|"One thing for sure though, was that if Choi Hyun-wook, if I do not do well, the show would flop.”|
Editor in Chief : Beck Una
Beck: Unlike the amicable atmosphere we see in “Pasta,” we heard you had to actually work intensively, as if you were almost shooting live.
Lee: Wow, I wanted to die. Really. And I was grateful when our show got extended but me and [Kong] Hyo-jin were going nuts. We were shooting as if on a live schedule starting with around the seventh episode and from about the ninth episode on, I only slept a total 11 hours during a whole week.
I was in a near-panic state too because I was in almost every scene and had so many lines. I would hallucinate and hear my own voice when I lie down after being in shoot for eight hours straight in the beginning. I really wanted to cry sometimes.
Beck: But as the show developed, not only the ratings but the response by viewers became hot so I’m thinking you were able to keep encouraging each other to keep going.
Lee: Yes, the atmosphere on set got much better and as much of a hard time we had, I think that helped the staff and actors become very close. Some of the scenes even turned out better than we had thought we’d shot them so that helped us too. (laugh)
|“I think ‘Pasta’ was a path I had never taken before.”|
Lee: Everyone around me said that character was the closest to the real me. Although I don’t have a disposition that is as screwed up as his. (laugh) But I was at a bit of a loss about what to do in the beginning after receiving the script for “Pasta.” I couldn’t get a picture of what I should do.
The Choi Hyun-wook that the scenarist had visioned was an unyielding, stiff soldier-like person but I had felt that he was actually more devilish during the first two episodes. He actually spoke quite a number of funny lines but they were expecting me to say them in a charismatic way so that was a bit frustrating.
One thing for sure though, was that if Choi Hyun-wook, if I do not do well, the show would flop. When I look back on the situation it was in, my child was born on the first day of shoot, I had a bit of filming left for director Hong Sang-soo’s movie, I had to learn to cook, I wasn’t sure of my character and yet I didn’t have time.
So I was quite sensitive in the beginning. I heard later on that Hyo-jin had been very scared of me. I’m not the friendly type and wasn’t in the mind to approach someone either.
Beck: Well before watching the show, I couldn’t quite picture you and her acting together.
Lee: I heard many people had been against it in the beginning. And once we actually went into shoot, Hyun-wook has a large energy and he is overly expressive so I was expecting Hyo-jin to play her part well too since she had been playing a lot of strong-willed character too.
But rather, she took in everything which got me thinking she has a smaller energy than I thought. But when I watched the show on TV, I saw that the balance and pace that Hyo-jin had selected worked well with the drama.
Unlike my acting which in the beginning was constrained, I realized that she doesn’t make any unnecessary moves. I realized a lot looking at her. Time-wise, it became much more comfortable to act with her after we got back from Uljin.
That’s the first time we talked for a long time and drank. Before that, we just had no time to rest so we hadn’t even been able to eat together. According to Hyo-jin, she had wanted to approach me but felt uncomfortable because I would always give short answers.
Beck: But the characters you two portrayed was done so well that it made me almost think that you two are almost dating. The famous ‘eyelid kiss’ seemed like the producer had kept the camera rolling on purpose. It did well in delivering the fluttery feelings at the beginning of a relationship.
Lee: We had no rehearsal since our shooting schedule was so tight. We hadn’t rehearsed our lines together so we had no idea what would happen. With that scene too, somebody was supposed to cut but the camera kept rolling so I could see Hyo-jin’s face become increasingly red.
That’s when we started playing weird jokes and I stared at her without blinking on purpose to make her face grow even more red.
|“The staff of our drama used to make fun of me and say we couldn’t reach ratings of over 30 percent because of my soy sauce commercial.”|
Lee: The characters I had played in the past were more defensive than offensive but I think Choi was offensive till the very end. Now that I think about it, reporters would always emphasize how ‘romantic’ I am but it has changed now to ‘finicky.’ (laugh)
I also referenced Gordon Ramsey character from “Hell’s Kitchen.” I hadn’t had much time to discuss my character with the producer because the casting for “Pasta” got set late and I went into shoot right after my appearance was set.
One day though, the producer came up to me and showed me a Joker card from “Batman,” telling me that he wants Choi Hyun-wook to give off a similarly slightly crazy vibe. That’s when I told myself I would try and express myself in various ways and however I want.
There was a lot of acting on impulse too.
Beck: Like what for example?
Lee: The chopsticks? I would try catching the opponents throat with it, or try hitting….. I had just tried it out but it ended up helping a lot. The producer was always carrying around chopsticks from then on. (laugh)
Beck: It seems that after watching “Pasta,” what viewers were thinking of the most was that they want to be in a romantic relationship. And of course, it would cause trouble (laugh) but some people were saying you and Kong might really end up going out.
Lee: [Kong] Hyo-jin said at the wrap-up party that when she does dramas, she feels that she’s in a relationship and that she’s cheating on her boyfriend, so she hated it a lot when I would show her photographs of my son. (laugh)
I myself was showing her sort of an intimacy by showing her those photos though. But I have definitely become more cautious about how I treat actresses now compared to before I was married.
