I don’t know why, but I find myself dreading the ending of Signal this week. It is rare to have such an enjoyable drama that is near perfection in every aspect, and I don’t think I will be able to say goodbye to the drama without shedding a few liter of tears. I feel like translating this recent interview of Lee Je-hoon with CINE21, so here it is…although my writing is a bit rusty these days. I will miss you dearly, Park Hae-young ㅠㅠ
Lee Je-hoon’s Deliberate Choice
tvn’s Signal recently entered its second half, with the total episode count being 16 (at the time the article is published). Penned by writer Kim Eun-hee, who manages to inject fun in dramas of such genre (thriller); and PD Kim Won-suk, whose directing touch captures both cold and warm sides of the cases and humanity respectively; Signal has been receiving lots of love from the viewers, proven by the ratings that is getting closer to 10% with each episode. Lee Je-hoon is portraying profiler Park Hae-young, who is connected through a walkie-talkie with a Violent Crimes detective Lee Jae-han (Jo Jin-woong), leading to a joint investigation between the two policemen in order to solve the cold cases. An actor would normally encounter his co-actor all the time on the set, but it is an irony for one to build his character while filming by acting alone. We met actor Lee Je-hoon , who is currently accepting this kind of challenge. Although he is getting closer to wrapping up his filming for Signal, he displays endless love and affection for the project.
The response for Signal is huge.
I have starred in three (prime time) dramas but the response I get when I go out is different compared to before. I can feel the love after hearing that people are watching the drama religiously. I suddenly feel sad that it only has 16 episodes, and it would be nice for it to be 20 episodes. (smiles)
You have to communicate using the walkie-talkie and act by yourself, without any actor opposite you. Even for someone with greed for acting, this seems to be a difficult role.
Prior to the seniors’ (Jo Jin-woong and Kim Hye-soo) confirmation to join the drama, I have started shooting since early October last year and finished filming my individual scenes up to episode 8. (Jo) Jin-woong hyung thanked me when he filmed his scenes, saying that he watched the scenes I filmed beforehand. (smiles) The director actually sat in for Jin-woong hyung’s scenes in front of the monitor. I was worried in the beginning since fantasy is the foundation of the drama and wondered if the viewers would believe what the drama is trying to show, but I am thankful to the people who identified with my worries. This is a project where the director, screenwriter, filming team, and the staff all become one body and one soul. I keep thinking whether I will be able to meet a project like this again. The drama will remain in my memory for a long time, and it will undeniably become an important project in my filmography.
Your way of delivering lines was deemed overwhelming and many times, even your way of speaking seems unfamiliar. Because of that reason, issues like “Lee Je-hoon’s acting is awkward, acting controversy” came out when the drama first aired. As an actor whose acting always earn favorable reviews, such responses would be somehow daunting to you.
A profiler’s job scope is to make a reasonable judgment correctly, and in this case, there will be an adamant side to Hae-young since he has to solve the case by himself instead of a joint investigation. Hence, the reason why he is overreacting like that is basically because he spends his time running around by himself to solve the case, and I think that it is uncomfortable for him to be in that situation. Plus, the running time for the first episode was 70 minutes, compared to the initial target of 60 minutes. Hence, there were many adjustments made to the tempo to tighten the episode. I ended up recording some of my lines for the episode but did not get to compare my parts with those of the other actors. I am deeply regretful regarding that one. I have no doubt that the viewers could sense the uncomfortable parts, and I feel that I’m severely lacking since I couldn’t deliver a satisfactory performance for those parts. Together with the director, we agonized over the matter: what we could have missed and what we could have done to charge ahead.
This is your third time doing (prime time) dramas, after Fashion King (2012) and Secret Door (2014). Those dramas ended with underwhelming performance compared to the high anticipation for them. This time, it’s the complete opposite.
When picking a project, the script is the priority, but there are things that are more important than that: the cast and the director. Drama is different from a movie since only synopsis or scripts up to the fourth episode is given to the actors for them to decide for their appearance in a drama, and one would have to put his trust on the team based on the synopsis and script. When the results fall short compared to the expectation, I would be wondering if it was my lack in judgment when choosing the project; or it was my inability to immerse myself into my role. After that, I become more careful when making decision for my project. But then, choosing Signal was the conviction developed from those experiences. I’ve been through multiple trials and errors so far; and when asked whether I would take another risk (of doing a drama), I would think that I can do enough with this project. Plus, I have confidence in writer Kim Eun-hee, and of course, director Kim Won-suk.
Your relation with Kim Won-suk goes way back to the time you received the offer for Misaeng (2014).
I received a lot of offers when I was in the army. I chose director Jo Sung-hee’s Detective Hong Gil-dong (2016) for my movie comeback and agonized about my drama comeback. Back then, it was not in a situation where I had to choose between two projects, but I had the chance to choose from a number of them. I had the thought that it would be great to work with director Kim Won-suk, but it fell through because after all, I only have one body. I would make take the same route all over again if I were to return to that moment, regardless of the outcome. In some ways, I think that is exactly the reason for another chance to work together with him in Signal.
In hindsight, many had expressed that it was a missed opportunity regarding your choice. As an actor who focuses on his work, there must be difficult moments to balance between the opinions of the surrounding and controlling yourself.
