Interview with Ji Chang Wook, an actor who walks, bowing repeatedly
– You must be tired because of the relay interview
As I talk while being interviewed, I also get to sort things out, so the time I spend doing interviews becomes time for me to wrap up my project? I think it’s really like that. All the things that happened during that period of time. As I talk, I also keep thinking about what kind of issues were there, about working on a project with these people, and I also think once again about acting, so to me it is a time to sort things out…
– Did you rest well during the lunar new year holidays?
I think I rested during the new year. It has been a long time. I ought to spend time with my family and my mother right…I live alone with my mother, ah, when I was working on the show, I hardly got to eat with my mum. I ought to eat and chat a little with my mum at home right…
– You are going to start on your musical right after the lunar new year holidays?
We are still left with the performances in the provinces. There are not many rounds of performances…Seongnam, Daejeon, Daegu, Busan. Because it’s something I’ve been doing originally, so I think I’ll be able to enjoy it. Only because it’s a performance in the province, there always seems to be such a burden. I did this last year but I always have this worry about how I should going about doing this same thing again in order to make it better. Not just me alone, but the director too, and the other actors also always wondered together about how to present a better image during the 3 months of practice. Even while practising like that, it is not a performance that is only good because it seems different from the first run, neither did it become a good performance because many things were changed. The good things are kept as they are and the parts that are lacking have to be made stronger, and we pondered about these together during the three months. I think a sufficiently good performance will be made, and I feel at ease because I practised while believing in the director and the other actors…
– We have to talk about “Healer” now. It is a drama with a lot of action scenes.
There were some aspects of the action that were less than desirable. We seemed very rushed for time. The action was not that easy, so when doing this in a drama, I think there would have been more realistic, cooler and grander action scenes if we were given a little more time. Furthermore, there were many action scenes that weren’t filmed perfectly but were included because of the amount of footage needed for broadcast. There were many things that we couldn’t film because of the lack of time, and there were also many action scenes that had to be reduced to the minimum. Those were quite a pity.
– You did almost all the action scenes yourself?
There were many things that were done by the stuntman. In the beginning, there were articles that reported that the actors did everything themselves without stuntmen, but truthfully, I wasn’t able to do everything. Because there were stuntmen around, I tried my best to do everything that I could, and I received a lot of help from the action team or stuntmen for the rest of the stunts. No matter how well I do or how hard I try, it is not easy for me to create the kind of appearance or good image of an expert. I also relied on the editing. When I was filming the action scenes, there were times when I wondered “Ah, if I film like this, will it turn out spectacular (on screen)?” And when I saw those scenes during broadcast, the editing was done very well. While watching the broadcast, there were scenes that surprised me such that I would think “Wow, so this was made like that?”
– The scene where you rescued Chae Young Shin from the elevator was a memorable scene.
In the case of the elevator scene, it was really short, but it was a scene that required a lot of effort. Based on what I can remember, that was probably around Christmas, was it Christmas eve? Anyway, we spent almost two whole days filming that alone. So it was a scene that was also very depressing. Ha ha ha. I took a picture; there was a picture where the staff were all gathered in front of the elevator, so maybe that is why that scene was more memorable to me.
– You worked together with director Jung Du Hong right?
I heard that director Jung Du Hong usually will not come down to the drama film set personally, but he has a lot of passion seeing that he came down personally to the set again. Actually, the action team was changed midway around episode 4 onwards. But we were already in the middle of production by then, so he had a lot of love for the project and worked hard. So I had to work hard also. Actually, I wanted to speak more to him and work more with him, but it was very regrettable that there wasn’t much time. So when director Jung Du Hong comes to the set, he will look at the situation and try his best to match the situation. Even the longer scenes in the script were shortened if the conditions were not suitable, and after matching the situation, everything seemed to be done hurriedly. I was also busy with memorizing the actions when I went to the film set, and although I wanted to discuss more about the project, the actor’s emotion and the opinions of the action team, there wasn’t that much time for such things. So I felt once again, “Ah, doing an action drama is not easy. Filming action within such a tight schedule is not easy.”
