Looking at actor Lee Se-young, who has grown up firmly, clear and bright; standing at the edge of the red platform with elegance and grace.
BLOOMING IN RED, LEE SE YOUNG
It is cold these days. Are you prepared for the winter season? I’ve prepared perfectly as the actor Lee Se-young. In order to prepare for the outdoor shooting, everything is ready; from the fluffy sleeping socks and the long johns to the padding jackets and jumpers, hot packs, and even the lined pants worn underneath the hanbok’s skirt. I feel reassured. On the other hand, person Lee Se-young doesn’t even feel the cold season coming on the set or at home, since I feel warm. Is it because of the know-how I have, to put 25 hot packs all over my body all the time? (laughs)
As expected from someone who has the skills from the long experience you had with historical dramas. Of course, there are skills gained from all this while (laughs). Be it the stick-on hot pack or the handheld one, both are precious, but my experience had taught me that the military-grade handheld hot pack is the best.
How is the atmosphere on the filming set? The atmosphere is harmonious, cheerful, and full of energy. As we spend time together filming in both hot and cold weather, it feels like we are more like a family than comrades who have spent our time bravely in the front line of a war. I have come to understand our characters’ emotions and our respective difficulties just from looking into the eyes of my acting partner (Lee) Junho-ssi. I aim to match our steps and walk through this with joy until the end.
The drama The Red Sleeve tells a sad palace romance between a palace maid who wants to protect the life she chooses and a king who puts his country first over love. The lead character here, Seong Deok-im, is a real historical figure. The fact that the only royal concubines whose personal names were known were Jang Huibin’s Jang Ok-jung and Seong Uibin’s Seong Deok-im in the entire history of Joseon was already an interesting feat in itself. From your point of view, what kind of person is she? Since the character is based on a real historical figure, there is also the possibility of it becoming a spoiler. The way this drama perceives and portrays her is a very important thing. In the drama, Deok-im is someone who wants to live a long and simple life. She cherishes the moments she spends with her friends and she considers her simple daily life precious, for instance seeing people’s joyful reactions after reading the books she has transcribed. However, she finds herself being embroiled in events as the drama progresses. ‘The king loved the court maid, but did the court maid love the king?’ That is the starting point of our story.
Jeongjo’s mournful love was evident just from looking at the ardent words he wrote for Uibin on the tombstone. He was rejected twice before his dream finally came true, although it took him 15 years. Was there anything about Deok-im that you could not understand? After all, she was someone who lived in an era where it was difficult for women to act independently, yet she showcased her will. ‘She loved the king, but why did she push him away? Was it because she was afraid of losing things dear to her? Why? She won’t know if she didn’t give it a try first.’ At first, I had that kind of thought when we started, but I came to understand and relate to her as I continued filming the drama. The original novel from where the drama was adapted had this line in it, “If you ever meet me in next life, please pretend that you don’t recognize me even if you do.” It is a line imbued with lots of meanings. When I think of Deok-im in that situation, I feel sad and my heart aches for her.
We are reminded of the scene in which tears fall down from your big round eyes. Do you have any particular expectations for this drama? I meet new actors, the production team, and even new viewers with every new project. I’m looking forward to how this encounter will be. Once the project ends, the actors will be remembered as their characters. Of course, it is more important for the characters to blend in with the project rather than stand out on their own, but I look forward to seeing how Deok-im will remain, at the same time hoping that she will be remembered beautifully. Up until now, I have continuously attempted characters with growth arcs, but Deok-im is different in the sense that she is based on a historical figure. I’m also very curious about how the encounter with her will remain in one’s memory.
The different environment also makes people anticipate it aside from the role. Somehow, this reminds us of the hardships encountered by office workers who have to change jobs frequently. Don’t you feel exhausted (because of the changing environment)? It’s a natural life to me and my daily life (laughs). Once I join a new project, people on the set become those whom I meet more frequently than my own family. If I can’t make myself comfortable in this situation and don’t find joy in it, then the 7~8 months I spend together with them will make everyone uncomfortable, regardless of the content and quality of the project. Hence, I make an effort to approach them in order to grow closer to them, so that everyone will be able to enjoy the moment. Thankfully, I seem to be blessed with luck around people, so I have only met with good people all this while. Even in the midst of the difficulties we face during this pandemic era, it seems that luck is on our side, seeing how everyone is safe and healthy.
We are reminded of the ‘Charm of Life’ meme. As someone who has debuted 26 years ago, when do you have the realization dawning on you that so much time has passed? It’s been a long time since I lost count of the number. On one side, it is indeed an amazing thing to be able to do one job for a long time, but then, the job doesn’t get any easier and I don’t grow more comfortable. I continue to meet new people and do new research in order to approach and express new characters, giving me a sense of reset, starting all over again from the very beginning. Nevertheless, the fact that there are so many people who have loved me for a long time, plus my family and friends who have stayed beside me without changing is something that I’m very thankful for. In the midst of everything, I wanted to exist without changing, yet I can also feel that I’m changing these days.
