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[HERALD INTERVIEW]Actor Lee Seo-jin seeks versatility

2006/12/11 | Permalink | Source

Korean Wave star Lee Seo-jin reminisces about his college days when acting in front of friends who were making amateur short films.

"I thought I would never choose acting for my career, but I slowly changed my mind after my friends told me I acted naturally while making short films", said Lee who studied business at New York University in the United States a decade ago, in an interview with The Korea Herald.

"I loved watching movies and was thinking about studying filmmaking when entering college because I had never imagined that I could become an actor", said Lee who faced great opposition over his chosen career from his family - said to have been engaged in the financial industry.

Lee still retains this image of nobility due to his background, but on the screen, he tries to be a completely different person.

Now 33, he has earned a reputation as an actor of versatility and intelligence who brings unusual subtlety and poignancy to his roles: a strong and tenacious detective who loves a female police inspector in the Joseon Dynasty while not saying a word to her in "Damo"; a poor orphan abandoned by his lover but who secretly keeps his love for her in "Firebird" ("Phoenix"); the lonely character, a 390 year-old vampire who falls in love with a high school girl in "Freeze". Now one of the top Korean Wave actors, Lee plays Gang-jae, a distressed gangster boss who falls in love with a plastic surgeon (played by Kim Jung-eun) although he has a pregnant girlfriend (played by Kim Gyoo-ri) in the KDream Productions drama "Lovers" now airing SBS. The drama shows him later giving up his life in the organization and enlisting as a new recruit of a construction company.

"Gang-jae is a rough-mannered person who didn't have much education in his life. Although he seems bad-tempered, he's very soft-hearted underneath. I love to act in a role which has a lot of emotional changes and is frustrated by incompatible characters", he said.

Lee seems to have considered his existing image, his resolutely self-contained character. But he said it was through intense effort which finally made him look completely different.

"I worried that I wouldn't look like a gangster. I put in so much effort because I wanted to take a role that is much more masculine than before", he said.

Asked whether he finds any similarity between himself and his character Gang-jae, Lee said he seems to have varied characters in himself.

"I think I have different characters in myself. I am only trying to dramatize each of them".

With top actress Kim Jung-eun joining him on the powerful production team of "Lovers of Paris" - including writer Kim Eun-sook and director Sin Woo-cheol - "Lovers" is gaining steady popularity by garnering an average viewer rating of at over 15 percent.

In the drama, Kim Jung-eun takes the role of a plastic surgeon embroiled in a love triangle relationship with Gang-jae and his rival Se-yeon (played by Jung Chan).

"Kim Jung-eun is an actress that I wanted to work with. She is skillful at mixing comedy and pathos. It is fun to be with her", he said.

Lee said, however, he will not try a comedy role. "I don't think I would try taking on a comic character. I am probably better suited for role where the character is more complex".

Asked what his favorite drama is, Lee answers "Damo" without hesitation.

"I have a strong affection for this drama. Participating in that drama was a very impressive experience and I learned how to make an analysis of the character in different aspects", he said.

"Damo", is an action drama about a female police officer (played by Ha Ji-won) who investigates cases involving women. Lee plays Ha's boss who keeps his love hidden and rarely opens his heart to her because of his social status. The popularity of "Damo" was explosive, creating a hard-core fan following on the internet for the first time.

With his experience in watching a strong fan base being built on the back of "Damo's" success, Lee lectured on the special bond between stars and fans at a university in Seoul last week.

Titled "Fandom and Stardom", Lee talked about how TV drama fans built their own world in a cyberspace, how they analyze characters in the drama and how their increased power put pressures on production companies.

Lee is not the sort of actor who speaks wistfully of graduating into something grander, such as being one of the Korean Wave stars.

"I don't think there will be significant changes even though I may become a Korean Wave star, but I am very grateful for the support of my fans such as those in Japan. I will visit them as long as my schedule allows".

Fluent in English, when asked whether he has eyes on Hollywood, he said "I do sometimes get offers from Hollywood, but mostly for minor roles. I'm not that interested in entering Hollywood, I don't take the issue seriously. But if I have a moment to take the chance, It would have to be role that I could take pride in".

By Cho Chung-un

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