– How is your fitness?
I thought my fitness was better than others but in actual fact, I think I endure better than others. This time, I tried to laugh and work happily at the filming. That’s why it was a project that we did very happily and had fun at the same time. While working on it, it was very tiring on the body, but looking at the staff and other seniors, I laughed and had fun working. Very enjoyably.
– It didn’t seem easy to act the character Seo Jung Hu.
When I first got the character, I was very confused and it didn’t seem easy. For instance, the colour of the character Ta Hwan in “Empress Ki” was very clear and distinct. He was very weak, swayed a lot and really revealed his complex in his behaviour, so the more clear and distinct it was, grasping the character became easy. I just had to show it. But although Seo Jung Hu had a complex and trauma, he doesn’t show them, so I wondered what I should do. No matter how you look at this kid, he was a child who was abandoned by his mum and grew up without the care of adults; he lived all this while without adults around him, so he probably has some kind of trauma.
But if he was definitely that kind of child, I thought he should probably be dark, so when I grasped the character in the beginning, it was very dark. I made him to be a very dark character; I thought that this kind of child could have some kind of mental illness and could have even sought help from a psychiatrist. If he was a child who grew up under such conditions, he would probably have depression or some habits in his behaviour that are influenced by his past experience. I kept thinking in that direction only. So I kept thinking that way, but looking at the script again, this person appeared very cheerful in the script. He didn’t show any signs of those. Hence, there was a very big difference between the character I envisioned and the one shown in the text; they didn’t match. It seemed like I didn’t read the script after getting the character. So I asked the scriptwriter again, she said, ‘No, it would be better if you just laughed instead. It would be good if he was very cynical and didn’t show any of those signs at all.’ So it was very hard to grasp the line in the beginning. I tried to discuss a lot with the scriptwriter and director, and while doing that, I reworked my character bit by bit.
– Do you usually analyze your characters a lot?
Yes, I really do that a lot. After all, isn’t that a job that builds the most foundation? It requires the most effort and the most tiring, and also gives me a lot of stress. But it is also very interesting to create a character like that and I do that a lot because I want to show something new, so it is not easy.
– Do you resonate well with the character Seo Jung Hu?
Actually as an actor, there are parts of the character that resonate well with me, and also some parts that don’t. If it doesn’t, I need to make it happen. I keep thinking, although the way that I’ve lived my life is my own, it is not the only path in life. There can be different kinds of people. When I really look at it, there are people who behave in ways that I simply cannot understand, but they will behave in that way obviously from their viewpoint. Because they have their own viewpoint, Seo Jung Hu is also the same — he’s a person who is me but not me either. But even then, if I act according to my own understanding, then I’m acting as myself, not Jung Hu. So even though there are aspects of Jung Hu that I cannot understand, I did not give in, but I worked hard to try and understand more.
Before filming of the drama began, the scriptwriter probably said something like that.”It would be good if the child Seo Jung Hu is an example of the youth of this generation who grew up without adults.” Those words became a very big guide for me when creating this character. Somehow, the character Seo Jung Hu doesn’t seem to have any sense of justice at all no matter how hard you look. I only care about my own goal and my own dream, and all I want to do is to live a good life alone on a deserted island that I like. In order to do that, I work as Healer now to earn money. Because I’m doing this job, I don’t have a sense of justice such that I do not care about who is right or wrong or if someone feels hurt. The meaning of justice is within me and I don’t care about others…that’s the kind of character he is. But actually no matter how you look at it, I thought it actually showed some of the disposition or special characteristics of the youth of this generation very well.
– Does the youth of this generation also include yourself?
Yes, that’s right. Me too.
– So, do you have this kind of disposition also?
