It has been two months since he bade farewell to Ta Hwan in “Empress Ki”. We met up with Ji Chang Wook who is enjoying a nice break.
Ji Chang Wook is an ordinary person. Of course, we are not talking about his looks here. Even though Ta Hwan was not an easy character to empathise with, Ji Chang Wook was strong and was never once swayed because of Ta Hwan. This sense of balance is acquired through constant hard work. The Ji Chang Wook on a usual day is a diligent person. He would act diligently, while on his free days, he would go about his daily life calmly. Thankfully, from Ji Chang Wook, we do not sense any of the pretentiousness or fussiness that celebrities think they are entitled to because of their status.
How do you spend your time on weekends?
This Sunday, we will be gathering everyone together for a soccer match. I had a talk with my fellow team mates over the phone. We really want to win this match.
Won’t it be good if you’re dating at least?
When I don’t have drama or movie filming or schedules like that, I spend my time like an ordinary unemployed person. I haven’t been doing anything since “Empress Ki” ended. Recently, I’ve been thinking if I should learn something new, so I’ve thought of learning the guitar. But I can’t imagine myself doing that alone. I’m looking for a teacher who can teach me properly. I like music and band members look very cool. I had a meal with 2Bic not too long ago because I’m a big fan of them. I’ll be learning music from them too.
You’ve been living as Ta Hwan in “Empress Ki” for half a year. It must’ve been difficult to return to being Ji Chang Wook in reality.
All this while when I was acting, tearing myself apart from the emotions of my characters hasn’t been a difficult issue for me. Even while filming, I am usually able to clearly draw a line between my character and my actual self. I just feel it’s a pity that the work I used to do everyday has now ended, and I am no longer able to meet up often with the people whom I used to see every day. I will feel empty when my daily routine is changed, and this is one aspect that I’m still unable to control. I’ve been wondering what I should do in order to safely overcome this, so this seems like something I’ve always been trying to learn. It is very hard to cope when I have too much free time suddenly. I can only drink and meet up with friends for one or two days, but doing nothing at all for several months is very difficult.
What did you learn last time?
I felt stressed when I actually tried to learn a foreign language, so it eventually ended up in failure. Just when I felt like learning the guitar, my fans gave me one as a gift and that should have strengthened my resolve to learn. Actually, it is no longer a musical instrument but has since become a part of the interior decoration for several months.
There are also many people who just rest and don’t do anything at all.
I’m seldom able to keep still. I like to work, such that people sometimes ask me if I’m a workaholic. When I have no work to do, I will constantly look at something and think of learning it.
You’ve done various kinds of acting, such that there doesn’t seem to be any genre or character that you haven’t done before. Is there anything that you wish to challenge yourself in?
Although two months have passed since “Empress Ki” ended, I still don’t have any plans. I just vaguely have a thought of wanting to act in a movie. A genre such as comedy or thriller would be better. I wish to bring out the various sides of me from within for all to see. If you do realise, there are actually many things that I haven’t done yet. There are many things that I wish to do too.
Given that you are Ji Chang Wook, surely you are more than able to choose the kind of projects you want?
That’s fortunate. It’s a very happy thing for an actor. I’m sure you know when is the saddest moment for an actor – it’s when nobody comes to find him for work. I haven’t gotten to such a state yet, so you’ve no idea how thankful I am.
What is the most important thing when it comes to selecting a project?
The story. Whether I find it interesting when I read the script, and whether I feel the script itself is attractive or not. It is also important that I feel confident about the role. I won’t be able to act well if I have even the smallest amount of doubt about the character.
Then it seems like you had overwhelming confidence in the character Ta Hwan.
That’s right. But the people around me were very worried about me. Honestly, everything about the character Ta Hwan was doubtful to the Ji Chang Wook before “Empress Ki”. But after the show was aired, I heard many people saying that I suited the role very well.
Are you very concerned about what people say about you?
“Do not let your acting be affected by others. But in place of that, do not disregard the public either” is what has been said before. I don’t like my acting to keep changing according to the masses or public opinion. But neither can I say “I’m not bothered about that.” An actor cannot be 100% free from the public. That’s why I analyse and study my characters even harder. I ought to have confidence in myself first so that I won’t get swayed. I will have doubts if I cannot strike a balance, and I will sink into the temptation of public comments (laughs).
How do you go about analysing a character?
