Have you already seen Seoul from a place as high as the place we are today? I went to the Namsan Tower when I was a kid? And the 63 building! Standing there and looking by the window was the best. When I was 6, my parents and I emigrated. I imagine when I was a kid and stepped on chestnuts to peel them off and eat them or I went arount trying to catch cicadas.
Did you come often to Korea? We emigrated to New Zealand and lived over there for two years, then we went to LA in the US. After that, I only came back once with my family and friends. The premiere of “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials” made ùe come back to Korea almost 8 years later.
You majored psychology at UC Berkeley college and you became an actor. You’re probably asked often “why”. A lot! Because people feel psychology and acting are fields that are very far away from each other. Acting is linked to life and is linked to the academic field. To be honest, I wanted to study psychology because I wanted to help people. My dream when I was a child was to become a teacher.
When did you start turning to the acting path instead of making this dream true? It’s been about 6 years now? When I was in college, I decided to take a leave of absence for a year and to give acting a try properly which I had been wanting to do since I was a child. I attended acting classes, I read a lot of books. One of my friends I attended the lectures with introduced me to the management agency he belonged to and that’s how it happened (smiles).
Was this also a time where you were ambitious? I walked step by step from having only one line to getting a guest role and then to getting a permanent role in a series. It was when I finished shooting as a permanent role. I finished at the 10th episode and I had no work to do. I was out of work for 2 years. “would my career end just like that?”. I had thoughts like this. However, surprisingly, I got an opportunity to work through a Youtube format. I’ve had become friends with web-based young film makers who are known as Wong Fu Productions. We filmed various projects together. The moment I decided to keep going down the Youtube road, I secured a contract with a management agency. When I look back at it now, it seems that Wong Fu Productions and Youtube are my background indeed.
You’re called the Z generation and not the X generation? It’s an interesting career that is typical for your generation of people who are the most used to iphones and social media. Thanks to mobile, it is said that the Hollywood system is changing too. What’s for sure is that people don’t seek entertainment through TV only now. Web-based drama, comedy contents are an increasing trend in Hollywood too. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Korea or in the US, if you’re serious about acting, you can create your own path. You can record your own content with a camera or a camcorder and you upload it online whenever you want, the access is getting easier. It’s the “exciting” era.
Your name is credited next to young international stars such as Dylan O’Brien, Thomas Sangster with “Maze Runner”, so this was probably be a crucial role in your career? I’m going to use this opportunity to say something that I’ve definitely been wanting to say. The fact that where I am to be was made possible because of many people. I didn’t get where I am today only because of my efforts. For instance, the “Maze Runner” books author James Dashner’s niece is married to a Korean man. So through his influence, James Dashner created the character of Minho, so I’m thankful to him first. Then I’m very thankful to the director Wes Ball and my casting director for believing in my potential because they believed I could do it and they supported me.
There are a few Korean-American actors working in the US, but isn’t it awesome that an actor young like you got to play in a franchise as a lead character? My situations is similar to winning the lottery. In the US, there is almost no main role like Minho when you’re Asian. First of all, the fact of being an Asian actor is rare itself. Rarety is a good thing, but when I got the phone call telling me I got the role, I was also scared. I knew it was a real good opportunity, but if my acting sucked, I felt like there would be serious backlash. I’m especially worried about Korean people’s opinion.
The first movie was a box-office success. The second movie didn’t do bad either. I know there is no other way but to work hard. Still, I think my acting is on an okay level. It’s still burdensome for me. I think I see myself as a representative of Korean-American people. That’s why I must do well not just for myself, I must do well for Korea too. It’s a heavy burden to carry.
The producers probably didn’t choose you to be Min Ho for no reason. I still don’t know why they cast me as Min Ho (smiles). Instead, I can tell you about the way I approached Min Ho. I never saw him as an American guy with Asian origins. Nationality aside, I portrayed Min Ho with the thought that he’s a “lead character” who is powerful and connected to the roots of the story. I had always aspired to always come across a character like this.
