Adolescence spent in emptiness, the period of aimlessness gripped by confusion and worry, the adventurous period that turned the keys for him. Face-time with the shy 28 year-old actor Ji Chang Wook.
*Note: Lines in bold are questions asked by the interviewer.
Congratulations on winning the Excellence Award at the 2013 MBC Drama Awards. Thank you. I am always nervous during award ceremonies. Because so many seniors are seated at the front seats, I somehow feel embarrassed and the live broadcast also makes me feel uncomfortable, so this is still difficult for me. Seems like you have nerves of steel. I’m like that when I’m acting. But otherwise, it is still uncomfortable for me although I try not to feel that way. That’s why I can’t do variety shows. Last year when I appeared on “Radio Star”, I couldn’t even utter a single word. You seem different from your cheerful and feisty characters in your dramas. I’ve played various kinds of roles before, but my role in “My Too Perfect Sons” and “Smile, Donghae” seem to be the most memorable among the public. That’s why when I starred in “Five Fingers”, a question that kept cropping up was ‘how does it feel like in your first time as a villain?’. But in actual fact, I have played such strong characters several times in the past, that’s why I do not consider Yoo In Ha as a villain. You did musicals in between “Five Fingers” and “Empress Ki”. When I was in university, I used to wonder how it would feel like to stand on stage as a lead actor at the grand theatre. I used to dream of such a day while I searched for musical numbers to listen to and practised alone. Wow, when I really got to stand on stage, and even received a newcomer award at “The Musical Awards”, it really felt like a dream come true.
How was it when you received the offer for the role of Ta Hwan in “Empress Ki”? I thought it was a role that I had to do, and it also seemed like a well-rounded, multi-layered character that will allow me to demonstrate a lot of my abilities, so I really wanted to do it. The script was also very interesting to read. You must be happy that you are now in a position to choose projects that you want to do. Even if I really thought that I could do a good job, there’s nothing I can do about it if I do not get selected. Although I wasn’t the first casting choice, I am thankful that I actually got selected. It is also interesting to discover the different faces of Ji Chang Wook through the many facets of Ta Hwan’s character. I’m flattered by your praise. Every actor will be able to give his own unique portrayal of the character no matter who does the role. But now, I am confident that there is no other actor who can better play this role other than me, because I’m the one who has been through and pondered so much over this role right from the start till now. How similar is Ta Hwan to your actual self? Because it is a character that I’m playing, it is inevitable that some aspects of me are embedded in him. I can’t pin point exactly how we are similar, because I think there is a tendency for some subtle similarities to appear. From the immature side to feeling scared, the playful image, the face of extreme jealousy and even expressions of anger. I just exaggerate the emotions to match the scenario.
I heard that you are very mischievous in reality. I do have a lot of pranks when I’m with my close ones. But I’m actually very shy… You are an actor who got successful relatively early. I think I was lucky. After I appeared in an indie film at the age of 20, I managed to enter an agency. During the 2-3 years that I was preparing, “My Too Perfect Sons” was the first drama that I participated in. I still clearly recall the memory of that audition. Back then, I heard that almost all the rookie actors in this field of entertainment had participated in the audition. So I think I was really lucky to have been selected out of so many. I heard that the scriptwriter was satisfied with me. What was the reason? The scriptwriter liked that I looked kind when I smiled. I got to meet great seniors and I got to share many things with Jinwoong-hyung especially. Back then, it was a difficult period for me and Jinwoong-hyung. What was it that was the most difficult? Acting of course. I was frustrated when my acting did not turn out according to how I wanted, and it was not something that I could change in one day just because I agonise over it. I would tremble just by standing in front of the camera, and I would also suddenly forget the lines that I had memorised. In just one day alone, there were many times where I thought of giving up.
Have you ever worried about the issue of ‘talent’? Yes, it was serious. During “Smile Donghae”, as an actor and as someone who works in the entertainment industry, I felt hopeless because I did not seem to have any ‘talent’. Then, a senior told me “there are no actors with natural talent, but everything will be good with practice and hard work”. So I regained my senses and practised hard. When you suddenly changed your course in high school, was it due to an intuition that you had some talent? At that time, I saw this as a very ridiculous thing to do. Because you have just one shot, you just need to go for it, and I thought I would be able to do well. It was a time when I was brave because I was ignorant. How did you spend your adolescent years? There was no wandering around. In middle school, I didn’t go anywhere else other than my school, the cram school and my home. It pains me a lot when I think of it now. Those were the dark ages of my life, so I can’t really recall much of it.
