Actor Sung Hoon is a former competitive swimmer. There was a point in time when swimming was his life. But then, an unexpected injury caused him to have to step away from his lifetime goal. The only thing that Sung Hoon could do during this time of oppressive depression was to endure it. Then, on one fateful day in 2011, Sung Hoon was approached with a different kind of opportunity when he was offered a role in the SBS drama ‘New Tales of Gisaeng’. However, after that first acting role, the number of people who came looking for Sung Hoon could be counted on one hand. Sung Hoon found himself going through another round of struggles. We met up with the man who said, “Although I’ve lived a life with a lot of ups and downs, those times were what made me stronger.”
10. Do you often come to bars like this that have a cool atmosphere?
Sung Hoon: I go to pojangmachas (small tented restaurants that sell food and drinks) more often. The main reason is that they’re less of a burden on my finances (laughs). I also like comfortable atmospheres. I’d like to come to a bar like this sometime because I like whiskey, but I think it would be all right to buy some from a duty free shop and enjoy a drink alone at home.
10. Our theme from today’s shoot was inspired by MBC’s I Live Alone. You look like a homebody on the show.
Sung Hoon: That’s something that has changed over the last year or two. I’ve always thought of home as a place where I go to just sleep and shower, so I didn’t really want to stay there. But after I moved into my current place which feels more like a proper home, I started liking staying at home.
10. What do you do at home?
Sung Hoon: Just as you’ve seen on the show, I either play games or watch movies. I play on my phone sometimes, too. Even when I’m not doing anything special, I find it relaxing to just sit still and watch time ticking away.
10. You’re in the middle of filming the second season of The Sound of Your Heart. You must have to make good use of your breaks since they’re probably short.
Sung Hoon: Even when I’m tired, I think it helps my stamina to work out for a short period of time. It’s not something I do because I really want to do it… maybe it’s to use up some mental energy? I’m not sure what it is. I think I’m just hanging in there. I just keep thinking to myself, “When this is over, I’ll get some rest,” or “When this is over, I’ll go on a trip.”
10. I was surprised when I heard that you had been cast for that role. I felt like you were an unconventional choice.
Sung Hoon: I felt the same way. There are probably a lot of people who think that I’m not a good fit for the character. When I had just started filming, I was worried and would think, “How am I going to play this character?” But when I actually started playing the character, I realized the casting wasn’t all that unconventional. I think I’ll be able to show my true self through the drama.
10. Do you think that the approachable side of yourself that was shown on I Live Alone helped you out when it came to the casting?
Sung Hoon: To be honest, when I’m filming I Live Alone, I sometimes think that it might not be helpful to me (laughs). I filmed comfortably without coming up with a strategy to break free from my existing image. If I had gone into it with some kind of “concept,” the awkwardness would’ve been palpable. In the end, I think I made a pretty good decision.
10. Jun Hyun-moo and Han Hye-jin, who are your castmates on the show, admitted last month that they’re in a romantic relationship. I heard that the members of Rainbow found out about their relationship through online reports.
Sung Hoon: That’s how I found out, too. I respect the discipline they had in not letting on about their relationship even during private get-togethers (laughs). After the reports came out, Hyun-moo went into our group chat room and said that he was sorry, but this is nothing that we should be hurt by. I think the couple just needs to sit back and take in the congratulatory messages.
10. How’s your sense of discipline? As you’ve become more famous, there must be a lot of times when you are restricted to how you can behave in public.
Sung Hoon: That’s the problem with me. I’m not careful with how I act (laughs). I tend to make a lot of jokes and play around a lot on set. Not too long ago, I got in trouble with Yuri, my castmate from The Sound of Your Heart (laughs). I told her, “I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.”
10. You must like people.
Sung Hoon: Yes. I’m shy in front of strangers, but I can’t stand when the atmosphere is awkward. When I was in my 20s, I was hurt by people and I would often be swayed by what other people said. But I changed after meeting different kinds of people. When I meet something that I don’t really get along with, I have the kind of composure that allows me to think, “That person must just naturally be like that.” Even if I’m not sure if the other person is being sincere or not, I’ve started to not really pay attention to it.
10. You made your debut in 2011 with the SBS TV drama New Tales of Gisaeng. Did you have any concerns when choosing your second project since your first drama had such high viewer ratings?
Sung Hoon: Although the drama was a success, I had a hard time even getting into a follow-up project because I wasn’t a good actor. For the next three to four years, I had an incredibly hard time getting another role.