After all, humans are not cups that only hold water, hence we are bound to change. For instance, when did you first notice that change? When I held a fansigning event, I used to write down ‘Please study hard’ to younger fans. However, these days, I have realized that study is not everything that there is to life. They were taking some time out of their daily life to meet a celebrity for a short moment, but when that celebrity told them to study well, then it might make them lose the energy to do so in return. Hence, I write the message ‘Please be healthy’ from that time on. For example, as one grows older, there are so many things they need to watch out for. I also think that the ability to perceive good and evil can be fragmented. Should I say that my perspective has grown wider compared to before? I want to be able to direct my change towards the good side and improve myself.
You have expressed in the past that your heart lied in the characters who are struggling fiercely in your previous projects: Kairos, Memorist, Doctor John, The Crowned Clown, variety program Weekend Playlist, A Korean Odyssey, Hit the Top, just to name a few. Do you feel that the change in the way you view life is gained through those characters? I could feel the charm exudes by the desperate characters that grow through the trials and tribulations they face. I found myself feeling the pleasure of vicarious satisfaction seeing the characters – who were full of weak points – actually making it through. My early and mid-20s were also filled with intensity and desperation. It was to the point of holding my tears in because I couldn’t afford the time to cry; it was an exhausting and difficult period for me. When I reached my late 20s, I found peace through being able to act to my heart’s content through the projects I wanted to do. Maybe it’s because of that? These days, my eyes are drawn to people who live each day living a simple, normal life. We all have our own heated moments in our respective reality, yet we are still alive, living in our ordinary, small life.
Perhaps, that could also be the reason Deok-im were fated to meet you. I can only be thankful to have Deok-im come to me (laughs).
Playing football, doing calligraphy, horse riding, and reading comic books are just a few of your hobbies. Are you living well as a homebody with a lot of interests? My interests are thin yet wide. There’s a saying among the actors that your acting will turn out to be a good one if you are able to express it like how it’s done in comic books. That’s why when I am in the middle of a project, I would read comic books to concentrate. These days, I’m into a boxing comic The Fighting (Hajime no Ippo). My head is already full of the image of me as a pro boxing athlete, throwing punches to cut through the wind. Once I’m done with the filming of the drama, I’m already planning on going to the football field and riding range while doing calligraphy in between, but I am to include boxing too, I already feel that I’m going to be so busy.
As we do this interview, we cannot help but notice that your healthy energy is contagious. At the end of intense thought, there is also the lingering feeling of realizing that you are a person who is not bound to trivial things when it comes to your view on life. What kind of effort do you make in order not to let go of yourself? Since I’m someone with a strong competitive spirit, I have come to realize that I feel ashamed when I can’t seem to emerge as a winner in the end. In order to become a cool person, I have learned that I need to be able to accept failure and wounds. I consider acting as my lifelong job. Although being critiqued and criticized might be hard on me should I happen to blame myself for it, don’t the office workers also receive criticism when they fail to complete their task and they will accept it with the aim to do better next time? I might pass by good reactions, but when it comes to bad reactions, I regularly check on them. In return, I’d keep the facts that I need to fix in mind and shake off the emotions of that moment (when reading the bad comments). I try to live positively more than anything.
There is a term of resilience and recovery in psychology. It means that one does not get frustrated by hardships, trials, and failures no matter how big or small they are; they have this kind of character that allows them to move forward towards a better direction. You seem to be someone with a strong sense of resilience and recovery. That is also because I hate to lose (laughs). If I happen to see a bad comment and feel hurt because of it, I’d feel as if I’m losing against the world. I can only fix the parts that I can do so and accept those that I cannot; other than that. I’ll just have to let it go. I want to be able to survive through everything with a better mindset and survive life with joy.
Recently, is there something new you have realized about your own self? That I’m idle yet diligent. I tend to use up all my energy and then go into the exhausted state after that. Regardless of their condition, outstanding athletes are able to use their energy to power through their regular routine. I envy them for this reason.
People who spend all their energy over a short period of time tend to do so because they are addicted to that sense of accomplishment they feel after burning themselves to ashes until the end. That seems to be it! I love that kind of sense of accomplishment.
It is already December. What do you plan to do on the last day of the 2021 calendar? It’s something called ‘Bangkok’. I’m planning to leave the spot I consider the most comfortable in my house. It would also be nice to be able to leave for a remote island where people can’t reach you, but this year, I want to lie around and stay at home. (t/n: it’s a wordplay of Bangkok, which means Thailand’s capital city and also ‘stay home’ in Korean – 방콕)
This is awkward but we still have to greet the new year of 2022. How do you imagine tomorrow will be? I’m always idle, but I still love myself who is running tirelessly towards the things I want to do, more than anyone else. I also love myself who don’t work hard too. When I look back at myself, I hope that it will be a precious moment where even the smallest thing I can achieve is considered precious and leading me in a good direction.