KOREAN WAVE > Celebrities 2010.04.27
[INTERVIEW] Actor Cha Seung-Won
Actor Cha Seung-won never gets tired. He melted viewers’ hearts through his role in SBS’ “City Hall” last year and soon after played the stylish detective in movie “Secret.” Then in order to play the role of Lee Mong-hak, he armed himself with sharp teeth and a long sword for film “Blades of Blood” which is set to open in theaters on April 29. A slew of other large productions starring Cha, including movie “Into the Fire” and drama “Athena” are also standing in line for release later this year. Below are excerpts from 10Asia’s interview with Cha Seung-won.
10: Your film “Blades of Blood” is awaiting release. It’s already receiving a lot of hype because it’s helmed by famed director Lee Jun-ik and stars yourself and actor Hwang Jung-min. How do you feel about this movie?
Cha Seung-won: I think it’ll do roughly well. Roughly. (laugh) Last night I dreamt that I was heading somewhere, walking on a field covered with snow. Snow means wealth. And when I climbed over a fence, I saw was an ocean. I woke up saying wow! (laugh)
10: You’ve dreamt a lucky dream, and I think you had expressed your expectations for “Secret” too when we last met.
Cha: Honestly, I didn’t have high expectations for the film. It lacked in ways that make it not fun enough for a commercial film. Towards the end, I realized that I don’t feel that embarrassed about doing this film so I think that’s all that matters. If the audience feel the same way about it too, then I think they’ll consider historical stories as something that can’t always be fun but okay to watch like this too.
10: One of the disadvantages would be that the audience have experienced a new message and imagery through traditional drama KBS’ “Slave Hunters.
”Cha: That is why I think “Blades of Blood” could be slightly boring for those people. Our movie is simple so some will enjoy that while others may feel that something is missing. Plus, the audience has just become so used to exciting elements. I was recently listening to the radio while driving and it played gags of comedians Bae Sam-ryong and Ku Bong-seo from 1972. It isn’t that funny anymore but the listeners back then were having so much fun. That’s how much they needed to do to provide enjoyment to people but it just shows how times have changed. There’s a lot more fun and excitement. So I think movies have to meet those expectations to a certain extent.
10: In that sense, your character Lee Mong-hak is not that exciting. He has great self-control and constantly contains and hides his feelings. Were there any moments as an actor where you felt frustrated by this?
Cha: It’s true that there was a limit to what I could with the role and also because there wasn’t anything I could add on to the character. However, that is the extent to which the character is meant to be portrayed. If I was told to play the role again, I would do it in the same way. I think I showed both the maximum and minimum I could with the role of Lee Mong-hak.
10: Then what was the reason you took on “Blades of Blood” despite the restrictions you had to playing your character?
Cha: Because I wanted to work with director Lee Jun-ik. I thought it would be valuable working with him. I wanted to become acquainted with him and it was even better that Hwang Jeong-min was starring in it as well. Director Lee is someone who knows well about people while also trying to understand them. Our acquaintance could lead to us working on future projects. And by working with other actors, there is a joy that comes from finding significance [to the film] that couldn’t be found in the scenario.
10: You are known for looking great in a suit but also looked quite good in just the white Korean attire and the traditional hat in movie “Blood Tears.”
Cha: I know. (laugh) I hope to be able to maintain that stylishness about me, whatever role I play, as long as it doesn’t get in the way. But I hadn’t thought of wearing the traditional Korean hat in the beginning.
10: How come? It was impressive how Lee Mong-hak doesn’t show his eyes right away but through the hat.
Cha: That’s why I’m glad I had to. (laugh) But I had originally had a different image of Lee Mong-hak. Before “Slave Hunters” came out, I saw an image of a guy who had tied up his hair in a rough way. And I thought that would match Lee Mong-hak’s image but they made me wear the traditional hat. I was a bit worried because there is no masculine appeal to a scholar wearing the traditional hat. The layers of the full-dress attire and traditional hat rather covers up a man’s masculinity. But upon watching the movie, and how his eyes suddenly appear under the hat, I realized that it’s a good thing he wears it.