10. What got you through those hard times?
Sung Hoon: I just focused on the CEO of my agency. If I had quit because I was having a hard time, I wondered how that would affect the CEO who started the management agency because of me. I also thought about my fans. I felt like I should keep going a little bit longer in order to show my fans how I was improving.
10. You’ve got the attention of a lot of people these days. There must be a side of yourself that changes out of necessity as a result of that attention.
Sung Hoon: That’s what should be happening, but I think I’m just becoming more immature (laughs). My sense of responsibility has increased because my agency now has more staff members. Also, I’ve lately been thinking that money isn’t that important because it’s not like I have to skip meals or have no place to sleep.
10. What hasn’t changed?
Sung Hoon: My hunger for acting. I’m always in pursuit of acting that’s sharp and has depth. I’m sure the criteria that people have for evaluating an actor’s talent differs from person to person. I want to be an actor that is acknowledged by other actors. Whether it be for my acting or my character, I want to get good feedback from my colleagues.
10. Have you ever been satisfied with your acting?
Sung Hoon: I never think that I’ve done a good job. I think some of my better performances were on the web drama 6-Person Room and the KBS2 drama Five Enough. I’m not the type of person who rates himself generously, so I’ve never been satisfied with my acting.
10. I think the years you spent as a swimmer strengthened your willpower.
Sung Hoon: I’m more comfortable now than when I was swimming. When you’re a swimmer, you can only survive by beating a record or a competitor. I think that acting goes beyond winning or losing. I’ve never once felt like I was competing with others while I was acting because you have to help each other out and establish chemistry to create a good project.
10. Do you feel like you’ve changed from the time when you were a swimmer?
Sung Hoon: If I had to compare myself to how I was back then, I’d say that I’ve matured a lot. I think I’ve learned how to live life. When I was younger, I just worked hard, no matter what. Even if that meant I had to put up with straining my body. If I could go back to the past, I think I could compete and exercise better.
10. Would you go back in time if you could?
Sung Hoon: No. I don’t want to go through the struggles again.
10. You could start acting sooner, though.
Sung Hoon: No way. I was so immature back then that I probably would’ve gone around saying that I was going to be a celebrity (laughs). Even though I have to study more and work harder because I started later, I actually think that’s a good thing.
10. What was it like when you quit swimming? Making the decision to give up something that you’ve worked on continuously must be very difficult.
Sung Hoon: In the interviews I’ve done over the years, I said that I gave up swimming after seeing Park Tae-hwan’s record. That was actually an excuse. After undergoing several surgeries, I physically felt my strength and endurance decreasing even while my records remained stagnant. As those moments built up over time, the decision came naturally. I thought, “I’ve done more than enough.”
10. You haven’t lived an ordinary life. When was the moment in your life when things took a huge turn?
Sung Hoon: When I had major surgery in my first year of high school, when my grandmother passed away after I entered university, when I fell into depression while doing my military service as a public service worker, and when I started acting. During each of those times, I experienced huge psychological changes.
10. May I ask what it was like when you were suffering with depression?
Sung Hoon: The very fact that I had to serve as a public service worker meant that I couldn’t swim. I felt like my life was over. I felt the same way when I had to get surgery. But, as I experienced those things, I became stronger.
10. What was the force that pulled you out of that swamp of depression?
Sung Hoon: There wasn’t anything like that. I just stuck it out. Even now, when people come to me for advice, I say, “Just hang in there. I say, “You don’t have the power to overcome your struggles all at once. So, keep hanging in there. There will come a time when this moment is useful to you.”
10. There must be a lot you want to say to your juniors since you’ve come to a lot of realizations on your own.
Sung Hoon: I’m trying hard to not be an old geezer who goes around telling people how they should live their lives. I tell myself, “The way I’ve lived my life and the things that I say aren’t always correct. I should learn how to listen to those that are younger than me.” I try to put this into practice, but it’s difficult, of course. I do at least try to not be someone that my juniors want to avoid.
10. How are you now? Are you happy?
Sung Hoon: I’ve become a lot more comfortable. I saw an article ages ago in which Suzy said, “I try not to get too happy over happy things, nor too sad over sad things.” I can totally relate. I want to be the same way. I don’t want to get too excited or sink down too low. I’ll leave the extreme emotions for when I’m acting.
10. What makes you happy now?
Sung Hoon: The fact that there are people who come looking for me first. When I would go in search of work in the past, I would more often than not get rejected. These days, I’m thankful that there are people who come to me first. I thought that I had been through a lot of ups and downs in life, but now I know those years of struggling weren’t in vain.
Translated by Jennifer Earwood