How do you relieve stress? Soccer (laughs)! Since high school, I started playing it in order to get closer with some of my friends. Now that I’m older, it makes me look back at myself. What is it that I want to do, what kind of person I want to be, and among these thoughts, I became very disinterested at the thought of having to study simply because I am a student. I think those feelings that I have been suppressing were finally let out when I was in high school. Any romantic notions about fame? Sigh, of course there was. It just seemed so easy to become a star. But once I entered the theatre and movie course, those classmates who had been studying acting since young seemed so different from me. They had such deep thoughts, those classmates seemed like ‘crazy kids’ to me. I drifted aimlessly a lot and did not go for classes at all for a year. You got F for all your subjects? I thought I wouldn’t have to study when I joined the theatre and movie course, but we had to study theatre history and there were so many theory classes. We had to study plays such as “Romeo and Juliet” but I didn’t know why these plays were so famous and I couldn’t enjoy them at all. I gave up after some time.
But it seems like you didn’t give up on it completely. Other than that, one thing I found interesting was following my school seniors around and shooting short films. While at the filming location, I got the feeling of knowing what I wanted to do for the first time. Those experiences became opportunities and I got to star in the indie film “Sleeping Beauty” and I also got to star in a one-act musical at Daehakro. Through on-site experiences, I finally realised the importance of those classes that I once thought boring, so I started going back to school again. How was it like on the film set? Because I couldn’t act, I have received all sorts of insults. It would hurt your pride to leave because of a mistake right? It would be disgraceful and hurtful. There was once, a director said to me, “Have you been going around doing crappy musicals all this while?” I felt so hurt that I will still recall it sometimes even today. This could become an opportunity that will cause you suffering. Initially, I really wanted to run away or hide myself, but because I kept receiving so many insults that I got used to it (laughs). Even if someone says “you are going to act with such lousy skills of yours?” I will smile and say “yes, yes!” That was a really trying but life-changing period for me.
In “Empress Ki”, there was a line where Ta Hwan confesses to Seung Nyang by referring to her as a ‘mother bird’. As actor Ji Chang Wook, who is your ‘mother bird’? I got to work with many seniors in every project and I have been greatly influenced by them. The seniors in “My Too Perfect Sons”, which can be considered my first stepping stone, left an exceptionally deep impression on me. Among them was Son Hyun Joo. His every action was like a textbook for me. He was an excellent guiding force for me when I wondered about questions such as what makes a good actor or how one should work on set in order to become a good role model. I heard that you also have deep affinity with Jeon Gook Hwan who plays El Temur in “Empress Ki”. I have worked with Senior Jeon Gook Hwan in three different projects, so he is like a father to me. He has been a masterful and outstanding actor for a long time, and seeing him become the talk of the town in Empress Ki made me think “indeed, there will come a day when the public will recognise that star”. Although you are already a shining star, it seems like you are still hoping for the day when you will shine. My worry about acting is still bigger than ever. Often, as I try to seek the answer from my seniors, I realise that they also face the same concern themselves. Even when I turn 40, I’ll probably still be facing the same worry.
Even if it’s a small one, you must have gained some wise advice? What I hear the most often is “even if you have grown so used to it, do not act like a machine”. I think I now understand its meaning after experiencing the regimented filming schedule of a daily drama. I consider myself fortunate that I have a job that is not repetitive and doesn’t allow me to remain stagnant for long. Are you a hardworking person? I realise that I’m not a person who is naturally hardworking. I like to play, I do what I want, and I’m very impulsive when I want to take a rest. I was never a stickler for rules. What is the worst crime that you have committed so far in your life? Hitting my friend? When I was in elementary school. When you get angry with someone? I’m not the kind who will firmly try to bear with it. There are times where I’ve sworn, and also cried when I felt like crying. I’ll then be fine after 30 minutes. Why do you seem to veer towards romance and melo? I really like love stories but there haven’t been many opportunities. That’s why I really want to do it. I think I’ll do well in it (laughs).
Translated from Korean to English by Gabby.