke must be done. She’s really good at that. She’s also adorable because she shows us the pictures of her baby. I think she’s the ideal young Korean mom. Can I say she’s an example of the skillful and beautiful Korean woman?
Do you usually enjoy comedies? I think that’s why “Spy” must have been more special.
To be honest, I feel comfortable the most when I do comedy because that’s how I was raised. People in my family joke around a lot. My father still does. (laugh) That’s why I think acting was hard for me when I started working in Korea because I did many roles with the perfect guy image. Of course, it’s comfortable for me to do comedy. It’s closer to my real life personality.
You shot Hollywood movies with icons like Hugh Jackman, Arnold Schwarzenegger. When you started in Korea, if someone would have told you you’d get to work with such actors, would you have believed it?
I would have said it’s totally crazy. (laugh) I came to Korea and I wrote down my goals on a list before I did “My Name is Kim Sam Soon”. It was about what I want to accomplish in the next five years. The first goal was studying Korean. The second one was buying a house in the US, the third one was earning money as much as I thought was appropriate for me, the 4th one was shooting a Korean movie, the 5th one was shooting a Hollywood movie. There were 5 goals. It’s surprising that I already accomplished all of them. I worked hard and I ended up believing in the power of saying your goals out loud.
What are your plans for the next five years?
I want to be better in Korean movies. I think I would do better if I were to do today projects like “Seducing Mr. Perfect” that I did in the past. Same goes for “My Father”. I was going all out for the emotional scenes back then, but I think my acting would have been more detailed and controlled today. My plan for the next five years is to shoot more Korean movies. Of course, Hollywood movies too, but I always think about Korea. Because I was able to work, thanks to the activities I did in Korea. Money doesn’t matter, I just hope I will get to do good projects in Korea.
After you started working in Hollywood, Asian characters that were stereotyped started changing. How would you describe this change?
Will there always be a level/standard? There’s a door. The competition is fierce because there aren’t many roles for Asian actors. I’m trying not to go for the typical Asian character, so when I go to audition, I must compete with top actors. In the case of “Wolverine”, Agent Zero was supposed to be German and in “The Last Stand”, my character was also a personal agent and he was supposed to be Italian. I worked so hard during the audition that they changed the roles for me. Asian actors must do better. Like Lee Byung Hun. He’s really a great actor and I think he changed the perception about Asian actors. His English is good and his acting is great. However, his case is almost the exception. There are more minor roles for Asian actors, but getting big roles is hard.
Have you been taking a lot of auditions lately?
I kept taking auditions even right before I came back to Korea for the production briefing session. There were one for an indie movie and one for a Steven Spielberg’s movie.
You’re talking about famous director Steven Spielberg?
Yes. My agent suddenly contacted and offered to meet Steven Spielberg. I said “Who? Steven Spielberg? Hold on, I didn’t even get the script” and that’s why my agent said he/she would send it to me right away and said it was 10 pages and I had to go to the audition the very next day. I asked if I could meet him another day, but he/she said only had to say one word. “It’s Spielberg”. That’s why I rehearsed up to 6 hours the day before and I met him. Because I’m still a rookie. (laugh)
How’s your life in LA? Do you have more freedom than when you’re in Seoul?
The weather is nice. However, I don’t think the LA lifestyle is for me. Most of people work in the entertainment field. When I go to a restaurant, it’s always business talk or Hollywood talk and this kind of atmosphere is a bit unfamiliar. I can go where I want, but still, I miss Korea. I also miss my hometown in Michigan. Michigan is so quiet that you can even hear insects chirping. You can also fish while enjoying a beer. Kyung Goo-hyung sees me as a countryside boy. (laugh)
Recently, even Korean actors are preparing their debut with the global market, like China or Hollywood, in mind. As someone who experienced first various markets, what advice would you give them?
The most important thing is that you must study. Not just acting, but you must study to understand the language, the culture and the system of the country you’re aiming for. I’ve also worked in China and I’ve worked in the US too, but each system is different. That’s why you must also ask a lot of questions. Even without knowing the specificity of Korean culture, even when something made no sense to me or if there was a problem, I didn’t really talk about it. Not being shy and asking questions when you’re curious about something is important. If you want to become a good actor, you must ask questions.
Going back and forth between Hollywood and Korea without losing your balance in this fancy and crazy show business must have been quite hard. Do you always manage to keep your balance?
Of course! It’s exactly the same. I think it’s all thanks to my family. My parents are very simple and direct people. They don’t change much. I think it’s a good thing. My life is quite complicated and hectic, but I can call my mom and it’s like “mom, what are you doing?” and she says “I’m just watching TV” “what about dad?” “dad is sleeping” “there’s nothing going on, right?” “Right, everything’s good. Mango is sleeping, I’m making dinner”. It’s always the simple things like that. Whenever I run into a problem, my parents always have the answer. Just by being there for me, they give me balance. I’m a lucky man.
To be honest, when their kids are over 30, parents often talk about marriage. When they call, they asked their kids if they ate. What is your parents’ style?
I think my mom would want to talk about it (laugh), but I don’t know. I might be a special case. My parents have never talked to me about such things. Sometimes, my mom would say “are you happy? A woman? Are you seeing someone?” and I say “I’m just dating” and she says “really? Do well”… And that doesn’t go further than that. She’s very cautious. I think she would be different if I weren’t happy as I am today, but I am happy as I am today.
Translation: @thesunnytown – thesunnytown.wordpress.com