Kim Seon Ho – W June 2021 Interview

Kim Seon-ho’s scent is innocent like the clear water and sensual like the pink poppies.

Blooming in the Wind

“I can’t seem to get rid of your scent from my body.” This problematic line was delivered by Kim Seon-ho himself three years ago in MBC Drama Special You Drive Me Crazy! A man and a woman, who was so close to know every single detail about each other and able to recite their respective love lives, to the point of seeing each other’s vomits, somehow ended up spending the night together; afterwards, the woman continued striving for the best in her life, as compared to the man who started suffering from the long-drawn lingering feelings. ‘Your scent just doesn’t seem to disappear’. At last, the man blurted out his confession like an explosion. That might be the look and words of a lost dog, if it somehow manage to acquire such humanlike abilities. There was Kim Seon-ho who whines like a little kid but shows his caring side and his acting acting partner Lee Yoo-young with her soft personality, the man and woman who happened to have their eyes and lips met while catching a whiff of peach, and the walk along the alley in blooming spring weather…that is the magic of romantic comedy, a genre which is able to bring about the most heart-fluttering story even through the retelling of an old-fashioned, well-known outline of ‘a pair of man and woman who realize the significance of each other’s presence, turning their friendship into romance.’ Why is the summary clip of this drama special suddenly raked in high views belatedly? Of course, the answer lies in Kim Seon-ho. After the drama Start-Up aired last year, those who were digging through his filmography or just being led by YouTube algorithm chanced upon this drama and sighed, ‘Those people were too much to enjoy this fun story by themselves.’

Kim Seon-ho himself had a memory about scents. “It was probably during high school when I got a girlfriend. We held hands and I could smell the perfume she was using. I would be nervous all of a sudden when I recognized the scent.” During his days in theater, he once received a perfume gift from someone and that was a Kenzo perfume. “Men’s perfume tends to give off the heavy and matured scent but I don’t like that. Kenzo’s perfume is light and has that fresh feel to it. After I used up the perfume I got as a gift, I bought another of the same brand and continued using it. After watching Kim Seon-ho filming the concept video featuring the two types of Kenzo perfume and a date with a girlfriend, we just had to ask him about the most memorable line about scent after Patrick Suskind’s Perfume. Successful actors tend to gain a famous line from their works (like Kim Hye-soo’s “I went to Ewha” from the movie Tazza). If Kim Seon-ho happens to be a ‘master of romantic comedy’, his lines from his past works like the drama special we chanced upon would be recalled like memes. Actually, that line was almost discarded during the filming if not for the director’s decision, since it became such a cheesy dialogue once it was said out loud. “I asked to deliver the line lightly once and it would be alright if they decided to edit it out later if it was deemed to be weird. The camera director also helped me to bring the line to life. The director was such a cool person. After watching my acting, he said, “It turned out okay!”

Six months after the drama Start-Up, Kim Seon-ho has become a different person compared to before. Start-Up did not live up to its expectation when it comes to ratings. However, because of NETFLIX, the streaming platform available in over 190 countries, the drama gained wide popularity especially among the fans in Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. Strictly speaking, the explosive response towards the second lead Kim Seon-ho also became a hot topic. The character he portrayed was not only a successful man but also carried with him a strong background story, leading to the strong empathy from the viewers. We liked the drama because it was pretty. From the strong-willed woman Seo Dal-mi (Bae Suzy) who is a master of part-time jobs, to the skilled genius engineer Nam Do-san (Nam Joo-hyuk) who is clueless when it comes to women, and the kind, ‘Daddy Long Legs’ version of investor Han Ji-pyeong (Kim Seon-ho) who is taking care of the newbies in the startup world in his own cold way. A drama’s love triangle tends to grow into a single love line as the drama progresses, but this drama made all the characters worthy of the support. At that time, Kim Seon-ho could not really feel the real reason behind the congratulatory messages he received from people around him while the drama was airing. “I shot my first ever commercial after Start-Up. Although it was already in talk prior to the drama, soon another offer came in. Another one came in, and another, and another…that was the moment I thought: so this is also another way of seeing how good the reception was for the drama.”

