The power of a character can be scary. It still feels awkward looking at Ta Hwan stripped of his royal robes. So strong is the impression he has made as that character.
With the airing of the 51st episode, the 6-month-long run of the MBC Mon-Tues drama “Empress Ki” finally drew to a close. Ji Chang Wook, who showed the Yuan Emperor Ta Hwan’s affectionate and heartbreaking love for Seung Nyang in the drama, commanded a great presence right till the end as the show concluded with a sad ending.
The past 6 months was no easy journey for Ji Chang Wook either. Taking into account the filming period in addition to the 6 months, he had been immersed in the show for a whole 9 months. To put things differently, “Empress Ki” can be considered as the drama that showed the growth of Ji Chang Wook.
This makes us curious now. If there was no Ji Chang Wook, would this journey have been possible? Ji Chang Wook successfully became one with his character through his passionate acting, such that there is no need for any doubts about him anymore.
Ji Chang Wook, the look of a “real actor” after bidding farewell to Ta Hwan
Q: You must be feeling very empty now that “Empress Ki” has ended. What have you been doing lately?
A: I’m now clearing previously-arranged schedules that have yet to be done. I haven’t had the chance to rest yet. I’ll probably have some time to rest only after I’ve finished my schedules in Japan.
Q: How are you feeling? Do you feel that you’ve already gotten yourself out of “Empress Ki” somewhat?
A: I think I’m still in the process of wrapping things up. I think I’ll only get the feeling of completion after I’ve finished all my interviews.
Q: You were so deeply immersed in the role. The after-effects must be equally great too.
A: I don’t have any after-effects. I just feel somewhat empty. The fact that I no longer get to meet the people that I used to see every day on the set gives me a huge feeling of emptiness. But despite that, my body feels much more comfortable now (laughs).
Q: It is not too much to say that you are the one who benefited the most from “Empress Ki”. Do you realise how popular you are?
A: I didn’t know when the show was still airing. I only realised it a little when I met people. Occasionally when I walk around, people tell me that they enjoyed watching “Empress Ki”. That made me realise somewhat, and I am thankful that people have such great interest in me.
Q: It feels slightly strange seeing you in this kind of casual look after seeing you in a sageuk. I’m curious to know how you feel personally.
A: I personally feel that way too. I dyed my hair a bit, and I’m now in the process of trying to get out of the sageuk and adjust to the present day.
Q: You acted till the point that you became one with Ta Hwan, and people are even saying that this character would not have been possible if it wasn’t Ji Chang Wook.
A: This is probably thanks to my seniors around me for helping me. It was enjoyable even during filming. Be it now or previously, the only thought I had was “I have to work harder”, so I’m somewhat embarrassed. Of course, I’m happy that people look upon me favourably. But on the other hand, there are times where I feel burdened. Even when that happens, it becomes a chance for me to strengthen my resolve to work harder.
Q: It is also evident that you have grown in your acting. I’m curious about how you feel about it.
A: I don’t know yet. “So your acting has suddenly improved?” I don’t know if that is so. It is probably a compliment for me for being a good match for the character Ta Hwan. I just feel embarrassed. For me, receiving an award at the awards ceremony was most embarrassing, and I feel embarrassed too when I receive compliments about my acting.
Q: How did you feel after you finished your last filming?
A: I felt both refreshed and sad. Even though I tell myself to rest well, when I think of not being able to play this role ever again in my life, and not being able to sit again on the throne that I used to sit on, I start to feel weird. Because humans are crafty, they don’t know it is good that the body feels comfortable again (laughs).
“Empress Ki” and the cast according to Ji Chang Wook
Q: You still keep in contact with Ha Ji Won right?
A: Yes, we still keep in contact. I asked her to buy me some delicious food (laughs). Because we have no time, we are unable to meet. She’ll be going to America soon. She said she will buy me something delicious when she comes back.
Q: On set, somehow you seem to be getting all the love from everyone.
A: I think they really loved me and took care of me. “Empress Ki” is a good memory that I’m thankful for.
Q: I cannot avoid mentioning the ending. It was an ending where you died in the arms of the empress?
A: My heart felt a bit bitter when I saw the script for episode 51. The Ta Hwan that I had imagined was a Ta Hwan who only had eyes for Seung Nyang. Seung Nyang confessed her love for Ta Hwan at the final moment, and when Ta Hwan heard that, it seemed like he had let go of a string in his heart. Looking at it, earning the heart of Seung Nyang was his goal throughout the 51 episodes and it was saddening.
Q: I’m curious to know if you like the ending.
A: I killed Wang Yoo and “Seung Nyang and Ta Hwan lived happily ever after” seems too much like a fairytale ending I think. For myself, I’m satisfied with the ending.
Q: Was it an ending you had expected?
A: There were rumours that it would end in death, and there were also rumours of a happy ending. There were so many rumours right until the moment when the final script was released. Then there were only rumours that Ta Hwan would die. Right before the script was released, the story had so many entanglements that I felt a happy ending would probably be too illogical. I told the writer that it would probably be better to die. I heard that there were a lot of discussions done internally.
Q: Jo Jae Yoon’s betrayal and twist was a highlight of the show. I heard that both of you are very close to each other in reality?
A: I was very shocked when I learnt that Golta was the Eagle House leader. Just like getting betrayed for real, my hands were trembling and my heart was beating very fast. I remember giving Jae Yoonie hyung a phone call immediately. Although we met for the first time through this filming, we became really close. I have a 14-years age difference with him, and although I address him as hyung, we interact with each other like friends. Fortunately, the scene where Golta got killed was the last scene to be filmed. It was a scene where we stayed up throughout the night and filmed till 12pm the next day. I remember filming with every ounce of emotion. It was interesting to film and also sad.
