The New Asian Icon – The Asian Bad Boys We Love – Interview #1:
So Jisub – The man whose melancholic charm gets stronger with every “bad guy” he portrays
At the moment, the Korean actor So Jisub (32) is gathering a lot of attention in Japan and abroad. He’s received several movie awards for his film “Rough Cut” (Korean title: Yeonghwa neun yeonghwa da; Japanese title: Eiga wa eiga da) in Korea and the USA. As part of the “next generation” of a wave of actors who are following in the footsteps of the actors in their late 30s who represent Korea, like Lee Byung Hun and Jung Woo Sung, So Jisub is the one people are expecting the most from.
He is meeting these expectations not just in his home country. Actress Zhang Ziyi personally chose him for the role of her lover in the movie “Sophie’s Revenge” in which she plays the female lead and which she also produced. And in Japan, he is the first overseas actor to play the lead character in the joint production original drama “I am GHOST” which is currently up for download on BeeTV.
The characters So Jisub plays are often “men who are wild and sexy yet at the same time lonely and melancholic”. Just as we were preparing for his photo shoot in which we wanted to translate this very charm into pictures, we were surprised when he called us and said he himself wanted to prepare himself as well – because even though people usually arrive at the scene of the photo shooting where everything is prepared for them, to have someone say “I want to prepare myself” is definitely a rare thing.
During the photo shoot, So Jisub works very hard to respond to all of our requests and doesn’t lose his intense gaze and facial expressions for a second, just like he is playing a role in a movie. His concentration and professionalism are so high, the tension at the shoot is rising as well.
And then, the second the shooting is over, he instantly returns to his gentle and shy self and talks to us. A true actor without a trace of the pretentiousness of a celebrity.
The atmosphere at the set becomes calm at once.
We were told by his staff that he wasn’t good at talking but we wanted to take the opportunity of this peaceful mood and ask him for the readers of VOGUE about everything from acting to love.
In “I am GHOST” you’re portraying a killer who doesn’t talk in order to keep his true identity secret. Wasn’t it difficult to play a role without any lines?
For an actor it can be quite difficult to not have any lines but I was totally attracted by the thought of overcoming this difficulty and try and create this character so I accepted this role.
We heard that you don’t talk much. Does that mean you don’t like people who talk a lot?
Of course not. (Laughs.) I also have friends who talk quite a bit. A lot of my friends are as old as I am but it often happens that I’m the youngest so I can’t just sit there and not talk. But yes, people used to have that strong image in their heads that I didn’t talk much.
In this photo shoot we wanted to show your sexy and wild side. What do you think about people telling you you’re sexy?
It feels a bit awkward but it’s alright. Women are probably a lot happier when they hear they are sexy. Don’t you think so?
Then what about when people tell you you’re wild?
I like that. (Laughs.) But I prefer the kind of wildness that isn’t fake but comes out naturally.
What’s masculine sexiness like for you?
I try to see what’s inside people rather than just looking at their outward appearances so I think men and women who work as hard as they can and try so hard they have sweat running down their bodies are really sexy.
What’s a character you’ve played so far that’s wild and sexy?
The gangster Kang-pae I played in “Rough Cut”. He has a lot of masculine attractiveness. And I think it’s the very fact that he’s looking so hard for something that makes him sexy.
Who do you think is sexy as a woman?
(After thinking for a bit) Attractiveness is an aura that appears quite naturally. People often feel that a woman is sexy because she has a glamorous body, but I get that feeling from that aura of sexiness that’s created by her whole being.
Are you in love with someone at the moment?
No, not right now. I’m in a situation where I can’t be a kind and loving partner to someone, where I can’t dedicate myself completely to the other person so feelings like that just won’t develop. I’m working a lot abroad at the moment so it wouldn’t be very fair on my partner [if he was in a relationship].
His secret to success is to become completely absorbed in turning into another person for the role
It’s probably different for every role but can you tell us more about your technique for creating your characters?