I will think of his experiences or the environment he grew up in. Up till now, what kind of thoughts and worries has this person had? It’s because I’ve had such thoughts and worries that I’m able to become who I am today. When I’m analysing a character, I will read the script a lot. It’s like a textbook. Obviously, a person who has read the script 100 times will be better than the person who read it 10 times, and a person who has read the script 1000 times will be better than the person who read it 100 times. This is a fact.
Were you always such a hardworking actor right from the start?
Hahaha. No. In my first year of university, I received warnings for all my academic subjects for two semesters. But I wasn’t at the level of a “dual gunner (ssang kwon chong)” (*a term used to describe a student who has gotten two F grades and is close to getting expelled from school). I got F for everything. What’s the use of studying? I thought all would be fine if I just did acting. With that, I ended up doing independent short films and musicals at the age of 21 by coincidence. But the moment I went up on stage and stood in front of the camera, I realised that acting isn’t as easy as I had thought. My voice sounded so nervous and my movements were so awkward. I received many insults from the acting department. That’s when I came to a realisation, “Ah, I really can’t act after all. So that’s why the seniors are practising and studying.” Eventually, I had no choice but to go back to school. From then onwards, I really worked very hard.
Are the things that you learnt back then still helpful to you now?
Certainly. I’m still using them well (laughs). At the set, (the importance of) whatever you’ve learnt cannot be disregarded. I especially learnt a lot when I was filming “My Too Perfect Sons”. I took a peek at Son Hyun Joo’s script and I closely observed how he went about acting. The seniors on set are just like professors to me.
It has been 7 years since you debuted, but you still haven’t done any trendy dramas.
I don’t have confidence in playing cool characters. There are characters such as rich chairmen or noble, pure princes. But I can’t imagine myself in those kinds of roles. I think it is a complex when characters regard themselves as the most important. Be it drama or movie characters or people in real life, it is their shortcomings that make the person three-dimensional and appear attractive. If someone has a complex about one’s looks, I think it is the effort put in to overcome this complex that makes the person shine. But for people who are already perfect, this is something that they cannot really experience.
What is the shortcoming of Ji Chang Wook?
There are many. But I don’t wish to talk about it. Revealing an actor’s shortcoming in this way doesn’t make the actor shine. On the contrary, I think the more you keep it concealed, the more it grows and matures.
That’s the “mil-dang” of an actor (*mil-dang is a Korean slang often used in the context of a romantic relationship and literally means to “push and pull”). Is that why you hardly appear on variety shows too?
Variety shows make me scared. I don’t do those because I lack the confidence. But I do enjoy watching them. If I appear on variety shows, I need to make it enjoyable for people and be lively, but I don’t have confidence in doing that.
When you key in “Ji Chang Wook” as a search term, what would you like to see under the related search terms?
“Good actor”. The context is similar to an office worker who does his job well, because being an actor is my job. “Ji Chang Wook has a good personality” is not very special. “A trustworthy and dependable actor, an actor who acts well, an actor who is always successful” – such qualifiers are the best to an actor, because I’m first and foremost an actor.
You seem very ambitious about work. But what if you get tired after a while?
When I was busy filming “Empress Ki”, unknowingly, there were times when I felt totally exhausted. It wasn’t because of the busy filming schedule, but the drama itself was very long, so by the time we had completed more than half of the series, I suddenly felt like I had nothing else to show. Emotionally, it seemed like I could not gain any more inspiration.
How did you overcome it?
This thing called inspiration can possibly come at anytime and from anywhere. Inspiration could come when you’re riding in a car at dawn while listening to music, when you’re having a conversation with friends, or when you’re alone for even a short moment. There were also times when you choked up with tears while looking at the sunset, or felt rejuvenated while watching another drama. Not missing any of these sudden moments of inspiration is probably the ability of an actor too.
You seem to have a positive personality.
I’m not always like that. Although I laugh a lot usually, there are also times where I feel tired. There are times where I will be consumed by thoughts like “Why is it so difficult? Why do you make life so difficult for yourself?” with a dark expression on my face. But I will become excited the moment someone asks me to go play soccer with them (laughs). I do not make an effort to deny when I complain about feeling tired, because that’s how I look anyway. No one can possibly be happy every day. One does not stay unhappy forever either. Isn’t everyone like that?
Translated from Korean to English by Gabby.