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It’s formal, but please introduce yourself briefly.
Hello. I’m actor Kang Ha Neul.
Your real name is Kim Ha Neul. Do you have a reason to use the stage name Kang Ha Neul?
After going by my name Kim Ha Neul while doing my musicals activities, I started working on dramas and movies, but there was already actress Kim Ha Neul-sunbaenim, so I ended up using the name Kang Ha Neul. I like my first name Ha Neul because it’s the name my parents gave me, so I said I didn’t want to change it. I ended up switching only my family name.
We also thought you changed your name because of Kim Ha Neul. (laughs) So when did you get into acting?
I attended a regular high school and I was a member of the theater club. However, I enjoyed theater so much that I wanted to study it properly. In the middle of my first year in high school, I convinced my parents to let me enroll in the theater department of a high school of arts. At the end of my freshman year, I auditionned for a role in a musical, I passed and I started doing musicals. Ah, although I was young, doing drama plays at my church also helped me a lot to make the decision to transfer.
Weren’t your parents strongly against you transferring to a high school of arts after enrolling into a regular high school?
I said to my parents I would transfer and here’s what they told me. “Apples never fall far from the tree”. I asked them what they meant by that and they told me they were both theater actors when they were young. It was my first time hearing about it. I think I was fortunate. When kids tell their parents they want to do theater, most of parents would be against it. I remember my parents being worried but they truly encouraged me.
You didn’t fall from their tree and here you are today. (laughs) How did you end up shooting dramas suddenly after being in musicals and plays?
At first, I thought I would only do musicals and theater. However, when I was in my second year of high school, a friend of mine got me auditionning for “Super Mom” against my will. There were 5 rounds, and I advanced up to the 4th round. That’s why I talked to the PD at this point. I asked him if he couldn’t just tell me go home. I asked him this as a favor and said serisouly that I didn’t want to show to the viewers how unprepared I was. However, there were actually 4 PDs in charge on this show. Two of them me got really mad at me, one said I made no sense and the one left said he would give me a 3-day trial. I thought it over, I realized how me getting there meant also other people had failed, so I got a sense of responsibility and I said then that I would do it. That’s how I started doing dramas.
Is there something you learned from shooting dramas that you hadn’t felt with musicals?
Acting is something I feel in my own way, so I think there are things in common. To be more precise, I’d say musicals and plays require more dramatic acting to get it right. On the opposite, dramas and movies taught me to moderate my acting at some extent.
What do you think is the most important thing about acting?
I’m looking for what to do to make the audience understands the character I portray. The most important thing for me when it’s come to acting is making people relate to the point they go “ah, right, I know someone like this”.
You’re such a pro. So you played Min Hyun Jae in the drama “To The Beautiful You” which just finished airing. How would you describe your character?
What I really liked about Min Hyun Jae is that it was a character very cold and distant, unlike my previous roles. My character Min Hyun Jae had one dream (the World Junior Championships), but his efforts aren’t enough to fulfill it. However, seeing how Kang Tae Joon, the character portrayed by SHINee Minho, got to make this dream come true without even trying because he’s gifted gives him an inferiority complex. That’s why he can do nothing but to isolate himself and to be cold. This is something very similar to my personality. I am not gifted, so everything I accomplish is only through my efforts. That’s why I was able to relate to this character and it really helped me to portray it.
What’s your most memorable memory from shooting?
My character is a high jump athlete. I think I practiced high jumping for about two months to portray this character. When athletes usually practice, they don’t do it more than 20 times a week because high jumping strains the legs. For the short amount of time screen of me high jumping in the drama, I had to jump a dozen times. Jumping more than 10 times made my legs shake. However, when something like this shows, filming gets delayed and it would have been because of me, so I just put up with it. I remember how I got home once filming was over. My legs just gave in after I got off the car. I sank to my knees because I had no energy left. (laughs)
Most of viewers probably thought you used a body double. This is the opportunity to clear any misunderstanding. (laughs) So you’re quite popular these days.
I’m not. I haven’t reached this point yet. I’ve been doing musicals for a long time, so a lot of my fans are still musicals fans.
I hear that you have a lot of girls among your fans. This is a personal question of mine but were you really close with Sulli?
Sulli? (laughs) This drama was 16 episodes. I only started feeling comfortables with her around the 14th episode. I’m usually not the type who can easily start a conversation and the fact that she’s a woman made it even more difficult for me. I became easily friends with Min Ho, Hyun Woo, Kwang Hee-hyung. Besies, the fact that she’s an idol made me more cautious. Sulli kept telling me to be comfortable, but I was always cautious. After we started shooting episode 14, I became more and more comfortable around her and to me, I think we became closer. From her point of view, I don’t know. (laughs)
Please tell her I definitely want to inteview her. (laughs) Is there a specific role you’d like to play?