Actually, I…the older generation was also presented like that in the show. They ran a pirate radio station, and shouted for democracy. They made a sacrifice while doing that. I wondered what was it that they even had to go on the run. Because I got so used to that kind of freedom, I couldn’t feel the preciousness of that. I thought of it as a given. Jung Hu seemed to be like that. I didn’t know what justice was and only earned money for the sake of my own dream; I was busy heading towards my own goal. At times, I wondered have I ever thought about stuff like justice or morals. Seems like I haven’t. With this in mind, I think I came to understand how Jung Hu reflects the people of this generation.
– Then do you sense any changes after filming “Healer”?
I don’t really know. Actually I can’t tell if the way I look at things has changed or have I changed in some way. But it just seems like there is a change. If you ask me what made me feel the most frustrated or unfair, it would be “I couldn’t do anything too. Me too.” — a line from Kim Moon Ho with such a nuance. So there was a part in the script where Jung Hu said, “Please tell me what can I do” and Moon Ho replied “For a long time, I also tried but there was no way; there was nothing I could do.” That line made me choked with a lot of emotions. It was a line that somehow made me sense my own limitations. No matter how you look at it, there were many bad people, but I couldn’t do anything to them because I was alone. Actually that line resonated with me a lot and made me choked with emotions…
– According to the production description of “Healer”, two people like Seo Jung Hu and Chae Young Shin, who do not have interest in worldly affairs, are unintentionally caught in a huge incident. In your perception of the world, do you think such a thing can happen in reality?
I think I’ve been asked such a question before. I was asked if I would fight back if I was in a situation similar to Seo Jung Hu’s. I think I gave an honest answer, “It is difficult. I don’t think I’ll be able to do that if it was me.” But because dramas depict things that ordinary people can’t do, I think of this as a way to make the show exciting. Even the love depicted in dramas is the uncommon kind of love that is nearly impossible in reality, so when people watch, they feel it’s a fantasy and feel excited about it. Similarly, I think I replied, “Although I do not have such great courage like Jung Hu or Moon Ho to fight against formidable enemies, but if such people do exist, then I will make them exciting.”
– Dramas may be fictional, but because there is a fictional aspect, how did the energy at the film set feel like to you?
Hmm…one thing I realised while doing this drama, one of the decisions that I felt I had to do was probably (managing) the atmosphere. Actually the staff and the mood can be very different depending on the viewership ratings, but even then, there are times where a drama will fare well, and times where a drama will not do well. Apart from that, even when the viewership ratings are not high now, I still tried to do the filming enjoyably…
– “Healer” seemed lacking in the viewership ratings. Were there any areas that you tried to work hard on to maintain the mood at the film set?
Hmm…I was very happy, and I think I really gave my all. I’m very happy now, and I’m having a lot of fun now. Between the staff and actor, somehow at the moment when I think of that person as a staff and myself as an actor, a strange wall is formed. It can’t be broken by the staff first, but it is a task that should be done by the actor first. I think I worked very hard to get closer to them. Likewise for the director, scriptwriter and the other staff, the hyung who work with me, the younger brothers/sisters who work with me, the noona who work with me…that’s how I thought of them. Because I thought of them this way, I was able to get closer to them without a feeling of distance. Because I got closer like that, they were able to open up their hearts to me. I think we had a very enjoyable time filming together. Even on tiring days, we were tired together, and we also laughed together suddenly. We did the filming with laughter.
– You upload unusual pictures on Instagram, and netizens who saw those said that they didn’t know there was such a side to Ji Chang Wook.
I do a lot of useless things. Those are a very great source of energy to me. If I don’t even do such things, my life will probably become very dull. Ha ha.
– Why do you feel that way?
Hmm, simply, compared to filming and eating ordinarily, it is a kind of deviation from the daily routine. While thinking of what interesting things there could be, I even made a ridiculous snowman, and I also took a photo of it and uploaded it….It is the kind of thing that will make people think “Ah, why is he doing that?” when they see it, but I just think of it as having fun among ourselves, and it is nothing that needs to be purposely hidden. Because that is also my daily life. Regarding social media…this is my own personal opinion…I don’t wish to use social media to purposely show my grandiose beliefs or stuff like that. I just simply want to upload the pictures that I’ve taken; I think of it simply like one of the amusement rides or toys like entertainment. That’s why I also upload a lot of useless pictures.