Q: Were there times when you felt tired during filming? Or any memories of having suffered but feeling satisfied?
A: There were many, but in front of Joo Jin Mo, I don’t have the confidence to say that I suffered (In fact, Ji Chang Wook gave an apologetic smile when this question was posed to him). There was a scene of us running along the cliff and we had to film on wires for 3 days. That was very tiring. Because we were filming at the West Sea, it was very difficult to catch the timing of falling into the water. After that, indoor filming of the palace scenes was comfortable for me.
Q: Before you started “Empress Ki”, you must’ve had a goal. How satisfied are you?
A: “Let’s do a good job making Ta Hwan” was the goal I had initially. But if you were to ask me “how far did you go about it?”, my answer will be vague somewhat. There are many regrets too. I regret later with thoughts like “I should have done it more daringly”. But even then, I think I did learn a lot. I did enjoy my work too.
Q: How was Ha Ji Won like as a partner?
A: It was awkward at first. Both of us are very shy so I wondered what we should talk about. I said, “Noona, you’re my senior from the same school,” but she merely replied with “ah, is that so?” We were unfamiliar with each other since it was our first meeting, and I did worry a lot about how I could get closer to her. But it was fortunate that our first scenes were scenes where we provoked and teased each other, so we got close quickly. Even if we didn’t intend to get closer to each other privately, we still ended up being close while acting. We really talked a lot about the show. We also found out a lot about our characters while discussing.
Q: I heard that you joined the production very late. I’m curious about how you adjusted.
A: Although it is possible for actors to become closer while drinking, we didn’t have the luxury of time to do so. Because I joined so late, filming of the show had proceeded with Ta Hwan as the only role still vacant. I had no choice but to get close with the others at the set.
Q: Many other actors had been considered for this role. Given that you joined the show late, the pressure on you must’ve been equally great?
A: More than feeling worried, I was worried whether “will the director or writer trust me and will things turn out well?” The director, writer and actors need to trust one another in order for there to be synergy, so I put in my best effort in my acting. When the show went on air, the writer contacted me and said, “I was worried about you, but thank you for giving such a good performance.” From then onwards, I could sense their trust in me, and I was also able to perform more.
Ji Chang Wook and the great legacy left behind by “Empress Ki”
Q: In the drama, Ta Hwan only had eyes for Seung Nyang and showed an image of pure love. How is Ji Chang Wook like as a man?
A: I think all men are the same. If there is a girl they like, they wouldn’t look at other women. Although I don’t know if the same can be said when there is a change of heart. The love that appears in dramas is actually not easy in reality. I wondered if I can be like Ta Hwan who could have a love without any feedback even till the day he died, and I think it’s not easy. Because it’s a drama, there will be an element of fantasy to a certain extent. Despite that, when I look at Ta Hwan, there are times when I have thoughts like “ah, I really want to fall in love.”
Q: You have yet to experience such pure romantic love?
A: I think it’s not easy. You have to put aside your work and look at that person only, so it’s not easy. I think it’s difficult to meet such a person.
Q: I’m curious about what you do in your free time.
A: I will meet my friends to drink coffee or play soccer. Sometimes I will drink or go on a holiday too.
Q: What is the biggest thing you’ve ever done that deviated from your normal routine?
A: Other than breaking the law, I think I’ve done everything (laughs).To the extent that I will leave the house without any destination in mind. But I regret after doing so. Sometimes, I will do things out of the ordinary like running off somewhere to hide.
Q: Is there any genre or character that you wish to do?
A: I don’t have any particular character in mind, but I wish to try out various kinds. By taking on many roles, I wish to find out which kinds of characters are difficult for me, and which kinds of characters I’m comfortable with. If I want to do something unique, I’ll want to do something new, just like how I did the character Ta Hwan differently. Every character is a job to be done. I want to show something new that is unconventional but realistic.
Q: Is there a partner that you wish to act together in melodramas in the future?
A: There are really many (laughs). It would be good if it’s a partner whom I can easily communicate with. I think that’s important. Be it business or anything else, I think mutuality is important. Even with Ji Won noona, I wish to have many chats with her just like how we used to. I think it gets better when seniors, juniors and colleagues have many conversations.
Q: At this point in time, I’m curious about your plans for enlistment.
A: I will go when it’s time to go. I want to go somewhere ordinary. I’m thinking of joining the army. I think it will be interesting if I go to an ordinary unit. I attended boys-only schools in my middle and high school years, which I found really interesting, so I think I’ll be able to have a lot of fun with the guys.
Q: Surely you must have some fears about this empty period of time?
A: Even if I’m scared, there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s a place where everyone has to go. Instead, I think I will be able to concentrate and do my work at ease after I return. I’ll probably feel like my life has become more carefree after that. I intend to go if my draft notice arrives next year or the year after. But after I return from the army, there will probably be roles that I cannot play. I hope to make up for that before I leave.
Q: What are your upcoming plans?
A: I have filming to do for the movie “Two Constables”. I haven’t had the chance to meet senior Sol Kyung Gu, but he’s a senior whom I respect and I heard he’s a nice person, so I think filming will be fun. I’m looking forward to it.
Translated from Korean to English by Gabby.
Article first published on 16-05-2014