It is not easy to have pure trust in the world and humans because humans are delicate beings that can fall into despair even from the smallest pain. And that is why the life of half-man half-beast Kang-chi was moving – because he trusted in our world and humans till the very end, even when the humans close to him did not always do the same for him.
TenAsia met with Lee Seung-gi who lived the life of Kang-chi, more human than any other despite his sad fate of being neither man nor mythical beast, in MBC drama “Kang Chi, the Beginning” which ended this week.
Lee, who we thought would stay the ‘nation’s younger brother,’ had turned into a level-headed and analytical actor. And that is probably how he has been able to stay an actor the public has faith in for close to ten years.
Q. We’re just starting this interview but we’ll have to talk about the ending to your drama. Did you like it?
Lee Seung-gi : Our drama had both a sad and happy ending to it. Personally, it was the most exciting ending I’ve seen among the dramas I’ve done. The writer had set that ending from the very beginning. It became an episode that was moving. Some may have been disappointed because because there were a lot of situations to seal including the sadness from losing a loved one, the excitement between a man and woman, the exit of the evil man, but for me, it was a warm ending that wasn’t too provocative. It was also the best episode. I actually had to close the script while I was reading it because I shed a tear.
Q. Dramas don’t usually start off with the conclusion decided on. How did it feel to act knowing what the conclusion was going to be?
Lee : It felt completely different. It definitely helped to know what would happen in the future because some of the details to my acting changed. For example, I knew how much I should cry and I became more aware of the situations that were leading to the ending. I think it helped me to become more desperate when I needed to be desperate and be happier when I needed to be happy.
Q. And you didn’t have to work with last-minute scripts either.
Lee: That’s right. Last-minute scripts end up ruining the balance of the story but for our show, even the ending was set so it helped in many ways.
Q. Have you felt that you’ve changed through “Kang Chi, the Beginning?
Lee : I was actually quite confident up till my former drama “The King 2 Hearts.” Back then, I wanted to talk a lot about my accomplishments or acting for interviews like these. But I think I’ve become more humble. In the past, the most important thing was that I do well but this time, I realized that it’s important to be in harmony with other characters because the story revolved around Kang-chi. And although I was the main character, I had a different weight because I worked with experienced actors. I came to feel that it’s important to become an actor that can help others shine too.
Q. How was your chemistry with Suzy? Did you give her advice as someone with more experience in acting?
Lee : I gave her all sorts of advice in the beginning. And I think our drama succeeded because of it. There wouldn’t have been many discussions if I was acting with an experienced actor but I had to tell Suzy a lot of things because she has much less experience than me. And I said things like, “This is the Yeo-wul I see.” We worked things out along the way when we needed to. I think that’s why people said we had good chemistry.
Q. What sort of actress is Suzy?
Lee : She’s very flexible. She did really well so I gave her a lot of compliments too. She may have seemed a bit awkward in parts at first but I saw her improve. And we didn’t really need to discuss much later on. I really had fun acting with her. It makes me feel proud as well (laughs).
Q. I have to mention the kissing scene between Kang-chi and Yeo-wul. Wasn’t it long and intense for a kissing scene in a drama? (laugh)
Lee : But it happened pretty late for a drama, in the 17th episode. That basically means it happened at the end. So I think (the production team) devoted themselves to shooting it well because it came out late (laughs). Oh yeah, the kissing scene may have come out late but Kang-chi and Yeo-wul hugged and all from early on (laughs).
Q. There was a lot of positive response to the chemistry between Kang-chi and Yeo-wul. I know this may sound like a mischievous question, but did it not carry on off screen as well?
Lee : So did I have actual feelings for her? Of course (laughs). Yeo-wul, oh, it’s become a habit for me to call Suzy by her character’s name. Anyway, regardless of whether your acting partner is a good actor or not, you need to be attracted to that person at least a bit to act well.
Q. What’s Suzy’s charm?
Lee : She has the ability to make every guy like her. To start with, she’s friendly. And it’s not easy for idol stars to be friendly. Her biggest strength is that she’s not difficult. And people need charms that fit their ages, and Suzy has that to her… the younger sister vibe.
Q. Let’s talk about Kang-chi. Although he lived a rough life, he had an infinite amount of trust in the world and humans, unlike his dad Weol-ryeong (Choi Jin-hyuk) who went the other way after getting betrayed by humans. That was why the emotions he delivered were even more moving. What do you think was the source of his trust?