What got me into musicals was watching the movie “Hedwig” and it got me thinking “so something like this exists!”. There’s the musical too. I had many occasions to see it, but I didn’t go on purpose. I didn’t because I thought to myself that I would play this role one day. I’m still young and I don’t have a lot of experience yet, so I don’t have what it takes to play this role for now. I will study a bit more and I will definitly try to play it later on in my career.
Tell us a few words about the musical you’re currently preparing. It’s called “Assasin”.
The musical “Assassin” is about a group of 9 persons made of murders or wannabe murderers who killed or tried to kill presidents. It’s a fantasy world, so each murderer is from a different time era and they’re gathered in the same time period. They talk about their reasons for killing a president. They discuss why they failed and things like that. There’s political content, but it’s told through irony. According to how you see things, it can be seen as a terrifying story, but it’s a musical that pulls off the comic aspect, so it’s more about black comedy.
So which role do you play in this musical?
The most famous murderer in Korea which is Lee Harvey Oswald who killed John F. Kennedy.
Have you already planned your activities post-“Assassin”?
I finished shooding “To The Beautiful You”, so I have many offers for movies and dramas roles, as well as from theater companies and musicals productions, but nothing is decided yet. I have a couple of roles in mind. I’m still thinking about it.
Say a few words to our Cuvism readers who want to become actors.
You may call it an advice, but this is my motto. I always tell myself: “regardless if it’s a musical, a drama play, a TV drama or a movie, I must keep studying and stuying so I can become an actor” [t/n: he makes a word play with the verb 배우다 which is translated as “studying” and the word “배우” which means “actor”];
Thank you for such rhyming kind words.
What do you look like in your daily life?
You can probably tell, but I don’t have an outgoing personality. My personality really has opposite extremes, but I either spend time at home or travel completely by myself. I don’t really like going on a trip with someone else. When you travel with someone, you get to worry over stuff. That’s why I enjoy travelling freely and going around while staying at nice pensions. I think I’ve been to nearly every beautiful pension Korea has. If there’s somewhere you’d like to go, please let me know. I can recommend you beautiful pensions. (smiles)
How are you in your daily life?
You probably know from talking to me, I’m not an outgoing person. I’m very extreme. I either stay at home or I go on a trip all by myself. I don’t really like going on a trip with other people. You must care about many things when you travel with other people. That’s why I like travelling freely and go to nice pensions. I think I’ve been to nearly every nice pension Korea has to offer. If there’s some place you’d like to go, let me know. I will recommend you some nice places. (laughs)
Isn’t it lonely to go by yourself?
Have you ever been to a pension by yourself? It’s really great. I don’t really feel loneliness. Instead of using the word loneliness, I’d say that I enjoy being on my own. When I say I enjoy being on my own, it sounds very pretentious, but I get to sort out my random thoughts when I’m alone and I have many random thoughts. It’s more comfortable to be at a coffee shop than at home when I want to sort out my thoughts and it’s more comfortable to be on my own and travel than being at a coffee shop to do that. That’s why I enjoy travelling on my own.
What do you do on your off time ?
I enjoy playing music. I like the guitar, the ukulele, the harmonica, so I practice often when I’m going on a trip. When I leave a musical or a theater rehearsal, there are times when my body and my mind are exhausted. Every time I felt this way, I enjoyed having a drink and getting rid of the stress to find comfort. Since I started learning playing these instruments, practicing eases my mind now. And like I said earlier, I often go on trips. And it may sound a bit conceited, but I like reading books. I’ve loved reading since high school, so I like reading travelling books, novels, collections of poems.
What was your dream when you were a kid?
Choosing easily this (acting) path wasn’t a dream I had when I was a kid. My dream as a kid was to be a “GF”. It’s what we call a good father. (laughs) I had no dream as a child, so it’s probably why I was able to walk down this acting path with no worry.
So what kind of student were you?
I’m not an outgoing person, but I had good social skills. That’s why I was close with those who didn’t come to school to study but who were only there to have fun and I was also friends with those who only cared about studying. This may be a bit of lie, so let’s say it was to the point it was hard to find someone I wasn’t friend with. (laughs) And my family situation wasn’t great back then, so I became mature earlier. That’s why I hated asking money to my parents and I started working part time at an early age. I had so many odd jobs. Making charcoal, serving are the basics, picking up green tea leaves. There was this oddest job I couldn’t do. Someone I knew was at the hospital and I asked him what his job was. He introduced me to the job of cleaning corpses. I couldn’t do this job. I remember walking into the mortuary, seeing the body on the table, and telling him I couldn’t do it.
This is definitly some special experience. So when did you study?
To be honest, I took a break from studying. Before going to this high school of arts, I was in an Info industry high school. Toward the end of my third year of middle school, I had decided to drop out. To be honest, my grades allowed me to take humanities courses, but I thought taking business courses and not humanities courses would give me experience the worl a little bit more. That’s why I ended up going to this business school. You see, I’m an empirist. I think this choice was a great experience for me.