Kim Seon-ho’s first pictorial ever was for W magazine’s January 2019 issue. We still remember that cold Saturday evening of the shoot. Although the planned cuts were just a few, the stylist team prepared the outfits enough for a whole day shoot as a way to celebrate Kim Seon-ho’s first photo shoot job. When we first met him, we were surprised to see his fair skin and pretty hands, a rare occurrence among the male celebrities we have met (another celebrity who had such features was actor Jo Jung-seok). That fair face showed no expression and did not talk much, so we were wondering if he was feeling uncomfortable during the shoot. “At that time, I was trying to hide it, but I was trembling with nervousness to the point of having my ears ringing. I kept hearing the shutter sound in my ears…even when I think of that moment, I am amazed how time has passed since then (laughs).” The shocking stories he shared during the interview were later being mentioned in articles related to Kim Seon-ho: how he witnessed his mother being attacked by a thief entering his house when he was younger and the confession about how he would never imagine doing a job requiring him to stand in front of other people because of the related trauma. But then, he decided to attend an acting school after following his friend and words from a teacher (“Your acting is not the problem. It seems that there is another problem to you?”) became a huge comfort to him, helping him to overcome his trauma through acting. ‘I was someone who didn’t know how to date or the proper way to hold a conversation with other people. But then, I learned the ways of (participating in) such social activities through acting.’ It was difficult to forget such story, coming from an actor.

Concentration has always been a topic for Kim Seon-ho, then and now. ‘Let’s live while trying to be better at acting.’ He seems to have nothing in his heart other than acting. He thinks that his narrow vision was a huge help in his growth as an actor. “Even with just a page of script in my hand, my heart would be beating fast. The idea of becoming successful or earning lots of money (through acting) has never crossed my mind. My parents said this when I first started acting. Although it was impossible for them to have any dream because they were so poor, I should live my life while dreaming. When someone asked them about me, my parents would answer them, ‘We don’t know much about other thing, but our son continues to dream without any rest.’ I did not know the exact way of making my dream a reality when I was younger, but I still dreamed of something every single day.” Kim Seon-ho grew up in a poor neighbourhood where houses were closely built next to each other, lined up along the hillside. There was a shared communal bathroom in the neighbourhood. Just like how a drama needs specific elements to make it a success, Kim Seon-ho thought that his past might be a good material in his life drama. But then, poverty became neither a shortcoming nor a weapon to him. His parents supported his dream and gave him pocket money, encouraging him to spend it on food together with his friends without thinking about being frugal. “I never thought that I grew up in poverty. Everyone around me was living like that, so I thought that it was normal. Oh, there was this one time when I was attending the cram school and I got to visit Gangnam for the first time. I was in for a huge shock then. At that time, I wondered, ‘Is there a different world unknown to me?’ ‘Then, has our neighbourhood been living life wrongly all this while?’ That was the extent of my wandering mind.

In 2017, Kim Seon-ho started building his drama filmography through The Good Manager and then continuing with The Strongest Deliveryman, Two Cops, 100 Day My Prince, and Catch the Ghost. He also joined the leading variety show 2 Days 1 Night in between, earning himself the nickname ‘Variety Rookie’. It has been 18 months of him on the show, enjoying himself as he turns the variety show into his very own stage; his experience as a drill instructor in Nonsan Training Center is sometimes seen through the ingrained skills in his movement, but there are also frequent instances when he lets out the loud adolescent boy spirit inside him. Our conversation about acting is sparked by the mention of this episode in 2 Days 1 Night. It was during the session where the members received psychological evaluation through their paintings. After looking at Kim Seon-ho’s painting, the specialist concluded that it symbolized his ‘internal conflict’ and ‘important concern to be solved’, leading Kim Seon-ho to shed his tears. At that time, he was still in the early part of filming Start-Up, feeling uncertain and having difficulties with regard to his interpretation of the character and the acting tone issues; ironically, it was also the same drama which would shot him to stardom. He eventually found the right direction in the midst of enjoyable filming set, but he seemed to be adjusting to the difference because of his changing status rather than enjoying the popularity he gained.

“I said this to a friend not too long ago. ‘There were times when everything felt happy, but now that we have lived with one or two things to worry about, the moments when we feel unhappy seem to be more frequent compared to before.’ Maybe it is because I can no longer spend the time together with my friends like we used to do in the past…I don’t really know the reason. Of course, there is no doubt that I am thankful for the present, with the new friends I meet through acting. Still, it is the truth that new concerns come along with new happiness.” When he talked about the friends in the past, he was referring to his theater friends whom he spent his time together on the stage. Anxiety is always like a package following someone who possesses strong desire to do a good job, but Kim Seon-ho remembers his past days in theater as the moment he lived without huge worries; the moment when poetic happiness was bountiful, even feeling the warmth of the blowing breeze on the skin was a moment to be enjoyed. He then told us about a story he recalled about Kwon Seung-woo, the actor who portrayed Monk Chaesin of the Nanyak Temple in the recent drama Vincenzo. “In theater, there were open-run works without any set end date and project performances with one to two months end date. The project performances also chose the actors through auditions, so the pay was also better. When I first joined such a big project, Seung-woo asked me how I was feeling at that time. ‘I’m so happy. If I get to continue doing this as I live, I don’t think I’ll be asking for more.’ That was my answer.”

