Actor So Ji Sub is famous for not being talkative. If you want to make a ranking, he’d probably second or third after the famous “Brownie” from “Gag Concert”. When silence interrupts the discussion, him being in the industry is something special that can be as an accident.
Taciturn actor So Ji Sub (35) quietly went to the Busan International Film Festival. It wasn’t as the opening film’s lead actor like last year, it was to give interviews. He had to give interviews to promote the movie “A Company Man” that would be released a week later and that time overlapped with the BIFF. Most of movie reporters were covering the festival, so So Ji Sub offered to go to Busan too. It was the opposite image of actors who use excuses to purposely avoid interviews and promote their movie. When So Ji Sub received the compliment “you’re awesome for coming all the way to Busan to do an interview”, he plainly replied “it’s a movie that I’m starring in, so isn’t natural for me to do interviews?”.
It seems that So Ji Sub communicates with his taciturn sincerity. His honesty and his simplicity permeate through his straightforward speech. Although he doesn’t speak much, when he communicates through his sincerity, that’s the only thing. We met So Ji Sub, the actor who doesn’t need to speak.
You’re the lead in the movie “A Company Man” that premiered last month. The lead character is Ji Hyung Do. He’s a killer who works in an ordinary company that serves as a cover for a company of contract killers. I think it might have been two big challenges for you. Portraying the daily life of a company man which is a life you have never experienced and portraying a killer.
Just like the title is “A Company Man”, the focus was more on the “office employee” aspect than the “being a killer” aspect. To be honest, when I look back at my life, if you exclude the time when I was going to school, the only time when I had to commute on a regular basis was when I served as a public service worker at the Mapo-gu Office. I served as a public service officer for 26 months and what’s funny is that I suffered from the “Mon-Tues illness”. I felt good only on Fridays, and I felt depressed on Sunday nights (smiles). I shot this movie while thinking “company employees really do have a hard time” and I could sympathize with them. This movie is filled with the joys and sorrows of company employees who are at work on time but must stay alert if they want to leave work on time.
When you did your military service as a public service worker, weren’t you the type to leave work on time?
Yes. Indeed. (smiles) Work hours were from 9AM to 6PM, but I worked from 7AM to 4PM. I left work at 4PM.
It’s nice to leave work, but going to work is a real torture.
I’m okay with getting up early. My senses are sharp and I live alone, so when my alarm rings once, I wake up. I have no one to wake me up, so when I can’t get out of bed, I really can’t do it at all. That’s why I can’t lie back down once I wake up in the morning. I can’t use the “second alarm” function.
Because of the scene in the movie where you leave work, you rode the subway after a long time.
If it’s not for filming, I have no occasion to ride the subway. When I was in high school (Incheon Physical Education High School), I rode the subway to go to school. It was the early 1990’s back then, so I’m quite old. At some point, I became the oldest when I’m on a set. Most of the staff is younger than me. It’s really hard to find people older than me. I’m the hyung, so I should take care of them and encourage them, but I’m not really good at it. I think my hyung role is about trying the best that I can to do well. I don’t speak a lot, so it doesn’t show (smiles).
What was the hardest thing about portraying a company employee?
It was hard to wear a suit and a tie. When I attend a formal event, I wear a suit sometimes, but this time I had to wear one all the time. When a suit fits you perfectly, your movements are kind of limited. It might be because I played many roles where my characters wore casual clothes that it’s still more comfortable for me to dress this way, but formal outfits were more uncomfortable. Especially ties, they made me feel like I was suffocating. I thought it’d be nice if company employees were given the freedom to wear a tie or not at the office. I think it can become helpful, even when it comes to work.
In the movie, your character looks at the newbie who just joined the company. He reminds him who he was 10 years ago and e hands in his letter of resignation.
It’s true that the character of this newbie provides the occasion for him to quit the company, but it wasn’t the only thing. It’s not that Ji Hyung Do wanted to quit because he was tired of killing people and felt guilty about it. He just wanted to leave. It’s something anyone can feel. Company employees will probably relate to this feeliing. I wonder if handing in resolutely a letter of resignation and having your boss asking “if you quit, what the hell are you going to do with your life now?” and answering “I will open a coffee shop” isn’t a dream that ordinary company employees have.
I’m a reporter and I felt some catharsis as an office employee when the lead character shouts “I quit!”.
It was the only moment when he shouted in front of the company. After saying these words, he can’t speak at all.
Acting is your job, so I have to ask. Have you ever wanted to shout that you want to quit acting?
Of course. I always feels this way. I always feel like I want to quit. It’s a very exhausting and tiring job. I act the way I want to, but when I can’t control myself, when I think that I can no longer bring out something, I really want to run away. There are many times when I just want to hide.
How do you overcome moments like this?
The stress acting gives me can only get rid off through acting. I’m trying to resolve things through acting one way or another. Still, when it doesn’t work, I hide at home. When I go outside and have a drink with my friends to try to talk about it, it makes it more agonizing for me. When I stay at home all by myself, I can calm my mind.
You’re quite popular and you’re acknowledged for your acting, so it’s surprising to hear you say that.
Am I acknowledged for it? To be honest, there are many times when I’m curious and wonder if it’s really true because it’s not the first time I hear or read stuff like this about me. What I hear directly from someone else and what I think are two different things. Besides, I’m still surprised to hear that I’m good-looking or that I’m popular.
It seems to me that you’re strict with yourself.
