Ji Chang Wook says the word “just” very often. The word “just” spoken by him has a kind of friendliness and coolness that only a person who does not spend his life on unresolvable conflicts can have. Without embellishing with grandiose expressions, this is probably just Ji Chang Wook.
Ji Chang Wook is rather shy. If one has to categorise him, he is the kind who behaves politely towards others because he is shy. The photo shoot began at the morning rush hour and only concluded at sunset when most people have left work their workplace. Although we had spent the whole day together while shooting at various locations across Seoul, it was only after 3pm that Ji Chang Wook started to appear more comfortable with the unfamiliar women around him who spoke to him. Cheerfully emanating out from his neat and polite image of an actor was his unpretentious mischievousness of a 29-year-old youth.
Actors are usually known by the name of their character in a show. Many new actors who have starred in memorable shows are remembered by viewers and audiences in this manner. When an actor’s presence has risen to another level, that will be the moment when he is no longer called by his character’s name in the show, but he is called by his own name no matter what role he plays in whichever project he takes on. For a period of time, Ji Chang Wook was known as “Donghae” to all ahjummas in Korea, but with the drama as a starting point, the name “Ji Chang Wook” started to prevail over the name of his characters in his shows. The name “Ji Chang Wook” has now become a famous name in the Asia Pacific. His recent visit to Hong Kong upon invitation by fashion brand Dunhill drew large crowds of Hong Kong fans to the airport and the hotel he was staying at. It is also the same in Seoul. No matter where Ji Chang Wook goes, women with flushed faces will crowd around and the cars moving around him will even slow down. But he remains very nonchalant about all this. Whenever we moved to another location for filming, he walked happily around the residential area of Seoul just like someone who came out to have a drink with his friends in the neighbourhood. “I’ve always roamed around well,” he said with a laugh. While eating a burrito that he ordered as a takeaway from a Mexican eatery for lunch, he said “This is the first time I’m eating this, it’s very delicious.” His hairstylist revealed, “Not too long ago, one of the young staff cried while eating the food prepared by Changwook-sshi’s mother.” It was the day when he invited his staff to his home. Ji Chang Wook laughed again, “Ah…my mum deboned the fish with her hands and placed the meat on that friend’s rice, so he/she must have thought of his/her own mother and cried.” (*Because of the ambiguity of the Korean language, the gender of that staff is not clear)
The interview began at a pub in Itaewon, went past Namsan, and ended in a car on the way to Sungsudong. In terms of meaning, this interview brought more results in observation than conversation. A 29 year old man who debuted as an actor 8 years ago. A diligent worker. A little shy but friendly, yet does everything naturally. It’s just, Ji Chang Wook.
Did you get a bit of rest after Healer?
Yes. While resting, I do interviews and photo shoots…
Do you like interviews?
I’m not that fond of interviews, neither do I dislike it.
I’ve seen you being interviewed by a reporter in an entertainment news programme. She said you have gangster shoulders that excite women and she measured your shoulders using a measuring tape.
Ah, I remember (laughs).
Although you were very courteous throughout that interview, you always had an expression like “Ah, it’s a little embarrassing.”
Hahaha, I’m shy. I take a while to overcome that. But I have to talk a lot within a short period of time in interviews. That is not very comfortable. But I’ve improved a lot since debut.
I once read an interview where you coolly said that “becoming an overnight star through a trendy drama was your dream” and I was quite awed by that.
I was giving interviews for quite a while, and I used to receive this question, “You’ve steadily made your way here from daily dramas to weekend dramas; was this intentional?” Actually I had no such intention. After debuting, all the shows I did initially were successful, and I thought I would become a star immediately once I did a lead role in a drama. But it was harder than I thought. Eventually, things turned out this way as I continued working. That’s why I answered in that manner. Well, it was true (laughs).
Interestingly, you don’t seem to say words like “Instead of a star, I want to become an actor” seriously.
Such words are embarrassing so I can’t bring myself to say that (laughs).
But you are already a star. I heard that the local fans gathered around you like clouds even when you were in Hong Kong not too long ago.
