Lee Je Hoon – GQ July 2021 Interview

Lee Je-hoon is bright and serious; like the sun that rises and sets every day but never turns dull even once.

“It feels like being stabbed to the heart.”

Didn’t you have something coming to your mind after seeing today’s photo shoot cuts? Hmmm….

Cuba, Havana. I happened to watch the last episode of Traveler before going to sleep last night. The sight of the sunset on your face at Morro Castle seems to have come into reality today. Hahaha yes, that’s right.

You love to discover a new side of your own self every time you have a photo shoot session. Is there any that you have discovered on your own today? It’s a bit embarrassing to have this coming out from my own mouth, but it’s the more matured face compared to usual? The session made me think of the movie The Talented Mr Ripley, which was also remade into the movie Purple Noon before.

You are talking about the one with Alain Delon. It seems like the traces of Taxi Driver’s Kim Do-ki is still present in you. I still can’t send Kim Do-ki away yet. I even had a get-together with the members of Rainbow Taxi Company at the restaurant belonging to Actor Bae Yoo-ram’s mother. The skate there is so delicious.

What did all of you talked about? We talked about how we were faring after the drama ended and when we’ll get to meet again, things like that.

Taxi Driver enjoyed a huge popularity among the viewers. How did you feel when you first found out that the director would be Park Jun-woo, who used to be the producer of the program Unanswered Questions? Since it’s a project which included a lot of details from real-life cases, we didn’t want to disregard the pain and pent-up frustration experienced by the victims and people who experienced similar things. I thought that I wouldn’t be able to do it if the story was to develop solely based on the excitement. I thought that sincerity was the most important thing, and everyone – the director and the production team – had the same thought with regard to our attitude and stance towards the project. One of the biggest determining factors in choosing the project for me was the director himself.

What kind of concerns did you discuss with the director? Kim Do-ki was a character who approached things like a problem solver. The director requested for me to be prepared for action scenes, so that the sequence could be shot in one take. It was my first time going all-out for action, hence I did prepare a lot in order to show refreshing action scenes. But then, there were parts which couldn’t be showcased well because the staff put everyone’s safety as our priority.

There was the controversy with the body double making headlines early on too. It was upsetting and unfortunate. I felt so apologetic towards the director and the production team. Still, an actor should be responsible for such feedback, so I felt the burden to do better and made up my mind to do so.

Are you the type of person who does not let yourself to mull in sadness and things that upsets you before? Cowering and struggling by yourself won’t solve the problem. It might also be something which can be forgotten as the time goes by. The drama is still ongoing and I should make an effort to show the things I have yet to show there so that I won’t regret it afterwards.

Kim Do-ki acted out a different sub-character in each episode. The way he was immersed into each and every role was so good, to the point of me wondering if it was possible for him to be that good every time. As someone who lost his mother to a serial killer and then living his life in misery and desperation, there is bound to be a gap felt (by viewers) to see Kim Do-ki in his undercover roles while solving the problem in each episode. There was a need to have an explanation in order to persuade the viewers. Thus, I suggested a line, “Mom, I already decided. I’ll go there, to the Military Academy. You know how I wanted to study acting?”

Are you saying that it was not a part of the original script? Yes. I wanted to say that line, so it was included in the cut. I felt that having his childhood dream to become an actor would become a reasoning to back up Kim Do-ki, hence providing me with the freedom to portray him. I have a list of the roles I want to try and I get to make use of it this time around; from the Joseonjok Wang Taozi to the nerd employee, they all were a part of that list. Fortunately, the director was always open to changes.

Move to Heaven, which was filmed prior to Taxi Driver, also received immense love from the viewers. The two series have similarity being life stories from a corner of our time. As an actor, following after a character’s life beyond what is written in the scenario makes my interest in the world grows. There’s a lot of story about hate in today’s South Korea. Watching the two sides collide makes me think: how do we make it possible for us to not fight and understand each other, cherishing and living in love. I can’t say that it becomes a determining factor in choosing a project, but for Taxi Driver and Move to Heaven, it does extend to my view when picking them, and I might have come to decide on them without me realizing it.