Of course, there were several instances where the projects I could not join because of timing (schedule) become hits. I do compare myself with others frequently, and it is a path that is destined for an actor. In order to be shaken (by the comparison), I would always ask myself if I have the confidence not to regret the decision afterwards before making the choice. It would be difficult to stay in this line of work if one is not mentally prepared for the ups and downs of an actor.
Detective Hong Gil-dong will be screened in May, which is in a few months’ time. This will be your first comeback movie after your military service, and your last movie was My Paparotti (2013).
Director Jo Sung-hee has been working on Detective Hong Gil-dong before he made A Werewolf Boy (2012), and the movie will be related to his previous works Don’t Step Out of the House (2009) and End of Animal (2010). The biggest challenge for me is that the director wants to try a new approach of combining different colours for the movie. The character Hong Gil-dong is unlikable but once someone looks at him closely, there are elements of an anti-hero in him. As a detective who leads the Robin Hood gang, he is not someone whose behaviour will please others. He is not solving the case for the sake of justice, but for his personal gain. He is someone who would not be kind if it does not work out, has zero interest in establishing connection with others, and a mean character that is always lying. It will be quite interesting to see this kind of character to undergo major changes through his interaction with other people in the movie. For commercial movies, having this kind of character to become the lead is something strange. The idea of watching a bad guy catching an even worse guy is foreign, but at the same time, it is refreshing, and such movie is probably something that has never been heard or seen before.
We are looking forward to your project with director Yoon Sang-hyun, who also made the movie Bleak Night (2010). You will probably have some bias when considering the project compared to other offers coming your way.
I have to judge the project objectively, but it seems that my bias will come into play for one with director Yoon Sang-hyun. (smiles) We are very close with each other, so I will have a deep interest (in the project). But then, the director’s work has no loopholes or shortcomings, and I deeply respect him for that. I am waiting for the chance for us to work together and I have a big wish to show the viewers the product we will make. There is a movie that is being prepared this year. The director told me, “I’m writing this for you.” (smiles) It has the similarity to Bleak Night in terms of being a story of friends but this time, it’s a cat-and-mouse action film. It is expected to begin filming sometime around August or September.
One cannot leave out Bleak Night and director Yoon Sang-hyun when Lee Je-hoon is mentioned.
Director Yoon Sang-hyun is the person who knows me best. He is a special person to me because he was the first person to correct me, also teaching me the attitude of an actor. As an actor, I cannot avoid taking new challenges in my career because I feel that staying in the same position will lead to regression. Although the challenges are fun, I get scared at times. I would then share my worries with him and find out what step I will take next. He gives me the strength to charge forward. Our styles match each other very well, so we meet frequently and also went for vacations together. Park Jung-min and I also get along well and together with Kwon Yul, we got together recently to play soccer. We had a good time. (smiles)
After the new star status you earned through Bleak Night and the public recognition you received after Introduction to Architecture (2012), there were projects of yours which were considered successful and deemed failures because of the low number of admissions and lack of positive reviews. At the same time, there are “the second Lee Je-hoon” and “the third Lee Je-hoon” in the industry.
It is always a good thing to have more actors getting recognition through independent movies, and I would like to have a chance to act alongside them. I am happy that people recognize and love me but of course, I have to prove myself continuously. Even if an actor receives a lot of love through one project, I think that the next project will show the actor’s true colours. My fans haven’t run away yet. (smiles) I would always think why the fans – who have been closely watching and loving me although when I work through trial and error and doesn’t care about popularity – did not leave me. I would like to think that they want to continue observing me. Each time I get involved in a project, I will think about why it came into fruition; how it reaches me; and how can I translate it into a video.
What is your plan to challenge yourself in new projects?
I will have to be more cautious while picking them, in order to meet good projects and not to regret it afterwards. Right now, there are thoughts on doing a project which is easy for the public to watch and enjoy. I do love melodrama and romantic comedy but I wonder if the viewers will find it okay to take such projects. It has been 4 years since Introduction to Architecture. After a sweet first love story, I would like to try melo or rom-com.
The relation of taste and holiday
Instead of smart phone, he uses a dial telephone bought from eBay and a push button telephone at home. Although it is something unusual, he installed a wall-mounted CD player in his bathroom to listen to songs. Finding the CDs of the songs he cannot find on the streaming sites and playing them on the CD player are the moments of happiness for Lee Je-hoon. At the top of the list are the movie soundtracks, and the most recent music to fill his living space is the OST from the movie Carol (2015). He can watch movies with strong impact like Whiplash (2014) over and over again, studying them without missing anything like taking his supplements. Each time he feels tired, he finds it comfortable to bury himself into the chairs in the cinema and gets himself inspired. Even when he’s resting between overseas filming, he would spend time at the galleries he could find there. He is someone who likes Hong Kong Island and Hong Kong movies. Immersing himself in the old atmosphere of the city, he would go to Mido Café in Yau Ma Tei (Waterloo) to have a cup of milk tea and French toast while thinking about the movies he saw. He described them with excitement, thus he was asked whether he has a preference in all things analogue. “Am I being too obsessed with those?”