I’ve taken a liking to Seo In Guk after watching “I Remember You”, so I started to look up more information about him. I thought this interview from Nylon magazine was a very insightful one for a new fan like me and I like his mindset and personality. I didn’t see any English translation of this so I tried my best to do one. Do note that the interview contains spoilers of the drama for those who haven’t watched it yet.
*Text in bold are the questions. Text in italics are explanatory notes from me.
It’s just like some sort of ritual. I heard that you will go drinking after you finish a project.
Rather than being active, I prefer to have a simple gathering with my close friends. But I’m trying to be more active this time round. Thinking about it, since last time, I only said “I want to go on a holiday, I want a rest”, but I wasn’t able to put my words into action. I had sufficient time, so I think I was probably lazy.
Do you have any special plans?
I’ve been preoccupied with wakeboarding recently. I started on it this year, and I even went yesterday. Rather than playing, I’ve had thoughts that I might look at least a bit nicer in photo shoots if I enjoy activities where I get to exercise. I don’t necessarily have to go somewhere far, I really like to go noraebang (karaoke) with my friends too.
The noraebang is a place that you should go with very close friends. Who are the members?
There’s a hyung who’s an ordinary person (i.e. not a celebrity), and I also go with 2Bic’s Junhyung and (Ji) Chang Wook. I don’t have a particular song that I will always sing, but I’m kinda in charge of ballads.
Surely they are not all ballads that spoil the atmosphere right?
No it’s not that. There is some flow with timing. At the start, we will try and take things easy by singing mainly ballads, but at the end, we end up screaming our lungs out with a glass of beer. We end off with a grand finale before going home…
It has been about a month since “I Remember You” ended. It probably wasn’t easy to grasp the character Lee Hyun.
That’s right. Following the clues of a case, completing a puzzle, and connecting the dots, I seem to be doing this job in the show everyday. I have to first discuss with the scriptwriter and director to know about what will happen later in the story, but I was a bit conflicted about doing so. Should I be acting with knowledge of the whole story in mind? Or should I pretend not to know and find out as I act? If I were to act while knowing everything, the audience will probably find it stale so I chose not to hear about the story in advance.
Having to play an extremely rational character, did you also ponder a lot about how to act out the emotions?
It was very difficult. This is probably a unique character that is very difficult to find in the whole world. He dines with the person who killed his father, but rationally, he is not perturbed by it at all. I would be able to feel relieved if I were to at least show some anger as I say my lines, but for a person like Lee Hyun, it would probably be defeat for him the moment he shows any sign of anger. Even when having a daily conversation with Lee Joon Young, while thinking “So you brought up my younger brother this way?”, I will suddenly feel heat rising from the back of my head once the director says “cut”.
This is a really unusual character.
Yes. But I didn’t want to treat Hyun as an overly special character. From what I see, both Lee Hyun and Lee Min are characters with dormant criminal tendencies. Except that Hyun learnt the method of rational control from his father since the time when he was growing up and developing, while Min was taken away by Lee Joon Young before he got to learn that. “People’s personalities change depending on their environment”. I think this is the key point of the drama.
The childhood memories of Lee Hyun also had an important effect on him. If In Guk sshi were to look back on your childhood, what comes to your mind?
Firstly, the biggest thing that happened in my life is singing. I started singing after I fell in love with an amazing singer that I saw on TV, and that’s how I ended up acting also. That’s why I’m now taking handsome pictures in this photo shoot and having this interview too. It was the most important thing in my life. I also think I should live my life emulating my parents. My family wasn’t well-off when I was young. My mother, as a lady, had to make a living by collecting waste paper; she was still doing this even a year before I made my debut and got an income. I hope to emulate my mother’s tenacity and integrity.
Not knowing the story until the end, how was it like when you received the script for the last episode?
The Lee Hyun I saw right till episode 15 was a very thorough person. If a case couldn’t be solved through legitimate means, he would go to the extent of requesting help from China to investigate the case. For such a cool-headed person like Lee Hyun, I was also curious about how his relationship with his brother who had committed crimes, Lee Joon Young and Cha Ji Ahn would turn out when I read the script. Turns out it had an open ending. Compared to when I first read the script for the last episode, I liked the ending more when I was filming it. An open ending gives room for people to think. Those people will probably face more interesting events in the future. It is also interesting because I can imagine that they will probably cooperate and fight till the end.
Through this drama, you can probably experience the satisfaction of solving a difficult problem too.
Among the characters that I’ve acted so far, this seems to be the most difficult. If I had fun while acting other characters, then this time, I seem to have encountered much more difficulty in comparison. At every critical moment, I become breathless and stressed, but on the other hand, the thought of having solved a problem makes me feel happy. Is this a perverse inclination? Haha. My head is in pain and it is pitch-black in front of my eyes, but after one or two hours, I will think “This is amazing” when I understand my character better.
Given all that difficulty you went through, it would have been better if the viewership ratings could match up to that though.
