How did you like the photo shoot today? It was fun. I hadn’t done a photo shoot in a while, so it was great to do this one with a female model.
If it’s not for a project, it’s quite difficult to see you. I think it’s important for an actor to reaffirm strongly where he stands. And it’s also about matching what the fans like. However, there are many people around me who recommend me to go on variety programs. They say don’t do only acting, try to use variety at your advantage too. It’s not that I hate going on variety programs, but I still have the worry that it doesn’t seem to be the right time for me to waste my energy like this. It’s rare for me to do activities aside of filming, so from the audience’s perspective, it may look like I’m not working. That’s why I’m worrying about the way to become an actor that the audience is used to see. That’s why I’m also thinking about doing variety programs.
If you actually do it, I think you’ll do well. I’m worried I’d be too much (smiles). It’s something I’m not used to do, so I think I’ll probably overdo things in order to avoid the awkwardness. I think my greedy side would come out too. There’s no reason for me not to enjoy it anyway. I do enjoy having fun.
Do you often watch TV? I watch mostly everything. I’ve always enjoyed watching TV, but I think TV programs can be a good barometer to know how the society feels, what creates the audience’s taste, so I watch just about everything I can.
Even current affairs programs? I watch because that’s the least I must know about so I can be responsible about the activities I can do. It’s not about trying to influence people by expressing my political opinions, but knowing what’s going on is important for an actor. I must know which way the flow is going in order to judge what I must do and which method to use [t/n: I didn’t translate the first half which uses political terms I’m not sure I understand, but I think he means that he doesn’t think of himself a big public figure, but somehow he’s half a public figure who can influence the public]. Then the things I hear can sound natural to me. I don’t want to think “what is this?” whenever I hear something. Knowing such info can help me with my acting.
You recently held an event to celebrate your birthday with your fans. My fanclub people do so many great things that I’ve been asking the person who runs my fanclub since last year if we could do something together. It was more an event to be with my fans than to receive gifts, so I have the feeling that it made me complete. I like to hear that Lee Jun Ki’s fans are as awesome as much I enjoy people saying Lee Jun Ki is great. It’s nice to grow old with my fans who keep protecting my status.
At one point, you wrote “an actor who works hard like a cow” as your SNS greeting words which seemed like some order to yourself. Right. I wish I didn’t rest. That’s why it feels like some self-hypnosis. When I was in my 20’s, doing a project that was well-received would influence your career for a long time. However, the effect disappears right away nowadays. The only opportunity for me to communicate with the audience is through the projects I do, so I decided I had to film at least one project a year. That’s why I’m definitely trying to shoot one project a year.
After “King and Clown”, you did film one project every year, be it a movie or a drama, but you almost never shot more than once a year. Because it takes at least half a year between the moment I pick up a project and until I finish it. That’s why it’s not easy to shoot more than one project a year. I could actually film movies and dramas one after the other, but the required time to think over which project I’ll do isn’t little.
From your fans’ perspective, wouldn’t they want to see you a bit more often? Some actors take a break for 4 or 5 years. As they wait for a role they want to do. I don’t take breaks like that. I want to keep my resolution to shoot a project at least once a year. That’s why making a decision sometimes feels like chasing time. When the outcome made me think I didn’t make a good choice, I realized that my fans who see this outcome have a hard time. That’s why my fans actually ask me not to rush into things.
Do you like manhwas? I used to. I read almost none ever since I went into my 30’s.
You don’t read webtoons either? Almost none.
Did you read the webtoon your next drama “The Scholar Who Walks In The Night” is based on? I visit online communities quite often and I saw how turning “The Scholar Who Walks In The Night” into a drama or a movie was already a big issue among this webtoon fans. That’s why I looked it up. It was probably in the beginning of last year. It was original in many ways. That’s why I asked my agency about it. There was already another actor who was a strong candidate. However, the production got delayed and I got the opportunity to be in contact with the producers earlier this year and I thought “let’s push ahead with this”. It was a burden to do another saguk right after “Joseon Gunman”, but the theme was so fresh that I was determined to grab the opportunity if it was offered to me because it’s a project I was already interested in.
Are you usually so assertive? I’m not. That’s why the director told me he was quite surprised because I even had three drinks with him during our first meeting (smiles). The first meeting is usually about figuring each other out. The actors, the director. However, this was actually the first time for me to act this way.
What did you like so much about the project? First of all, I like the fantasy genre. My looks or my physical ability, my acting style are very useful for the fantasy genre. I thought that the fact itself of playing a vampire in “The Scholar Who Walks In The Night” would be fresh.