In order to collect info on the exit in the first movie and in order to avoid getting killed by a mysterious organization called “WCKD”, Min Ho runs. Racing is different from just having stamina. It’s more about endurance than stamina. To be honest, I really hate running. I like all kinds of sports such as basketball, soccer, baseball. Games are fun. However, there’s nothing fun about running (smiles). When I was shooting the movie, I ran hard, I rested a little and I ran as fast as I could again, then I rested. That’s how I did it, so I guess I wasn’t in a bad situation/in bad condition (smiles).
The first and second movies were large scale projects, so I’m really curious about the mood on the set. What’s interesting is to figure out which scenes are real and which ones are made through computers? It’s a mix of both. Every landscape in the Glade you see in the first movie is real. The background was a big farm in Baton Rouge in Lousiana. The day before the first day of filming, the rest of the team and I set up our tents and we slept outside. It was like camping. We shot the second movie in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was a very humid summer, so the set was bit hotter and it was harder to bear with the lighting, compared to the first movie.
I don’t know if I should say this, but the first movie was a bit more interesting. I feel exactly the same. I think it’s because we shot it outdoors as we shared our joys and sorrows. Through the second movie, as we were doing promo activities, the other actors and I really turned into friends, into a family when we were doing promo activities and we were more at ease. Thomas Sangster and I really became friends as we promoted the movie together in China and Korea.
If you were to wake up one day and looked by the window, only to see you were now in a maze without knowing why? It’d be scary, right? I think I wouldn’t run around the maze like Min Ho does. I would just stay in the Glade and cook. Ah, now that I think about it, I think I’d build a house and create my own home furniture.
Since your dream was to be a teacher, I thought you’d like teaching or to lead others. I’ve always enjoyed creating stuff with my hands. I really liked legos when I was a kid. It’s pricey, so it’s tough to have this as a hobby, though (smiles).
Lee Ki Hong is a name that is hard to pronounce for foreigners. Did you think about changing your name? I thought about what the mom of an actress who had a name difficult to pronounce like mine told her. “Your name is hard to pronounce exactly like Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky were, didn’t people learn how to pronounce their names? How about you also make people learn how to pronounce your name when you’re famous?”. This story stayed on my mind. I won’t change my name or my personality to make this path a little bit easier or to satisfy other people.
[t/n: he says “actor”, but I chose to say actress because I believe he’s talking about Uzoamaka Nwanneka Aduba aka Uzo Aduba]
You were at the 4th place in “People” Sexiest Men Alive ranking in 2014. (strongly) I really don’t know if I’m sexy. I’m thankful that other people find me sexy. I think what’s more important is the fact itself that I, as a Korean person, was put on this list. It means there’s also a point of view seeing that Asian men can be sexy too.
When you’re not working as an actor, what type of man, husband are you? When I’m at home, I just chill with my wife. When I have time, I see my friends. I’m a big fan of American football. I go out and support my college team with my friends, but my interest in watching game kind of dropped a little. It’s the same for my team. It’s not that it does well, but it doesn’t do bad either (smiles).
So you got married earlier this year. Isn’t it a bit young when men usually get married when they’re 30? Really? My close friends already started getting married. I did get married, but I never thought to myself [I do it because] I am an adult now. To me, marriage is just about being always with the person who is my closest friend and for us to have fun together.
How did you meet your wife? We were friends in high school. We started dating after graduating from college.
You’re still newly married. Are you trying to keep everything great? Our relationship definitely changed into partnership after we got married. It’s about “give and take” (smiles). We quarrel sometimes, but there’s a newly-married effect.
You seemed to be very active. When I think about where this thought comes from, I think it comes from the fact I want everything to be perfect. You know how life isn’t always perfect, right? I get really frustrated in moments like this. I think that’s why I try my best to be happy so it can actually happen.
Do you believe that good karma brings good things? I believe there are many things happening out of my control. No matter how much I imagine I can pull something off, what is meant to be will happen and what isn’t meant to be won’t happen. I think that’s what life is about. I believe God exists. It’s not to work hard at something because you believe you can do it, but I think the final touch of the outcome is controlled by God and not by me.
You give off a strong clean-cut feeling. Your parents probably influenced you a lot, right? They gave me all the mental support they could. I’m very blessed. I’m happy to have so many people around me who support me.
Three things that make you stronger? My family. My friends. My wife. They’re my energy.
Translation: @thesunnytown – thesunnytown.wordpress.com