I wondered “How did these people know about me?” Turns out they’ve already seen everything. Seems like these days, even the dramas that are still airing are seen overseas in almost real-time.
Do you feel burdened by all the interest and attention you get wherever you go?
I’m not greatly bothered by it. It’s fine as long as it does not hinder my work. When I’m drinking coffee in a cafe, someone wouldn’t appear suddenly and stop me from drinking my coffee right? (Laughs) They will just look at me or quietly take pictures of me using their handphones, so it’s fine since they are not a hindrance.
Are you also nonchalant towards others’ comments?
I work very hard to be nonchalant. It becomes very tiring if I am too bothered by that. Maybe I am slowly becoming indifferent as I try to be comfortable (laughs).
People say that one will change when one gets famous. What about you?
Not really. The people whom I am close to and meet up with are still about the same.
I’m curious about what you do when you are not busy.
I will meet up with friends and drink coffee or alcohol. We also play games together and we play Winning Eleven (an online soccer game) most of the time. Ah, I also play actual soccer because I like it. I am part of a celebrity soccer team and a team where I play with my friends. I’m not very different from guys of the same age as me.
I’m asking this as I expect you to be somewhat different. Most people think celebrities are very different from themselves.
Unfortunately, I’m not very different (laughs).
Seo Jung Hu in “Healer” is a man whom heterosexual women can’t help but fall in love with.
Ah, really? What’s the reason?
Firstly, he is good-looking. And he will definitely appear whenever the woman needs him. Most importantly, he will definitely pick up the call no matter what happens! Do you know how rare it is to find a man who will answer a call from his lover even when he’s fighting with his enemies?
Hahahahaha, now that you mention it, it was really difficult to act that scene where I had to answer the phone while fighting. I needed to memorise the action sequence, and I had to say my lines in between all the action, and everything had to be done quickly during filming because time was tight. I was very busy and it was a tiring scene.
What kind of man is the real Ji Chang Wook when dating?
I’m not so tender like Junghu. But I’m not a very cold or bad guy either. I’m just the kind who will adjust to the girl.
Just like how good your chemistry was with Chae Young Shin in the show, the chemistry between the two characters you played, Seo Jung Hu and Park Bong Su, was also good. In particular, fans chose the ending scene of episode 5 as the best. It was the scene where Park Bong Su said “Senior, save me” while coughing and holding onto Young Shin’s hand as he ran out and gave a smirk.
Ah…(laughs). That scene was also extremely tiring. Originally, the instructions written beside “Senior, save me” were “Hold Young Shin’s hand and run” and “Jung Hu knew that Young Shin would behave this way”. A smile is a smile, but the reason for the smile was written there. He didn’t hold Young Shin’s hand because of the situation, neither was it because he was moved or excited, but he smiled because he knew Young Shin would react this way. Exactly how should I act this out…(laughs) This was a very interesting script that is just like a novel when you read it, and I was troubled because I had to express that through acting. So that scene was filmed many many times.
Writer Song Ji Nah has always been famous for her literary style of writing her script. This could be a headache from the perspective of an actor.
It was a headache. But it was interesting, it was very difficult, that’s why I was troubled, but it was also interesting because of that. A difficult script can also be a kind of enjoyment for an actor. If the script is too easy, it could become boring from an acting perspective. I’m thankful to the writer for giving me room to worry like that.
Among the 20 episodes, which scene was the most difficult to express through acting?
The character Seo Jung Hu does not cry. He didn’t cry even when his master, who was like a father to him, died. It’s not because he held back his tears, but because he didn’t know how to cry. If you ask what kind of feeling that is, it’s the feeling of “not being able to cry”. Such a man meets a woman called Chae Young Shin and the feelings that had been suppressed all along came bursting out. In other words, he ended up learning how to cry. That was really difficult. I asked the writer “How can I portray a man who doesn’t know how to cry?”, she said “Um, it’s very difficult right? But I wrote that because I think you will be able to do it…” (clapping with laughter).
Those are kind words but burdensome.
The writer also believes in me. I’m very thankful that she didn’t say “Why can’t you do that?”, but instead, she said “I know it is difficult but I think you are able to do it” and those words were encouraging.