Beck: The chef is someone who is in charge of the kitchen so I think you must have also felt the burden to take charge of the set too.
Lee: Yes, it felt like I was constantly in a battle up against 10 people. Even more so when I’m in the kitchen because I’m the one talking 90 percent of the time. I also had a lot of lines so I had to act them out well but even when the camera is shooting the other actors, I would still be acting out my part.
Of course it’s the basic manner between actors but they could’ve been pressured to do the same for me too. But I got increasingly worn out because I was doing it up against 10 people. There wasn’t a single cut where I could take a break. But I also really wanted to keep it that way till the end.
Beck: I think that’s why in the last episode, when you gaze with a content smile at the people in the kitchen, I also saw a relieved Lee Sun-kyun’s face overlap.
Lee: Ah, I was reading that scene in the script when I started tearing. I don’t know why. Maybe I was tired? I read it about four times and I think I cried every time. I couldn’t cry on the actual day of the shoot though, even when I wanted to.
We started shooting the last episode on the day it was going on air, starting at 2 a.m. I didn’t want the show to fall through so I was just begging that nobody makes a blooper. (laugh)
Beck: You, whom we considered the heartthrob of millions of people, got married and became a father right away. That change in your personal life must have been quite an obstacle for your image as an actor who will star in a romantic drama.
Lee: I think “Pasta” was a road I had not taken before. Naturally, I was very scared because it was a path I had not taken before. That’s how much trial and error I ended up having to go through and how tough it was for me.
But on the other hand, I became relieved that I think I pulled through somewhat and a bliss that I felt from having opened up another path for myself. I will never be able to forget having worked on this. And I’m very thankful to [Kong] Hyo-jin.
|“I guess what was most painful after TV series ‘The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince’ was that everyone wanted me to wear horn-rimmed glasses.”|
Lee: I did track and field when I was in elementary school and I was so crazy about basketball in high school that I used to play for 12 hours a day and considered going to college with it. I was an extremely normal kid up till high school and there wasn’t anything in particular that I wanted to do.
The reason I took up liberal arts was because I really hated science. (laugh) I liked music so I wanted to be a producer for radio shows and I was interested in advertising too but I ended up not studying much so… (laugh)
Beck: What kind of music did you like?
Lee: Since I was the youngest in my family, I listened more to music that my older siblings would listen to rather than for music for kids my age. Especially music by musicians at Dong-A Productions! I used to sing Kim Hyun-shik’s songs when I was in fifth grade so nobody knew what I was singing.
I don’t know why but I liked that sort of sentimentality. When I was young, my parents used the first floor and me and my siblings the second floor, and we used to listen to Kim Hyun-shik, Ryu Jae-ha and the Shinchon Blues everyday on LP.
I had a certain pride about listening to music that kids my age didn’t know about. I also became friends very fast with kids who knew their music. And I enjoyed watching commercials so much that I wanted to do advertising too.
Beck: You spent quite some time unknown yet it doesn’t seem you were the actor who is more greedy or ambitious than other actors in particular. So what is it that kept you going and not let go of acting?
Lee: It may be because I had no ambition or aspirations. I was very simple-minded. But I was always thankful because there would always be someone looking for me. Even both then and now, what I want to be good at is acting and become a real actor.
I have never dreamt of becoming a so-called ‘top actor.’ Of course, when I first made my TV appearance through a sitcom, I would worry whether I’d just become consumed but I learned a lot afterwards by appearing in short plays where I met some good people.
So I think things have been okay for me. I’m not the type that sets a goal and charges toward it to achieve it.
Beck: I heard that it hadn’t been your dream from the beginning to become an actor.
Lee: Yes, before entering the School of Drama at Korea National University of Arts, I was part of the lighting team at the theater club of the college I had been at. But one of my seniors ran away so I took to the stage for the first time as his replacement.
And that was, well, it’s hard to explain but it was nice. It was my first time on stage but I wasn’t nervous at all. I felt that I had done something actively that I felt good about for the first time. I guess there really is such a thing called fate.
Lee: After I saw my child come into the world, that I started theater because it was fate that it would happen. That it is why I met Jeon Hye-jin, didn’t break up with her for seven years and ended up marrying her.
I would have not thought of becoming an actor if my senior hadn’t run away and if my friend, who left our theater troupe in just two months of joining hadn’t introduced my wife to me… when I think of these presumptions, I think fate does exist to a certain extent.
Although happiness depends on how you define it.
|“He was someone who had experienced trauma so huge that if it happened to me, I would have run away somewhere. But it was fun.”|
Lee: It was difficult. But it was fun. He was a character who doesn’t express himself a lot and it always very serious. He was someone who had experienced trauma so huge that if it happened to me, I would have run away somewhere or hid myself in a temple.
Strangely enough though, the script for “Paju” was very easy to read. How should I put it — it was as if I could feel the atmosphere the movie was in. I had a confidence in the director and the film itself. I had also been wanting to work on a more cinematic film at the time.
