The face of a clean plant. Was there a man that would fit the description “innocent with a gaze without double eyelids and with neat features. Fans of Song Chang Ui who plays a gay character in SBS “Life is Beautiful” call him “born innocent Dr. Tae Sub”. As he makes his coming out to his girlfriend Chae Young (Yoo Min), he says “I’m not someone who feels this way about women… I hated myself and I was sad” and when I saw the tears in his eyes, I also choked. When he shows a skulking smile as he looks at his lover Kyung Soo (Lee Sang Woo), when he’s strutting his stuff in a sharp suit as a coy smile tugs at his lips, his innocent image makes viewers’ hearts flutter and pulls in the real-time ratings. As he worried if the public would reject him, he chose this character, but he doesn’t know the reason of such unexpected explosive reactionsHis acting is so amazing that it’s hard to believe him when he says he had never given too much thought about the gay community before coming across the role of Tae Sub. Around the time the interview is about to start, some words were said by SBS executive Woon Goon Il who was passing by coincidentally. He’s the PD of “Golden Bride” who discovered Song Chang Ui. “Song Chang Ui is an actor that is very precious to me. He will keep on winning.” To this actor who was recognized right away by a renowed veteran who has been in this business for 33 years, to Song Chang Ui, I asked what the secret to portray realistically a gay character is.
You must have had some concerns when you were offered the role of Tae Sub who is gay.
It is true that I had concerns, but it didn’t last long. I trusted that fact that it was a project by Teacher Kim Soo Hyun. Of course, portraying a gay character itself was unfamiliar. As an actor, I had never thought about playing this kind of role.
So you played a character suffering from panic disorder, you played a flamboyant transgender in the musical “Hedwig and The Angry Inch”, do you enjoy taking on challenges?
I think I clearly have a challenging spirit. When I did Hedwig 4 years ago, it was a difficult role to take on, but as I was worrying about it, I also told myself that I definitely had to do it.
Do you know why the producers cast you for this role?
Writer Kim was in Jeju to write the story, so I met director Jung Eul Young. I heard that the writer enjoyed what I did in “Scales of Providence”. The director asked me about being gay and said “do you have absolutely nothing like that in you?”. My answer was “I don’t”. The diretor gave me confidence by saying things like “I hope you will take on this challenge and pull it off, it will turn out nice”.
Did the director or the writer specifically requested things for Tae Sub?
I tried to match what they wanted. The director suggested that we became close, that we had a drink and that we went to the sauna together. The writer said to show the strong love that can exist between two human beings. She asked me to bring life to the character and make it lovable and affectionate.
Did you seek advice from the gay people in your entourage?
There’s no gay people in my entourage. I used movie characters as a reference. The acting in “Brokeback Mountain” wasn’t stereotyped, that’s why I was moved. In the drama, isn’t it about the pure love between two men with one being a doctor and the other being a photographer? When I look at the two men in “Brokeback Mountain”, I don’t feel at all the usual gross feeling you get when people talk about love between two men. I said this was it when I watched it.
Did that give you affection for “the born innocent Dr. Tae Sub”?
I think it’s the first time I’m being called innocent. It’s not a word used often to describe men, but I’ve been hearing the word “innocence” for this role. I can only be thankful for the interest fans show me.
It seems that your character will be meaningful in “Life is Beautiful”.
It does seem that way. Teacher Kim Soo Hyun is amazing. She always writes ordinary characters and she uses her personal experience to bring to the light these characters left in the dark. There’s no villain, there’s no bad person, she makes it universal. In this drama, the character needing protection is the gay character. It’s a lonely character among the rest of them who smile brightly, but I hope things will turn out well for him. I think it will.
As a perfect straight man, what is the most difficult thing about portraying a gay character?
First of all, when it comes to act with another man, I was unfamiliar with looking at another man, with working facing another man. Looking at each other in the eyes and making it looks like it’s love made us feel awkward too… Honestly, it was very difficult. The director gave us a lot of directions to find the right balance between going more or less, the “push-and-pull” adjustment. Sang Woo and I talked a lot and we learned about difficult/heavy acting, so we both make mutual efforts.
What was the closest skinship you showed?
A hug and being cheek to cheek? This is actually today’s standard. A simple discreet shoulder grabbing gesture gives this strange excitement.