Lee : Viewers may have linked Kang-chi to Weol-ryeong but they actually had nothing in common. I would say his actual father was Park Mu-sol (Uhm Hyo-seop), not Weol-ryeong. His biological dad may have been Weol-ryeong but Park Mu-sol and Yi Sun-shin (Yoo Dong-guen) were the people he got his heart and mindset from, and that’s how he started off differently from Weol-ryeong. The writer wanted to show what truly living in a human way is about by showing such a Kang-chi.
Q. Some said the drama ran out of steam a bit in the latter half. What did you think as an actor who was actually in the show?
Lee : It’s true that with every project, there things you wish could have been better. But creating a 24-part drama is definitely not an easy job. So an episode or two may not be as good as the others. But I think our writer had amazing writing power. Even actor Yoo Dong-geun said so too. But for a drama to be strong every episode, I think the entire show needs to be produced in advance. I respect our writer considering the fact that she had to compromise with reality to a certain extent yet delivered the message that she wanted to. A few of the links to the story may have been weak but it wasn’t to the point that it was disruptive to the nature of the show.
Q. How did you communicate with the writer?
Lee : I rarely did while shooting the drama and instead discussed with the director on set. I usually talk to writers before I actually start playing my character. At first, the writer asked that I make Kang-chi seem raw, in other words, not make him seem like a refined human being. But she didn’t ask much else of me. I texted her the first moment the show hit a viewership rating of 20 percent. And she told me she was happy to have met me because Kang-chi was a difficult character to play physically and in many other ways too.
Q. How did you act out the scenes where Kang-chi turns into the mythical animal?
Lee : It wasn’t calculated. I just acted it out with the thought that my body has changed because of a problem. The first time I shot that scene, I did it in just 15 minutes. I did it thinking of the things I saw in the comic book.
Q. Some say that you seemed too pretty for a mythical animal.
Lee : Well, it was up to the production team to come up with what Kang-chi should look like as an animal but there actually weren’t details regarding it in the script. So I tried out red contact lenses at first but they didn’t suit me so we then tried out green because Kang-chi was half-man half-beast while Weol-ryeong was a mythical animal 100 percent.
Q. I think expressing Kang-chi’s emotions must have been more difficult than the physical aspect to your acting.
Lee : I went with what I felt with the things that I could digest when I read the script. And I usually try saying everything I can with both the lines and in between the lines before I do such acting, so that those feelings really hit me.
Q. Were there moments that you got stuck emotionally?
Lee : There were. I had to wail for the scene where Park Mu-sol dies but I couldn’t. And I’d never had a problem crying before. So I thought about it and realized it was because I was physically tired, but I also accepted his death right away.
Q. The way in which you prepare your acting seems quite scholarly.
Lee : I’m sure every actor has his own style but I am the type that needs to analyze the emotions.
Q. You were the only strong male actor in his twenties at one point. But there are several more actors around your age that are as strong as you now, including Kim Soo-hyun, Song Joong-ki, and Yu A-in.
Lee : I was the strongest? Really? (laughs) I like it in the sense that there’s a larger variety now. There’s acting that Song Joong-ki is good at versus acting that I’m good at and everyone has his own style. In that sense, I’m sure there will be things we will help and learn from each other.
Q. One more sensitive question! What are your plans for the military?
Lee : I remain unchanged regarding the thought that I will go and will go as a active service soldier. But I’m careful in mentioning when it’ll be because of various situations. There are some realistic issues such as the contracts I have for endorsing brands so I can’t just go whenever I want to. I also don’t want to bring about a situation where I will end up becoming a liar if I don’t go after telling you when I want to go.
Q. What are your plans for after “Kang Chi, the Beginning”?
Lee : I think I’ll wrap it up with an Asia tour and concerts.
Q. What do you have in mind for yourself? This was your fifth drama and you’ve tried all sorts of genres on top of playing increasingly serious characters.
Lee : I want to do a variety of acting. I’m against becoming inclined to play only the roles I’m good at. All Korean dramas are the same in the sense that they all show how characters mature, but I think the results have been different for each drama I’ve worked on. I’d also like to work with good directors, good writers and good actors. In the case of “Kang Chi, the Beginning,” I liked working with actor Yoo Dong-geun. He sparked something inside me. I don’t care if I’m not the main character. I want to work on a drama where a great director will stimulate me.
Reporter, Editor Bae Sun Young firstname.lastname@example.org
Photographer. Gue Hye Jung email@example.com
Translator. Jessica Kim