I heard that you are preparing your own movie recently. It is a short movie to be released on Watcha platform later this year. Together with Park Jung-min, Choi Hee-seo, and Son Seok-koo as directors, there will be four parts of the content. Now that I have to plan, write scripts, and direct it myself, my head hurts a bit. Why did I even agree to do this! (laughs)

Which part is hurting you the most? When I write the scenario, I would show it to other people and listen to their feedback. Ah…the feeling at that moment is just like a roller-coaster. I would say it coolly when I show them the scenario, “Please tell me honestly on how do you see this.” The downside to it is that the honesty hurts. It feels like being stabbed to the heart. This kind of experience is shocking to me as well.

What was exactly the kind of feedback did you hear? The scenario is about the enthusiastic youth in their 20s and 30s and stocks. It follows people’s desire to be rich and the process where they experience happiness and dejection. There is bound to be a gap between those who have experienced it firsthand and those who haven’t. I think I should think about it more. I want the viewers to be able to relate and feel deeply with it.

Although it is important to accept the feedback, it is also important for the director to push forward with his belief. That’s right. That’s why there are moments when I speak up with regard to the feedback: ‘there’s also this kind of story which goes beyond the ordinary story, this scene should be expressed like this, there’s more than what is written in the text which lies between lines, the scene will be directed as such so don’t worry…’

Are you going to star in the project too? It feels exhilarating just from imagining how you are immersed in a scene and have to yell ‘Cut!’ all of a sudden. I don’t want to see myself in that situation, so I don’t appear as a cast. (laughs) I want to concentrate a bit more on the director’s role.

You recently said it somewhere that if you ever give yourself a role in a project you have to direct, you want to take the role of a crazy man. Yes. Hahahaha!

Why is that? I’m someone who pays attention to the relevance behind it when I watch something. Cause and effect, reaping what one has sown. Acting can only be done by making sense of those details and then immersing myself into it. But then, is there such a thing like that in the world that we live in? There are moments we can’t quite understand; just because we want to understand the reason behind one’s action doesn’t mean that we will come to know everything. I have tried imagining it, thinking that I might be able to find a new side of myself by acting out a character I can’t seem to understand. Like what people say, ‘Something out of this world’?

Do you feel it yourself that you might have that kind of side too? Yes, of course…although I can’t think of anything right now.

Now, I am curious about Lee Je-hoon’s production company Hardcut. The name itself is already cool. It’s a company I set up together with people I met in my early 20s, director Yang Kyung-mo and producer Kim Yoo-kyung. Hard cut is a technique in filmmaking where the film is cut and joined. When the name was suggested by the director, it left a really deep impression on me. At that time, I started making a sketch of the logo and the typography, like those production company’s logos featured at the beginning of movies. Actually another contender for the name was the place we met for the first time, ‘Gangnam Station Exit 4’…

You almost become a senior to Hapjeong Station Exit 5 (Yoo Jae-suk’s trot song haha). Do you have the big picture of what you want to achieve through Hardcut? We don’t intend to limit ourselves to just commercial films, indie movies, or short movies. We’re currently planning and developing a project that will cater to the drama and OTT markets. It would be great if we can play the role as a hub-like channel where lots of artists can come and go; the place where they can be open and free without restricting themselves, a production playground.

The CEO himself is being restricted by people around him. Haha. I thought that I would be able to do it freely. Still, it’s the director’s freedom to speak up for the feedback he received, to some extent. Although there’s something left behind inside the deepest corner of my heart…(laughs) Finding balance between confidence and feedback will also allow me to learn a lot. I only lived as an actor for more than 10 years, so experiencing something in a different field will certainly provide a difference in my perspective and depth.

I am reminded of the words you wrote on the script book of Bleak Night 10 years ago: balance and resolution. I can’t remember the exact thought on my mind when I wrote those words. Resolution? It had to be the thought of living as an actor. If you ask me bac whether I still have the same resolution, I would answer that my desire only grow bigger since then. As I come to gain more experience, I also feel bigger sense of accomplishment, as well as growing sense of loneliness, sadness, and emptiness.

It is like the face of yours, imbued with light for the photo shoot today. I wonder if you have another idea about a scenario in your mind. It’s about the love story of a psychopathic man and woman. I gave it a thought, wondering what kind of person I would like to meet with if I was a psychopath or a sociopath. I would like to meet someone who is different from me. But then, meeting someone doesn’t mean that it will unfold exactly like what we wish for. I thought that we have met someone in the most normal way, but it turns out that the person is the same as me. At that moment, the spark I can’t seem to ignore has been ignited! That’s it for now. Heheh.

What would you do if in reality, you happen to fall in love with someone, but that person turns out to be a psychopath? Do I have to become a psychopath as well?



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