You probably know it if your read the webtoon, but even your looks are similar to your character Kim Sung Yeol. I also thought to myself “oh? He looks like me?”. Actors usually try to match the original character, but since I already looked like the drawing, it was the most appealing point to me. Of course, you can see a lot of actors with slant eyes these days (smiles), but I was unrivaled in this area when I was in my 20’s.
You’ve been receiving attention for your unique features ever since your debut. Your looks can make you stand out, but it can also feel like a limit you must overcome. Right. Although “King and Clown” was a box-office success and it turned me into a star, I wasn’t offered many roles. There was this opinion that my face couldn’t be used in many ways for acting. That’s why I felt a sense of crisis like my actor life would be short. What made it even worse was that “Fly, Daddy, Fly”, the movie after “King and Clown” was a box-office failure. I was a star, but I had an inferiority complex as an actor. Still, acting was the only thing I could do and I wanted to act. That’s why I decided to make myself get noticed for my physical abilities or my emotional expressions. I thought people would also get used to my face little by little. Thinking this way made me confident. I guess it’s thanks to that, but at some point people actually started looking at my acting.
To be honest, it often happens that the words “Lee Jun Ki is a good actor” are said along “he’s better than I thought”. I received favorable reviews for “Time Between Dog and Wolf”, but people often said at that time that it was because I was good for this role. I did better than people thought with “Iljimae” and so what they said was “will he be able to keep doing well?”. It felt like people thought it would be just for one time. “It means they don’t trust me yet. I’m going to burn up everything.” I tried not to miss out on one single thing from the smallest detail to the biggest one. That’s why I tried my best to fortify my characters, to show various emotions, to do the biggest action scenes without a double stunt. That’s why people called me the “the hard worker beauty” (smiles). That’s how I got credibility.
Do you think you’re an actor who had to fight constantly against prejudices? It will sound like I don’t have a good personality either (smiles).
At one point, the number of your anti fans wasn’t little. “Lee Jun Ki won’t make it. “King and Clown” was just good luck”. I was embarrassed too when this was the vision most people had about me. I think it that’s what made me think to myself that I had to find the actor in me and this is what allowed me to be where I am today. Of course, negative comments stressed me out at first. Still, I kept reading them which made me feel like I had to win against them and that I was able to live as an actor. I tried to match the idea that you just need to overcome the fact you’re being underrated for no reason. I’m still trying today. I don’t read only good comments. Checking cold reviews is also useful.
Even if nice words are good for the spirit, written words are just written words. Do you have strong self-esteem? When I got the feeling that negative comments were getting to me, I wouldn’t read them at first. As I got used to listen to opinions like this, I became stronger and more flexible about it. As you know it, actors are meant to stand in front of the audience to be judged on their projects. Even if they don’t know how long he can live as an actor, they must put up with it one way or another. I know it was rather an advantage for me the faster I saw it, the faster I felt it and the faster I thought about it. Thinking “I did a good job, why are they being like this to me?” makes you fall easily in some manneurism at some point. When someone reads articles about me these days, I have the mental strength to put up patiently with anything like I’m wondering “what’s up with the comments? Is there no insult?” (smiles). As I’m getting older, it’s turning into a strength. I don’t know if it’s because it’s sneakier.
Seems like you’re good at taking blows. It’s probably because I kept filming dramas.
Why do you think this way? When I first experienced the drama system, I tasted death to the point I told myself “I will never do it again”. However, I got addicted to it. Creating 2 episodes a week, listening to the viewers’ opinion each week. At first, it was stressful, but I tried my best to make good use of these opinions, to adapt quickly and I slowly felt the charm that filming a drama can have. It’s very exhausting, even worn out, I chose to do dramas again and I got the feeling that it made me grow as an actor step by step. Like I was going through a Spartan-like training? Once in a while, my fans say they want me to come back through a movie, but the reason I keep filming dramas is because I’m addicted to it.
Are you the type to enjoy after going through a hard time? I shot a movie in China not long ago and it was awkward for me. To be on a luxurious set like this (smiles). They give actors a lot of free time, the actors shoot just one or two scenes and then take a break. Of course, there were times when things were hectic too. Waiting is more exhausting than being on roll for 24 hours anyway. I think that I enjoy the fierce and intense style now.
I heard you struggled a lot before becoming an actor. You came to Seoul despite your parents being against it and you worked several part-time jobs as you wondered between places that provided lodging. I worked as a kitchen assistant, I watched a pool hall counter, I was a waiter in a bar or worked as a gas station, but still, I was so happy to be in Seoul (smiles). I’m an optimistic person by nature. I kept failing at my auditions, but I thought I’d make it if I kept trying. I don’t know if it’s because I still have the mindset of those days, but I can endure any exhaustion like I want.