I think so. In the movie “A Company Man”, I look at the newbie and see the one I was, but I also see the one I’ll be in the future. When the question “are you happy?” is asked, most of people can’t answer. When asked “why are you working so hard?”, they answer “for my future”, but they’re not happy in the present, so I wonder if they can really be happy as they’re getting older. I asked myself questions like this, and my conclusion was that I have to be happy now in order to be happy in the future.
So I’m curious to hear what your dreams were 10 years ago. When I look at your filmography, you filmed the drama “Glass Slippers” 10 years ago.
Ah! “Glass Slippers”. To be honest, back then wasn’t a time when I worked because I enjoyed acting. It had been about 9 years since my debut and I wasn’t receiving much recognition, so I thought I’d just be an actor who’d just live as an actor [= without recognition]. I became popular almost 10 years after I debuted, so I did endure it well until now. Usually, rookies who don’t manage to secure a position disappear after 2 or 3 years, but I think I’m a special case. People around me are also surprised. Well…
Weren’t you impatient at that time?
I might have been discouraged if I had started acting because I wanted to be an actor like crazy. However, I began acting to earn money, so I didn’t feel this kind of impatience. Once I graduated from high school, I started acting to earn money once I went to college. Because of my career, I wasn’t able to graduate from college (Korea National Sports University). I went because I had even gotten a scholarship, but I had to be really serious about doing sports and I couldn’t do it, so I quit.
You started your acting career to earn money, so what did you like about it for you to be an actor for so long?
I started because of money, but I found it fun at some point. I wanted to be good because I found it interesting and that’s why I became ambitious. It wasn’t another kind of ambition, I just hated hearing the words “you can’t act”. My acting style is either about being intense in the way I express emotions or I don’t yell, so people feel like my acting is similar. That’s why I’m currently worrying about it because I also feel like I should tone it (his image) down when I portray an explosive character. I’m trying to change little by little.
You don’t have the type of personality to expose yourself, right?
I always sat in the back at school. I hated taking the lead and I shook when I was told to read out loud. I was only a leader when I was doing sports. I had a strong sense of responsibility, but I couldn’t express it. I didn’t know how to do it… I might have gone down the wrong path if sports hadn’t been in my life.
It seems that you expressed yourself through sports in the past and I guess you do it through acting now.
I think so. I like being in front of the camera these days, but I’m still very shy when it comes to meeting people and filming
variety programs. When I filmed “Infinite Challenge”, it seemed that only the others were making efforts. To be honest, I’m still awkward even with this kind of interview.
After 2009, you filmed the dramas “Cain and Abel”, “Road Number 1”, “Ghost”. From the Chinese movie “Spy Dating Manual” to the movies “Only You”, “A Company Man”, you’ve been working for 2 years without taking a break.
Because I’m alone to lead my agency (smiles). (editor’s note: So Ji Sub left Key East run by Bae Yong Joon and founded 51K) Now that I’m working all by myself, I’ve been thinking about training young actors these days. I was absolutely not into this idea in the past. I think an actor who already debuted wouldn’t be a good match, but sometimes I do want to train a rookie with a style or a personality that matches mine.
Now I’m curious which image you will show next. What is your next project?
I think it will be a Chinese sageuk. I have a deep connection with historical settings. My first lead role was in the sageuk “Thousand Years of Love”. You can say I got some recognition from the viewers at that time, then I received love for “What Happened in Bali” and “Sorry, but I Love You”. Before I could taste what being number 1 feels like, I went to the army. When I think about it, going straight off to the army before I could completely enjoy popularity actually helped me. If I had gone to the army after being high on this taste of popularity, I don’t think I would have been in the situation I am today. Since I couldn’t properly taste it and went to the army, it was also a good thing for the audience. I wonder if me being where I am today isn’t because they didn’t make me big-headed and the viewers or the audience were curious about me.
Many actors say that they get more and more a sense of responsibility as they’re getting older. Is it the same for you?
More than the movie’s box-office result, I think what’s important is not to harm the staff and the other actors. That’s the way you get the opportunity to have a project to do next and it creates a virtuous circle. I wish everyone wouldn’t make movies because they only think about themselves. Be it the directors, the actors, if they don’t compromise and only do what they want to do, it can bring harm to others. As I’m getting older, I’m feeling more and more what I can do from where I stand. I feel this sense of responsibility because I’m able to keep working since I reached this break-even point.
Compared to the time when you debuted, is there something you’re more comfortable with?
I like getting older. As an actor, time is the only thing that can make you express and wear the traces of time passing by. Getting older is nice. And it hasn’t been long since I’ve been hearing the words “you’re good-looking”. At first, I heard a lot the words “a face like yours can’t work”. Because at that time, (Han) Jae Suk and (Jang) Dong Gun were the popular faces. I put up with this difficulty well. I endured it for 10 years, and now I’m acknowledged even without getting double eye-lids surgery.
While sitting across from So Ji Sub and talking with him, many questions and answers were made. Between them, happened the silences I was worrying about. To the question about how he must have suffered during the psychological war between actresses Zhang Zi Yi and Fei Bing Bing whom he shot “Spy Dating Manual” with, he said “no comment” and there was a silence. Yet, he kept talking without taking a break when it came to the Russian martial art systema he learned because of the movie “A Company Man”. Being taciturn but choosing betwen what to say or not, it’s the So Ji Subism. And when he speaks, his words might be clumsy, but they’re full of sincerity.
Translation: @thesunnytown – thesunnytown.wordpress.com