10: You have finished filming both “Blades of Blood” and “Into the Fire” and will soon begin shooting for “Athena.” Is the reason you are taking on such big productions because you want to build up on your title as an actor or star?
Cha: It’s part of the reason. An actor has to be considered quite lucky if he gets to be a part of a big-budget film. It’s not something you can force to be done. Even in the eyes of the audience, doing a big production followed by a small one is different from doing several small productions. But more than anything, the planning for these productions were good. “Blades of Blood” would be a strong historical drama in that it would be helmed by Lee Jun-ik whose name is a brand in itself and “Into the Fire” pays tribute to the 60th anniversary of the Korean War this year which would never come along again. “Athena” has one of the biggest budgets in drama history so I’m really happy as an actor to be taking part in all of these. I think I have the ability to not be swayed by taking part in such big productions now. If I had been in my 30s, I might have felt otherwise and have acted differently. It’s probably the same for actor Jung Woo-sung. We’re taking part in a drama which costs a huge amount of money, but come on, what does that have to do with us? I think we’re at the age where we don’t get swayed by the material aspect of the productions.
10: But the audience probably don’t realize the capacity of a major blockbuster drama that costs up to billions of won to make. The reason the drama is receiving so much hype over “Athena” is rather because you and Jung Woo-sung are part of the cast.
Cha: I felt really good after reading the article. Out of 10 people 9.5 said they like it. The expectations the public has for the show is burdensome but at the same time I am thankful. I work for the public and if they don’t show any interest it makes me sad.
10: “Into the Fire” is in post-production right now. What was it like filming the movie? It must have not been easy — I saw photos taken on set which basically seemed like ruins.
Cha Seung-won: I didn’t see a single woman on set the whole time we shot “Into the Fire.” Kwon Sang-woo, T.O.P and I thought ‘Wow this is too much.’ (laugh) You’ll probably be able to tell from the photos but When you see the behind-the-scenes pictures all you see are men.
10: Maybe that’s why Choi Seung-hyun received so much attention. (laugh)
Cha: We all like him very much. There is no reason not to like him. He had a really tough time on set after having been an idol group singer. He would say hello at lunch, sit next to me and eat covered in make-up which makes him look messy. And when I ask him if filming is bearable, he would say he likes it. He’s a really good guy. Kwon Sang-woo is closest to him in age and they both play student soldiers in the film so he’ll treat him in a Spartan way, while Kim Seung-woo will act more parental to him. Everyone treats him differently. If I had to compare them to lions, Choi is like the young lion from “The Lion King” just before Scar gets eaten up. Kwon is a very brave lion who fights a lot but he overdid himself in the fights. (laugh) But his perspective widens greatly when the baby lion comes along and he has a family. That’s why I think he’ll become a good lion, with courage and a wide perspective. Kim is a lion with too many scars. (laugh) But when you look at him, he just is a lion. Someone who seems like is a lion, even if he may have lost a lot of his mane and have many scars.
10: Then what kind of lion are you?
Cha: Maybe I’m Scar? (laugh) A Scar with pathos? The Scar in “The Lion King” just seemed pitiful because he had no pathos but Claudius from its original story “Hamlet” wasn’t like that. I’m into those kind of characters these days. The ones other than the main character. I feel more attracted to them because I wonder what they’re like on the inside. So that’s why I chose to play Lee Mong-hak. Regardless of what people say, I am nowhere close to character Hwang Jung-hak (played by Hwang Jung-min) who takes a philosophical view on life. It may seem he lived his life in vain because the end is tragic but I could understand Lee Mong-hak better because he’s someone I wanted to follow till the end.
*10: You’ve been working without a break for the past few years. How do you spend your free time when you’re not working?