– There are many variety shows these days that involve observing the daily life of stars. Perhaps, do you think the fact that you provide entertainment from your daily life can be an advantage?
Actually, I had a fear of variety shows when I was young. I didn’t do variety. I couldn’t do so. Actually, I do want to, but I need to be funny in such variety shows. If I were to appear, how can I make it interesting for people? There was this kind of pressure on me. So all the more I wasn’t able to speak when I went on variety shows. There was this feeling of exposing everything about myself. So I was actually very scared. But now when I look at it, of course I do like people who work in variety shows, I also watch variety shows often and I think they are very impressive…This could possibly be my philosophy and it could be different for other people…But if I were to appear on variety shows, when I think of what kind of image should I show and who are the audience watching me…When the actor Ji Chang Wook appears and shows the human side of Ji Chang Wook, people may like it, but it could also become harmful to the actor Ji Chang Wook instead. When I return to my original job one day, will people be able to see me as an actor or that character? I think that will not be easy. People will just see the human side of Ji Chang Wook. Actually, this is how the people around me see me. When the people close to me watch my dramas, they will give reactions like, “Ya, you make me cringe”. Ha ha. I don’t wish to meet audiences like that. So there are areas that I am cautious about.
– If you let everything go for once, you will feel more comfortable.
Hahahaha…To a certain extent, I probably have my pride as an actor, it could also be something unnecessary, and it could also be because I want to continue working as an actor. When I appear in a drama, movie or play, I have an ambition of wanting to only show myself as the character in that show. That’s why I am cautious. Even if I have to appear on variety shows, I hope it is just occasionally. If people get used to that, they will think “Ah, Ji Chang Wook is that kind of person. He is also clumsy at times.” But looking at my roles in dramas, I am not like that. If there are such overlaps, I think it won’t be very helpful?
– Looking at that context, your image can also become fixed through one drama. There are still people who think of Donghae from “Smile Donghae” when they see you.
I think it differs for each person. There are people who will think of Donghae, there are also those who will think of Ta Hwan from”Empress Ki”, and there are also people who remember me as Seo Jung Hu from “Healer”… but strangely, there are some people who think I have become very different from Song Mi Poong in “Sons of Sol Pharmacy”. I like it. Because people watch all those shows, if I am remembered as Donghae by anyone, it means that person has enjoyed watching that show.
– Do you have any desire to do a trendy mini series?
I do. Hmm…everyone will dream once of being a star and everyone wants to be popular. When I was young, I wanted to suddenly become the lead of a trendy mini series, become popular suddenly, and I wanted to become a star overnight. It will be a lie if I say that I have not harboured such ambitions before. I did have such ambitions, but after working all this while, I ended up walking on this path. But even then, I did not purposely tell myself to start with a daily drama or weekend drama and slowly work my way up. As I worked, I just ended up doing a daily drama, weekend drama and sageuk, and I think that was the road I was destined to take. It is not within my control to make myself purposely appear in a youth drama or trendy drama.
– Actually Ji Chang Wook also has this image of an old person. So I am curious as to what kind of image you will present in a trendy mini series.
Park Min Young noona once said this when she saw me, “You are so inflexible, you are a person who is so straight and upright.” I think I have that kind of image. Actually it’s the same every time; I think I am someone who is very childish, I behave like a kid a lot, I also whine, and I am a very playful person, but when other people look at me, I seem like a very very upright person. Park Min Young noona made me know this once again…But I don’t know, I have always been like this since young, and I think I’ll continue to be like this in the future. But there are still many sides of me that people have not seen yet, and that is fun to me. There are really many faces within me, and I want to show all these through acting.