Beck: You had mentioned before that you really want to work on a Hong Sang-soo film and you ended up working with him on several films. How has it been working with him?
Lee: It was really good. He called me one day and asked to meet. I didn’t know what he wanted to do, what sort of acting he wanted from me, whether he’d pay me, what the name of the movie was.
All he told me was that he wanted to sort of sketch winter, that if his previous works had more of an oil painting-like feeling to them, he wanted to do one which seems just like a sketch this time, in a very easy way. But he said there would only be four staff for the movie in total and I would only have to go into shoot once or twice a week. Although he also doesn’t know till when filming would last.
I actually felt a lot of pressure but I was drinking when I called my manager and told him that I think I should do the movie. Filming actually turned out to be a lot of fun. I would feel a queer sort of tension when I get my script in the morning and I had quite a lot of lines but I memorized them quite quickly because it was easy to focus.
I felt that Hong Sang-soo is almost like a great acting coach. It was fun just looking at the monitor. I have high expectations for this movie because I think it’ll be very unique and completely different from his previous works.
Beck: You have a voice that everyone says is mellow but I think there is also as much criticism about it. Has it ever been a complex for you?
Lee: Of course. I didn’t hear it directly but when I was in college doing short films, the staff had said amongst themselves that I’d have a tough time acting because my voice is very limited. A lot of people had said at the beginning of “Pasta” too that they couldn’t hear my lines properly.
There were many times, up till the third episode, that I was putting on a one-man show and I noticed later on while watching it on air that it sounded like I was mumbling. I only became aware of it later on but my voice had become muffled because I was the only one using a wireless mic but I hadn’t taken that into consideration and just shouted away. I made up for it later on.
I’m not saying I’m trying to come up with excuses though, I’m just saying that I had to go through trial and error. That’s why I was wavering in the beginning and very sensitive.
Beck: Marrying or becoming the father of a child is a huge change for a human being. Has such changes in your personal life brought any change to your mental attitude as an actor?
Lee: I went on a belated honeymoon after shooting drama “Triple” and there was a moment I felt what it would feel like to be a dad. We usually like to ride around on motorcycles when we go on trips but once my pregnant wife hopped on behind me, I suddenly became overcome with fear in having to ride on unpaved road.
I was also scared we might fall over. Is this what becoming a husband is about? This is what marriage is — having to be careful and trying not to fall over. The next day I found myself waking up early and riding around the village myself. I wanted to figure out which roads we should take and it also felt very free riding alone. (laugh)
|“Oh, now I’ll only be able to drink once a week. (laugh)”|
Lee: That’s not true. I don’t think much has changed in that aspect. I do think I should work harder so that I won’t be shameful of what I do. There actually is no answer to married life. There are times it’s good and times it’s bad.
But I think having a child was the best thing I’ve done in my life. I watched my child being born and it was the first time I cried in such a way. The tears just kept coming. It was an emotion I had never felt before. Actor Oh Man-seok, who’s my friend, has a nine-year-old daughter and I didn’t realize it before but these days I think he’s amazing.
I heard that my son, who is just a little over four-months-old now, would turn his head to the TV when he heard my voice in “Pasta.” He stops crying within five seconds when I hold him. He likes me more than his mom. (laugh) He’s so beautiful. (shows photograph of son) This is how these things change you. (laugh)
Beck:That’s why your recent soy sauce commercial instills an image of you as a good dad but when it’s on right after “Pasta,” it had the effect of immediately ruining the fantasy we had of you as a lover. (laugh)
Lee: Of the dramas that I’ve been in, “Pasta” was the one [Jeon] Hye-jin watched the most and had fun watching. She would always ask what happens next. And once she started to become absorbed with the drama as a viewer, she used to mention how much she hated seeing that commercial right after. (laugh)
Beck: Because it’s so realistic.
Lee: Yes. That’s why the staff of our drama used to make fun of me and say that was the reason we couldn’t reach ratings of over 30 percent. (laugh) But I actually really like that soy sauce commercial.
The president of that company and their staff, they’re all like a big family and like a school… it’s quite unique. It didn’t feel like I was working when I recently was out on a promotional event. I exchange text messages with him from time to time… I really want to re-sign with them! (laugh)
Beck:You should take a break since your kitchen is closed now.
Lee:I’m looking at a couple scenarios but nothing has really hit the spot yet so I don’t want to rush it. I do think it would be hard to work on two dramas in year but, who knows. I’m going to work out a bit this time.
I have the painful memory of having asked to have a swimming pool scene taken out in the first two episodes of “Pasta” because I was just not in shape for it… (laugh) I also don’t think it’s good for me as an actor to settle for the fact that I’m married and let myself become the typical middle-aged man — that it’s not good to neglect my body as I have been doing.
And I used to not think maintaining a physique by working out was that important but I now think I should be more prepared in order to be able to take on a larger variety of roles.It’s not really about getting into shape but rather a test on myself. I want to try taking on the challenge for at least three months.
Oh, now I’ll only be able to drink once a week. (laugh)
— end —