Thank you for asking me about it. [He obviously prefers talking about the technical aspects of his profession to giving out details about his love life.] For me, the basis is the script. I create a character by asking myself how I can embody the character described in the script. Before I start acting, I make sure I don’t watch any movies with characters which are similar to my role. I talk with the directors and script writers instead and then create my character.
Has there been a role so far that you haven’t been able to shake off?
When I finish a movie, there’s this difficult period of time when I’m still carrying this character still around with me, but as soon as I’ve decided what my next project is going to be I’m able to throw myself into that new role.
What was it like after “Rough Cut”?
It still stayed with me for a while. There were times when I was told I was a bit scary when I went out with my friends. And there was also this one occasion when I went out for a drink and another customer who had seen the movie started talking to me like the characters talk in that movie.
When you become absorbed by a role so much, what do you do to distract yourself from it?
I often stay at home. I just relax and listen to music and things like that. When I’ve had enough of that, my number one thing to do is having drinks with the people around me. (Laughs.) But when I’m shooting a movie I’m trying not to drink any alcohol. I stop drinking alcohol about two days before shooting starts.
Are your friends actors too?
I don’t have many friends who work in the same industry as I do. I’m friends with Song Seung Hun and Park Yong Ha and then there about ten more people who do other work than I do.
Who would you like to meet in Japan?
I used to be a swimmer so I wanted to meet Kitajima Kōsuke. I still have this urge to watch him on TV every time he swims in the relay team.
What’s the role you’ve played so far that resembles you in some way?
I think I’ve changed a lot from what I was like in the past, but the character that resembled me the most at the time when I was playing that character was the one in the drama “Jigeumeun Yeonaejung/We Are Dating Now” (2002). (A man who tries to act cool, but can’t get along very well with the woman he likes.) I don’t really know what my own character is like at the moment. (Laughs.) But back in those days, I was suffering a bit because of the fact that he resembled me so much. When the role you’re playing is too much like yourself then you feel exposed and it can wear you down quite a bit.
You are also an active musician. Do you write and compose your own songs?
I don’t know if I can be called a real musician, let’s just say I’m giving my best and want to continue doing music in the future. I create the outlines for the lyrics. The rap parts always have to fit in perfectly with the music and I just can’t write that well, so I write a sort of summary for what I want the lyrics to be like and ask the respective writer to use it as an inspiration for the lyrics.
What artists do you like?
I like quite a lot of artists but as far as music is concerned I really like Snoop Dogg.
While looking back on himself, he believes in the flow of things to come
You are blessed with a body height of 182 cm and you used to work as a model. What made you turn to acting?
It’s right to say that I made my debut in the entertainment industry as a model and worked as a catalogue model and did that for a short while. But after that, right at the beginning of my career, I had my first role in a drama. It’s not that I thought in the beginning that I wanted to be a model or that I wanted to be an actor, it felt more like a part-time job to me. Originally, I was just a swimmer and was already accepted by a university. In my last year of school I had a bit of free time so I just applied for those jobs and that’s when it started off. In university I joined a special swimming course and received money from the country which paid for my tuition. During my first year I was able to go to my classes and work but in the end I chose acting.
What do you find attractive about being an actor?
It might be a cliché but it’s the chance to live a lot of different lives. Normally, everyone only has one life to live, but actors get to live so many different lives. There are still so many things I want to experience.
Has your attitude towards your work changed after you finished your military service?
I wasn’t able to be an actor for about 26 months and during that time it became very clear to me once again how much I love acting. And compared to before, I now feel a lot more at ease after I was discharged from the army. In the ten years before joining the army, I had always been running and running but when I joined the army, I had the time to look back and reflect on myself a little bit. I also came to realize that it’s necessary to have a bit of time for yourself.
What characters do you want to play from now on?
There’s just too much I want to do… I’d love to try a comedy if the script is good. And to give just one more example, what I think would be really interesting is to play a bad guy that gives you goose bumps just by looking at him.
And what’s next? Hollywood?
If I focus on that alone, I’ll have to miss good opportunities in Korea, China and Japan. So I won’t let it become my immediate goal and just try and make it there if the chance comes up naturally.
[Scans by me, click for larger images.]
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