Of course. There is greater enjoyment for everything if you earn people’s approval and their interest. Nevertheless, it was at least comforting that the atmosphere at the film set was not negatively affected by the viewership ratings. It was probably the hard work of the director. Even when everyone was tired and exhausted, the director still continued to take care of the people around him with a smile.
While you bid farewell to one show, there are synopses for other shows that come to you also right?
Thankfully, I am receiving a lot. However, the important thing is not the quantity, but the range and charm of the role that I’m able to do in the show. I had many offers for *licorice roles during the time when I starred in “Love Rain”, but I’m now receiving offers for many different kinds of roles. Not trying to brag, but looking at my career so far, I haven’t been doing the same kind of roles all the time. I’m happy that I was able to show the different sides of myself to people well.
*Note: Licorice (감초/甘草) is a herb that is widely used in Chinese medicine for many purposes. Hence, a licorice role is a Korean term often used to describe an indispensable character who is not the lead, but appears everywhere in the show.
Have you ever wondered “Why was I offered such a role”?
Certainly. Projects are not decided just by looking at the scenario and saying, “Good. Let’s do this”. There are many meetings involved. Usually when I meet the director or scriptwriter, there are many who say that I’m good because they find me unique. They won’t say that I’m handsome. Haha.
Honestly, what do you think your charm is?
I think their words are correct. That I look unique. Because I’m not very symmetrical. Even my jaw. But looking at that on the screen, there are some people who find that charming. I don’t have a typical handsome appearance; I can look kind and mean at the same time. When I read comments occasionally, the best comment are those that say, “All (his characters) look new”. Be it Yoon Jae, Kang Woo or Hyun, the fact that people can only see me as the character that I’m playing in the show makes me happy.
Is it your aim to try a different kind of role every time?
No. There’s no end to it if I want to be so particular like that. When I appeared at the press conference of “High School King of Savvy” last time, a reporter said, “You’re wearing a school uniform again, will it be confused with Yoon Yoon Jae in Reply 1997?” But everyone in the world would have once worn a school uniform; just because one is a student doesn’t mean that all students are exactly the same. The characters can be different depending on the portrayal, and I think this is interesting. If you approach the role with that in mind, the difference is very huge.
People no longer ask you whether acting or singing is better right?
Very fortunately, that is no longer the case. Last time, even my friends will ask this occasionally over drinks. Actually, this question is akin to asking me whom do I prefer among my cousins, nephews and nieces. But because people are equally curious about my future, so I think of this as a kind of concern and I’m thankful.
Being able to sing the OST for shows you appear in must be a very big advantage right?
Uhm…..I’m rather cautious about this. I will be acting and appearing on the screen, but if a voice of me singing were to appear too, it might give the feeling of some sort of event. I also spoke about this with “High School King of Savvy” director Yoo Jae Won last time. Of course, I do think the human voice is the most beautiful instrument, but in a scene where people are talking, wouldn’t it be difficult to be immersed in the emotions of the scene if you hear the song lyrics also? On the contrary, if I were to sing the OST of a drama for other actors, I wonder how it’ll be if the song is used in a scene where the actor is in deep thought in a car. I don’t wish to disrupt the show.
Are you usually concerned about the feedback on the final output?
I try to think about that carefully. There are definitely many times where I have to listen to a lot of feedback. Conversely, there are also times where I try not to listen to any at all. There definitely needs to be a standard as your own pillar. Because there are people around who will approach first out of concern. “Are you all right?” they ask this even when I am completely fine. There are times where I have to make a decision based on a lot of feedback, but there are also times where I have to push them aside and listen to my own thoughts only.
The person Seo In Guk is the first champion of our country’s audition programme, and also the lead actor of a memorable drama that everyone in the country were excited about. Do you feel pressured about continuously reaching a peak?
Is there an end to human ambitions? But I often speak to people around me also. I’m very thankful to be able to do whatever I’m doing now. If I only think about “Till which point will I rise up to? I need to go up further”, won’t life be very tiring? Of course, it is important to have ambitions and work hard, but I definitely ought to know that the interest I’m getting from the public now is something worth feeling happy and thankful for.
Work is work, but isn’t this an autumn that you haven’t felt for a long time? What will you be doing this autumn?
These days, I find it most enjoyable to look forward to what I’ll be doing with friends. Yesterday, I rode a car home but the road was heavily congested. So I went to Gapyeong and did an impromptu run for 40 to 50km, and I also went to Chuncheon to eat dakgalbi (Korean spicy stir-fried chicken). When I made my way back, the road was still badly congested. So I made an instant noraebang in the car and sang all the songs from the 1990s. UP songs were not left out of course (UP is a Korean group popular in the 1990s). As long as you have the determination, you can feel excited no matter where you go. Anyway, I’ve been living with this kind of fun these days. Haha.
Translated from Korean to English by Gabby. Please credit when sharing. Scans credit to @kimdukoo on Twitter.