Probably because of all the thought you gave, Jung Hu’s emotions were very detailed and convincing.
Be it a long or short scene, I worked hard to grasp the flow. Because I also dislike being bored, I ponder a lot about what I should do to make a character more 3-dimensional. This is not a movie but a 20-episode drama. It is not 2 hours long, but 20 hours. I always ponder about how I should sustain those 20 hours. In a movie, it doesn’t get that monotonous even if a character is angry from start till finish, but it is different for a drama. If I am only angry all the time for 20 hours, how bored will the audience be! The script was well-rounded and that helped me a lot.
You are an actor who looks good with movement. Your figure is closer to that of a dancer rather than a fighter. Do you dance well?
I really, really can’t dance (laughs). There are parts in the musical where my dancing is closer to a rhythm instead of a choreography. All my friends who saw my performance gave the same opinion, “The songs are very good and I enjoyed watching but…please don’t dance.” I really tried my best but everyone told me not to dance. But what can I do, it’s in the script. I do not care about them and just dance (bursts out laughing).
Indeed, you are not swayed by what others say. Then, do you visit internet forums or sites like Drama DC Gallery?
Humans are very strange like that…I’m curious. So I do look occasionally. Instead, I try not to be too concerned about whether there are praises or negative comments.
In that case, you must not have heard of the term “puppy (멍뭉미/mong moong yi)“.
Puppy? What’s that?
It’s a word that women use a lot online these days. It refers to healthy men who are tall with broad shoulders but they have a strange pitiful charm that makes people want to pat them. A similar expression would be “large breed beauty (대형견미/dae hyung geon mi).
Uh hahaha! I didn’t know. I’m hearing this for the first time today. It’s a very good word?
While you were filming “Healer”, you were being described as a “puppy” without you even knowing it.
After listening, that seems to be one of the charms that Jung Hu has. Of course, that could also be the charm of the actor, but actors can differ very much depending on the character they are acting as.
While riding in the car earlier, you sat in the passenger seat (in front) very naturally. Do you always sit there?
Yes. I always seat here only because I like the passenger seat. After my younger brother (*just a friend, not his real brother) in the second year of elementary school, this is the first time I’m seeing a man who insists on only having the passenger seat. I am friends with my manager. We met for the first time when we were 17 years old, and he has been my closest friend till now. It’s just…the two of us always travel together, so it’s better and more comfortable to chat if I sit at the passenger seat since my friend is driving.
This morning I heard you say “As long as I’m determined, I can even put on 6kg in a week.”
I really like to eat. I used to eat 6 meals a day. My schedule also ended around midnight yesterday, so I was very hungry. On usual days, I will definitely eat anything without hesitation no matter whether I order a delivery or go out to eat, but I controlled myself because of the photo shoot today. Actually, I did put on a bit of weight just a few days ago (laughs).
Are you the kind who puts on weight and loses weight easily?
Yes I am. Really, there was once where I even put on 5kg in a week.
You’ve been doing performances of “The Days” until recently. Have you always had interest in musicals?
The first acting job I did outside of school was an independent movie, and the next one was a musical that was staged in a small theatre at Daehangno. I managed to do it after going for an audition. Because it wasn’t a formal performance, the performance was only staged for a short period of time that lasted about 10 days. Musical is a genre that I’ve always wanted to do since young.
What’s the reason for that?
I like acting on stage, and because it also has the music that I like.
Well, dance is…(laughs) I’m not good at it, but I just feel that it will be fine as long as I practise hard. How is anything not possible if you practise? That’s probably how I feel.
I heard you will enlist in the army some time next year.
Yes. I do not know the exact time yet.
With your impending enlistment, you must be feeling a huge burden.
It will be a lie if I say that it’s not a burden. It’s a burden, but I’m not greatly worried about it. I just think, “Well, I have to go anyway, I just have to go and come back.” Of course, it’s also a pity. But thinking about it, it’s a pity to go to the army next year, and it will also be a pity if I go 10 years later. But once I go and come back, everything will get better right? That’s why I’m not worried.