Cha: I just stay home. I don’t do much. I do the dishes too. Some people see me as the type that wouldn’t do household chores but they’re wrong. (laugh)*
10: But it seems that you as an actor have purposely worked on portraying yourself as someone who does not want to be seen as a family man.
Cha: I saw a blog posting about me about five years ago titled ‘I urge of Cha Seung-won.’ It said things like, don’t ever play roles that don’t suit you, your face gives off the vibe of war so don’t try and hide it, you’ll do just as well just going with that image. At the time I wondered what he meant by my face giving off the vibe of war but now that I think about it, I think he’s right. So nowadays I’m always saying, ‘I’m most like myself these days and it’s good.’ People see me in the image that I have of myself.
10: You are definitely leading the most active life you have ever as an actor these days and I think you actively showing the public what they want to see of you as an actor is being a bigger driving force for you
Cha: I don’t know what roles I’ll take on in the future but what pops into people’s minds when they think about an actor is his or her image. I’ve never thought specifically about what I would want my image to be like but shouldn’t I just play roles that suit my look and act the way that I think is right? It becomes better though, when you meet good people. Meeting good people is so important for me.
10: But it’s not easy to meet good people in the entertainment business where such a huge number of people are repeatedly gathering and dispersing. I think it’ll be important to have an eye for noticing the good people.
Cha: Hmm, well good people are… Since I don’t know about women (laugh), when it comes to men, a good guy is someone who is not too nice. I’m not saying he should be mean but should he clash with the world and end up having to take two steps back, he should be able to take a step forward, so someone who is a bit aggressive. You can only protect those that you love by defending yourself completely when someone does harm or inflicts damage upon you. And it’s not possible if you’re too nice. The second thing is that a man should chase after his dreams, not money, once he enters his 40s. Most people forget about their dreams once their in their 30s, treating them as memories, and instead go after the things we call realistic. But the question is, are those truely realistic? I think men who have those two qualities are good men. That’ll mean they’re more responsible too.
10: Since you mentioned you read blogs, do you go into fan cafes too?
Cha: I do time to time. And I might write on them maybe once a year. (laugh) But I’m trying to do it more often. I felt too embarassed to before but they’re people I like. And the things that my fans say are very important. Whatever movie I do, they’ll like it and applaude me but there are times they say, ‘I like everything about you. But what didn’t quite…’ And it’ll turn out that what they say is key. Their words are more meaningful and correct than any pointy gimlet. And I am so thankful about that. What have they done wrong to have travelled up all the way from Mokpo to just see me for a couple of minutes, hand me a present, and then go back home.
10: I noticed how Japanese ladies continusouly took photos of you at the screening for “Blades of Blood.” Is ‘Hallyu star’ another modifier we should be adding to your name? (laugh)
Cha: It could be because of “City Hall” or because “IRIS” is airing in Japan right now. It seemed like the spin-off, “Athena,” is receiving a lot of attention too.
10: You started out as a model, positioned yourself as an actor, and have now secured a spot as a star. As such, you have been exposed to the public for over 20 years now but it doesn’t feel like you’ve been around for that long. And I think it’s not just because you have a physique which people in their 20s have picked as most desirable but also because you have a young mind.
Cha: Could there be anyone who has taken so much care of their looks as I have? (laugh) But there is a secret to my youth. I grow a variety of medicinal herbs and eat them from time to time. Ones that are also good for your eyesight. (laugh) But how could I not be aging. I noticed in the mirror again today that I’ve grown so old. There are so many wrinkles around my eyes. Some say that an actor’s wrinkles are part of his acting but that doesn’t make sense. When you’re old, you’re old. (laugh) People expect actors to somehow agonize over things but not everyone can be like that. Everyone has different perspectives. My life comes before acting for me. I don’t think it makes sense for me to say ‘I have nothing to do outside acting,’ or ‘I have never thought about doing anything outside acting,’ just became I’m an actor. I think I’d be better at living my life than acting. Life is important to me. Don’t you think I’ve done a pretty good job at it so far? (laugh)