How does it feel when you’re actually acting?
To portray a gay character, one hand gesture, one gaze are important. It won’t work if you’re not being sensitive and delicate about such details. For the hug scene, the director said to snuggle, but I wanted to hug him in a manly way. That’s why the hug is the middle between the two. Like a sudden expectation as it’s manly at the same time. The smiling gaze must be detailed too. It won’t work if it gets emotional.
You played a transgender in “Hedwig”, a prosecutor with an overflowing sense of justice, and now a gay character. Do you have a particular interest in social minorities?
I think it’s more about sincerity than interest. Sincerity is important in acting. It won’t work if you don’t feel sincerity for the character you portray. I thought the character had be sincere when he made his coming out, he had to be appealing through his sincerity in order to bring realism to the drama.
Dr. Tae Sub’s cool and simple fashion is popular. Did you physically prepared for the role?
I thought he had to have a beautiful figure. He’s a doctor living in Jeju, so I think he had to have a classique appearance in his own way, without being too much. I worried about it a lot. I exercised in order to be slim. I created a lean suit-like body line instead of being too muscular.
I heard your movie “A Lone Tree” is about to premiere. You’re on TV, on the big screen, on stage, doesn’t this pretty mask help you to be different characters?
Thank you for these nice words. To be honest, I think I’m like that too. Because I’m confident about what I have inside…. (laugh) An actor must have a personality, but he must be able to draw different pictures.
Every time I see your coy smile or your teary eyes, I wonder how you create such detailed expressions. Female viewers especially go crazy.
I practiced in front of the mirror. (laugh) I thought to myself that I might be criticized, but I was surprised I got good reactions instead. I think the world changed a lot. I think women accept it more easily. When I did “Hedwig”, 90% of the audience were women.
If you were to divide between two genders, would you say Tae Sub is a feminine role?
The drama didn’t make the difference between the male gender and the female gender. Of course, there’s the question of who’s being more active, who’s being more passive. Kyung Soo who made his coming out is active. Tae Sub who also had a girlfriend and who is the eldest son is being cautious. It’s just about two men loving each other, so it was more about defining it as active, passive instead of defining it through the perspective of a male-female relationship .
Don’t feel you burdened that this gay character image gets stronger?
To be honest, I did worry in the beginning. Like would it be okay for me to do musicals and get right away into acting a gay character? Hedwig was a show and the character is completely different, so I thought to myself that they will see me as Tae Sub and this wouldn’t be Song Chang Ui, so my mind was at ease.
What’s the most memorable line or scene for you?
It’s definitely the coming out scene in episode 9. He goes “I’m not someone who feels this way about women… I feel it for men. I hated myself and I was sad. I always felt like I had committed some secret crime and I felt like I was cursed.” It was a confession hard to make, so every word was right from beginning to the end. I was cautious in the beginning and I just let go of everything. It was really a difficult confession. Episode 9 is the one I remember the most.
I heard you were close friends with Lee Sang Yoon who plays “Ho Sub” and you’red called the “Sub Sub Brothers”. Lee Sang Yoon said in a recent interview that he could play a gay character, but he didn’t think he could do it with you.
After he did this interview, he told me “Hyung, I’m sorry. I said it as a joke and and it got printed in the article”. We’ve been close since “Scale of Providence”. We used to joke that if we were to portray a couple, wouldn’t it be like truly going out together since we’re very close… (laugh) He meant that we’re so close that it would probably be awkward. I read the article and told him there was nothing to be sorry about.
So does it mean you could play a gay couple with Lee Sang Yoon?
I don’t think I could do it because I’d burst out laughing, with him. When we were shooting “Scales of Providence”, we kept laughing, so it was hard. I heard Teacher Kim Soo Hyun saw us and cast Sang Yoon and me because of that. It turned out well because we were both acknowledged by her.
Please say a few words of encouragement to gay people.
As I got to understand Tae Sub, I also ended up understanding people and love. In the US, don’t they kiss in the street and aren’t they free to love? It’s just about sexual preferences. You don’t cause harm to others. Just like the drama title is “Life is Beautiful”, I hope all of you will lead a beautiful life.
Translation: @thesunnytown – thesunnytown.wordpress.com