– After “Healer” are there any changes to the kinds of offers you receive?
Hmm…It is a fact that I have been receiving more offers than before after “Empress Ki” and “Healer”. I am very thankful, and I think this is a very happy thing for an actor. I have been receiving many different kinds of projects and characters, and many of them are sageuks. I will slowly read through each project one by one and choose carefully. I think it is a courtesy to those who sent me the offer, and it also seems to be the right way to go for me, so I will look carefully. It’s not that I’m only receiving bright or dark stuff, but there is a good mix of offers coming in.
– Then, setting aside the offers that you’ve received, is there any role or character that you wish to play?
Hmm…. Actually I want to try playing a role in a medical drama like “Blood”. But aspects like timing and fate play a part when choosing a project. It was the same for “Healer” also. Actually while filming “Healer”, I realised how happy it is for an actor to receive the trust of the scriptwriter. I once again felt how encouraging it is to be trusted by the scriptwriter. the director, and the people who worked with me…I think this was a show that made me grow anew again. It is something I felt naturally. The realisation that the scriptwriter and director trust me, and although aspects like the way they look at me and speak to me are subtle, the person on the receiving end can feel it. On the contrary, if they do not trust me, I will be able to sense it even though it may be subtle. This time, the happiest thing for me is being able to feel the trust that the director, scriptwriter and the staff have for me.
– What did you do on Valentine’s Day?
On Valentine’s day…I drank alcohol. Hahahaha. Ah…On Valentine’s Day, I met up with a hyung and friend whom I’ve not seen for a long time, and the three of us drank sadly at an Izakaya, and I spent the whole night drinking with my close friends. Yesterday was the 15th right? I really had a good time yesterday. I also saw the play “Man From Earth”. It is a show produced by senior Lee Won Jong. It is also a show that I really want to work on, so I watched it. After watching it, I drank together with the people there, and we drank till 1am. It was very fun. Senior Jung Kyu Su (who starred as Secretary Oh in “Healer”) also drank with us, and we ended up dancing together at the end…
– You said you danced?
At the bar. Hahahaha. Senior Lee Won Jong started dancing, and he looked very funny. Haha. He was shaking his body, and it was so funny that I took a video and I was so happy…haha. The team really worked happily together. I was really envious of them.
– Up till now, you’ve done many shows….
(Manager: It’s time to wrap up. We still have to take pictures…)
Because time is so short….next time we should do this for two hours. Haha. Ah, but you were asking me something earlier right?
– Up till now, you’ve done many shows, and most of them have been very popular, and you’ve also received praises for your acting. You still seem to be steadily progressing. I have also heard that you are inflexible.
But there is definitely a side of me that is inflexible. There is stubbornness within me, and I am stubborn when it comes to matters and acting, but I really think that popularity and praises will all come to pass. I don’t think it will become a turning point. For example, although “Empress Ki” was successful, it didn’t change my life. When someone asked me what do “Empress Ki” and “Healer” mean to me, I said those are merely shows that are already over and they have become good memories to me. To that extent, that show will eventually pass and become forgotten. Just that memories of having worked on the project with good people will remain in my heart, and I will continuously remember it over the course of time. But the show doesn’t change me, I simply continue walking. Also, a project may not be successful, receive bad reviews, and may be forgotten by people, but that is also just for a moment. That will also come to pass…and I don’t know what will happen with another project either…so setting those aside, I just want to do what I want, and having fun with others while at it, just like at the bar yesterday, is also a good thing. That image is also an image of myself.
(Manager: Can we begin the photo shoot now?)
– Yes, you’ve worked hard.
Because the interview time was short, I feel like there are still things that I want to say even though it has ended. Haha. You’ve worked hard.
*In certain parts of the interview, he refers to himself as Jung Hu when he is in fact talking about the character, so please don’t get confused.
*This is a translation of the full-length non-edited interview transcript.
Translated from Korean to English. Please share with proper credit.