We’ve been talking the whole day today, and there’s one thing consistent in what you say.
Oh, what’s that?
“I’m not concerned about trivial things”
That’s right. It will be too much of a headache to concern myself about such things. When I begin filming a drama, I do not think about anything that has to do with my daily life. I even pay my taxes and maintenance fees only after several months. I cannot take care of such things at all. It was also the same this time. When I get home after filming has ended, the overdue bills…(laughs) I will quickly settle those first. That’s how I live. I’m not good at doing two things at the same time.
Such people often make very important decisions clearly instead. It’s a better personality to have in the long run right?
I don’t know about that, but when living without much presence of mind, it becomes very confusing when one returns to reality (laughs). It’s ok to just think about the project when working on it, but I end up thinking more instead once the project ends. When I’m filming a drama, I only live in that fantasy without any worries, so it makes me feel at ease instead.
You probably won’t be able to show concern for your lover either when you start on a project.
That’s right. I can’t. That’s why I can’t meet a woman. And I’m also not the kind who will hold on to my handphone at the film set. I don’t really look at my phone often. So I can’t be contacted. It’s not that I only behave this way to my girlfriend, but it’s the same even for friends or family if there is nothing important. So I am always sorry, and thankful to the people who leave me alone and wait for me till my project ends. I don’t even get to see my mum properly when I do filming for a long time (laughs).
Your long-time friends must have gotten used to this pattern already.
Yes. They will say, “Quickly finish it and come back, quickly finish it and play with us.”
Even if you were in a relationship now, you wouldn’t announce it publicly right?
This may be a silly question, but I can’t avoid asking it. What kind of woman do you like?
I don’t have a specific ideal type for external appearances. Just as long as she matches well with me. It would be good if we can have interesting conversations and not get bored. Meeting someone by just looking at appearance, and the process of the two incompatible persons trying to match each other by force is an insult in itself.
How about a woman who is good at playing Winning Eleven?
That’s good (laughs). But I’ve not seen such a woman.
There’s a high possibility that your next project will be your final one before you enlist in the army. Do you have a criteria of your own for selecting projects?
My criteria is totally subjective. Firstly, the script must be interesting. And the role that I’m going to play must be charming. Also, I must feel confident of being able to play that role. I consider these 3 aspects the most. Even if everyone else say it is good, it will be difficult for me to do a project that I do not find interesting at all. For performances done in school, it is all right to do and learn at the same time just like studying, but this is different. If I am being paid to work, then I need to do it well with a sense of responsibility.
What are you concerned about recently?
What I think of the most when I am awake. Actually, I don’t really think much about stuff (laughs). But as time passes, I ought to think about my project.
Other than your project, is there nothing else that you are concerned about?
That’s troubling. I’m…well…what kind of hobby must I have in order to rest well? I wish to have a special hobby that I can focus and be engrossed in without thinking about other things. I’m still searching for it.
Having lived your life, “I don’ t know about other things, but this is one thing that I can never give up”. If you were to choose one thing, what would that be?
Eating! I can never give up the happiness of being able to eat delicious food. I even think of this sometimes. If I’m able to live for about another 60 years, will I be able to eat all the delicious food in the world before I die? I probably won’t be able to eat everything. I sometimes have such a conversation with my manager friend too. Ya, why is there so much delicious food in this world?! There’s still so much delicious food in Korea that I haven’t eaten, and why are there so many nice restaurants too…(laughs) Even my mum is good at cooking. This 29-year-old person has only been eating food made by her every day and night, but I still find that very delicious.
Then, what food do you like the most these days?
Blood sausage soup (sundaetguk)! I’m addicted to blood sausage soup. Before blood sausage soup, it was pig’s trotters (jokpal) for a long time (laughs).
This is the first time I’ve seen an actor like you who speaks so passionately about eating.
Meeting people I like, eating and sharing delicious food together…that’s good. I don’t want my life to be so grand. Eventually, isn’t everyone working hard to live in order to eat more delicious food (laughs)? I just, wish to live life happily.
Translated from Korean to English. Please share with proper credit.