Kim Seon-ho described the theater stage as ‘a position and a place of origin’. Even after starring in dramas, he continued appearing on the stage through Kiss of the Spider Woman (2017) and Memory in Dream (2019), just to name a few. He also joined the investigation thriller play Ice earlier this year as a detective on a two-person stage, which was a work of Director Jang Jin. As a product of the Seoul Institute of the Arts, which has given birth to many stars, Jang Jin himself is one of the legendary talents. He was also the person Kim Seon-ho looked up to in his student days. “I was part of a drama club, and the room next to use was used by members of the original play club 만남의 시도 (literally ‘An Attempt for a Meeting’), with Director Jang Jin himself as the founder. The director would frequently visit the club to teach the juniors there…and I was so jealous of them because of it (laughs).” After meeting the director through the play, he turned out to be a gentle and boy-like, according to Kim Seon-ho. He is a director who would carefully direct the characters’ tones and the tempo of specific lines before settling with, “It would be great to keep up with that level.” In Jang Jin’s world, the so-called ‘level’ exists throughout the whole work, so it naturally pushes the actors to have more practice.

“Don’t we tend to see our own weakness better than our strength? ‘Since I also have my own strength, I should be able to love myself more.’ I try to keep such thought in my mind, but I always have the desire to do better. However, I can’t seem to keep up with the pace.” Although Kim Seon-ho himself said that the theater stage is like a cure, being his place of origin and giving him the energy from the past, he always feel ashamed of what he lack of. Even the best person in any line of work has their own insecurities, but they also possess the confidence only known to themselves. Kim Seon-ho too is aware of that. “I’m not that great when it comes to acting, but it does not mean that I am really bad at that. I was made aware early on regarding things I cannot do, things I can do well, and things that I can be better at. One common thing shared by the great seniors in acting that I have watched in my lifetime is that they all have a remarkable way of seeing themselves. I was influenced by them in that aspect. ‘I am able to arrive at this point because I can do this one thing well.’ They know exactly what they are good at. On the other hand, those who take some time for things to take place one by one are the people who tend to be good at many things. Instead of having a wide spectrum in acting, they are yet to discover the one weapon they have. It takes a director or a project to find that specific weapon; after that, everything will fall into its place.” It is like listening to the experts talking. Kim Seon-ho’s explanation about the types of actor reminded us of the occupational theory of generalist versus specialist. We talked about the acting style of a few actors, including those which left Kim Seon-ho in awe, such as Kim So-jin’s accent and breezy delivery of her memorable line in the movie The King, ‘Aren’t they like the worst scum in the history of prosecution?’ He himself is great at an act with speed and wit (a proper display of this can be seen in Welcome to Waikiki Season 2, available on NETFLIX). However, when there is a need for ‘deep’ acting, he found out that his talent lies in the ability to control the speed at which his tender feelings were awakened. Then, who does he think a young actor who is able to carry out a complete opposite of his acting style? “For example, when we look at Kim Rae-won sunbae-nim’s acting, his tempo is very slow, but it turns into romance from how it gives off the feeling of being gentle, deep, and sincere. I won’t be able to channel that kind of acting well, or become an actor who is able to deliver anything even if the method is slightly different, by saying the lines slowly or with indifference. I did watch his acting repeatedly multiple times to see how the acting is, since I was envious of him. Strange, isn’t it? Majority of my favourite actors tend to have this slow, gentle air around them.” When there are things we can’t have it ourselves, we choose to make the people with those things as our favourites instead of living in yearning.

Kim Seon-ho is currently preparing for the upcoming tvn drama Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha, set to air in the second half of the year. It is the remake of the movie Mr. Handy, Mr. Hong. It has been 17 years since the movie was released, yet the all-rounder, jobless Mr. Hong remained as an iconic character; a mysterious man with a handsome face, he is officially unemployed but he will appear like the blowing wind whenever someone in the neighbourhood needs help with something. Shin Min-ah will portray the dentist who gets entangled with Mr. Hong as she finds her footing in the seaside village. “Each of us has our respective scent, but the problem is whether there is someone to recognize the scent. I feel that there are lots of people who have come to recognize Kim Seon-ho’s scent. That is also how I have come to realize that I need to do my part in doing a good job myself. It is needed for the lead actors to create an atmosphere on the set where everyone is able to cherish and love each other. I realized this thanks to (Nam) Joo-hyuk and (Bae) Suzy.” We are so curious about Kim Seon-ho’s version of Mr. Hong. As someone who is strict with himself when it comes to acting, how will Kim Seon-ho show his presence through the romance mixed with healing series, with the anticipation higher than before? As such, the image of a man appears: one who does not look arrogant, no matter how grumpy he is.



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