Do you hear that your ability to survive is strong? I have nothing else but that (smiles). If I had one more thing, it’d be my optimistic personality. That’s why I’m not difficult and I can endure things.
The first time you thought “I want to become an actor”? When I was a senior in high school. It’s a bit late, right? I’ve always enjoyed dancing and singing in front of others ever since I was young, but I had never thought about becoming an actor. I saw the play “Hamlet” by chance and I thought to myself the actor was cool. Since then, more than saying “I want to become an actor”, I wanted to study this job called acting. So my parents were taken aback because I became an actor so suddenly.
If it were me, I would have probably be against it. All my friends said I was crazy. They said “if you become an actor, I’ll become the President” (smiles). At that time, becoming a celebrity in Seoul wasn’t a reality that touched Busan people because it was something gifted people became. So it shows you never know for sure what life can be.
You liked dancing and singing, so have you ever dreamed of becoming an idol singer? I didn’t think to myself “I want to become an entertainer” because it wasn’t easy at that time for me to think I’d become an entertainer in Busan. Saying that I want to become an actor was just about how I wanted to study acting. I never had thoughts like “I’ll be a movie actor and become a star”.
Things turned out well for you anyway, so it’s good for you. When I think about where I am today, it’s frightening (smiles). As people say, do what you have to do when you’re able to do it, so you have no regrets and I think that’s what this time was for me. To be honest, I wanted to study computer engineering, but my grades weren’t really good, so I thought of my senior year of high school I had to repeat as a break and I decided to try to take on this challenge while I had this free time on my hands.
Why did you want to study computer engineering? I’ve lived surrounded by computers ever since I was a kid, so I wanted to study in a field related to computers. If I couldn’t enroll in the computer engineering department and become a programmer, I think I would have worked with computers even if I had to be a “yongpalyi” (smiles). [t/n: I think yongpalyi is a pejorative way to call people who sell computers]
When you’re asked a question, it’s like your answer is pouring down. Are you the type to think a lot when you’re all by yourself? I am. When my thoughts get too complicated and suffocating, I call my friends and I have a drink. Even if I’m thinking nonsense, I pushed these thoughts aways to clear up my mind. I’m not the type to get headaches by thinking stuff over all by myself. That’s why I think being able to meet someone you can have a good discussion with is a blessing.
It’s an age when a friend you’re comfortable with even without speaking is more and more needed That’s why I want love. I’m careful about saying this, but meeting only in bars can’t be satisfying when it comes to someone I’m relying on and who relies on me. It’s true that being with someone I love is the solution to the problem. I want to be in a stable relationship. I’m not at an age where I’m taking dating lightly now. I didn’t get to be in a lot of relationships, and I’m already 34 (smiles).
Because it’s really not easy when you miss out on the opportunity to date when you could. That’s what I’m saying! I’m a bit depressed these days. Please write it down. Please let the fans know it too(laughs).
Don’t your fans understand thoughts like this now? I checked it myself and the reactions are half-half (smiles). However, I think I’m not at an age to get carried away. I must find love too. It’s not right away, but I must build my own future anyway because I won’t be able to stay alone all my life.
Marriage can bring stability to your actor life. Being an actor is a fickle job. Even if you live an upright life without any incident, you can lose your job if something happens suddenly. Or you can be forgotten for no specific reason. That’s why I think I must be even stricter in my acting. I must protect my status so the family I will have later on doesn’t struggle.
You’ve been living by yourself for a long time, so don’t you feel discomfort sometimes? I’m a family man. I enjoy staying at home more than going out everywhere. It’s nice to have someone to take care of. That’s how my relationship is with my fans. I wouldn’t have been so comfortable if I thought they are people who like me. I like taking care of others too, so I’m friendly with my fans. It’s exactly the same with my family. That’s why I’m sure marriage will have a positive effect on my life.
You have 16 millions followers on Weibo. That’s more than Seoul’s population (smiles). I heard your fandom in China and Japan was quite strong. Which makes it reassuring. Because thanks to the fact that I became an actor with a fandom, I can get offered opportunities. I’d get good offers because I’m good, but I do think that I do have more good offers because of my fans. I’m very thankful for being able to do many activities also outside of Korea.
Let’s finish the interview here… But we didn’t talk much about your next drama “Scholar Who Walks In The Night”. Well then, should we see each other again when the drama is over? (smiles)
Translation: @thesunnytown – theunnytown.wordpress.com