So you enjoy exercising. Is there one sport you particularly enjoy?
When I was in middle school, I was a climbing amateur athlete. I still do rock climbing as a hobby today. I worked out this morning before coming to this interview. My weight went up to 90 kilos when I was in middle school. However, I felt that it put me in bad shape, so I started exercising. At first, it was only aerobic exercises. Later on, I added working out and I started losing weight. This was when I started working out on a constant basis. Right now, I think I’m even a bit addicted to exercising. Even worse, there was this one time that filming was in the countryside. Filming got suddenly delayed and I had nothing to do for four hours. So I used my phone to find out if there was a health club around and I went there to exercise. (laughs)
Your committment to exercising is amazing. I heard you joined the Nike “We Run Seoul” project.
I don’t have many occasions to measure my physical strength. That’s why I thought this would be the perfect occasion to test myself. Thankfully, I ended up in the group who ranked 1st. Those who finished withing an hour were recognized as being part of the group ranking 1st place. I was quite lucky. (laughs)
Is there a fan you remember particularly?
When I do musicals, I would go out and greet the fans once the show is over. I sign autographs. However, there
was this one time when I had somewhere to go, so I was only able to greet them quickly and I left. Someone put something in my pocket. It seemed to be a small gift and I said thank you. I didn’t get to see this fan’s face and I left. Howver, once I was out, I checked what the gift was and it was women’s underwear. There was a letter on the underwear. In the letter, she said she was a big fan of me and it was an underwear she had worn. I was so flustered that I still remember it.
So what’s the most memorable gift you received?
There’s this one fan I’m very thankful to. This person gathered performance tickets and pictures from my debut until this day. He/She put them into some sort of photobook and gave it to me. This person also wrote me a letter. It was written that they had poor health and had no energy, but seeing me perform on stage gave them strength. As I read this, I told myself “I must really lead a good life”. I’m really thankful for this gift and it stays on my mind.
What’s your must have item among all the things you care the most about?
I have none right now. It’s in my car. It’s a clock necklace. It’s an exact replica of a design made by Napoleon. It’s a close relative who went to France and gave it to me as a gift. I wore it for two years to the point I even had a line on my neck. It’s my most precious item right now.
It seems that you care a lot about your fashion style. What kind of style do you like to wear?
I don’t. My fans always tell me to make fashion efforts. I usually wear sweat suits. And I usually wear a hat. I don’t really care about looking good. I’m comfortable. (laughs)
It’s really unexpected. It seems that you don’t care about the way people look at you. Do you have a girlfriend right now?
I don’t. I’ve been single for a year. I think I will spend Christmas performing on stage.
So how’s your ideal type?
It’s a lie to say “I don’t care about the looks, I care only about her personality”. I think what attracts me is a woman who is passionate about her dream and really loves that dream. I want to have a girlfriend who respects my job and who can help me. As for looks, a woman who rocks the bun hairstyle. Like Yu Aoi? (laughs) My ideal is a woman who doesn’t doll herself up and has a natural style.
I hope such woman will read this interview and you’ll meet her. (Haha) Is a movie you particularly like?
I watch a lot of movie. I don’t really watch action movies. I mostly watch movies with a slow and calm pace. Do you
know the movies “Forrest Gump” and “Beautiful”? And there’s the movie in which Javier Bardem is lead. I saw it 6 times at the movies theater. I really liked this movie’s setting and storytelling. My favorite movie among those I
watched lately is “Midnight in Paris”. It’s a melo movie with a fantasy aspect. You should definitely check it out.
Is there an actor you see as a role model?
Javier Bardem and Christopher Watlz. Christopher Waltz, when I watched him, his acting was so good that I forgot to breathe and my laughter came out all at once. It was my first time feeling like this. I thought to myself “ah! I want to act just like him”. Ah, and there’s Morgan Freeman. He’s my favorite actor.
So, do you think you have accomplished your dream?
Me? Well, no. My dream is to say “hello, I’m actor Kang Haneul”. I have never thought of myself as an actor. People don’t see what I call “being an actor” as a job. Either you are, either you aren’t. I think people can’t see it as a job because it’s about expressing something and creating someone. I don’t know if the day I call myself an actor will come, but my dream is to be able to confidently say I’m an actor.
What do you think you will look like ten years from now?
I hope the image and dreams I have today won’t have changed. I also hope you will still see me working in different dramas and movies while doing theater and musicals like I’m doing right now.
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Please say a few words to our Cuvism readers.
I really thank you for reading this interview. I will try my best to keep performing on stage, filming movies and dramas so people who watch me can go “Kang Ha Neul improved a little compared to his previous role”. And please give a lot of love to Cuvism magazine. Cuvism, fighting!
Translation: @thesunnytown – thesunnytown.wordpress.com