He doesn’t know what failure is. Actor Joo Won [aged 25] officially debuted in KBS’s 2010 drama, Baker King.
Although he had debuted in 2006 through musicals and at that time Joo Won’s exceptional acting skills and handsome appearance had already garnered attention, the name “Joo Won” only started to show its value after his TV debut.
Starting from Baker King, and then Ojakyo Brothers, up until the recent Gaksital, Joo Won continued to move onwards in the path pf success and he has also been given the nickname “Ratings Guarantee Cheque”.
Baker King [highest ratings on 15 September 2010, 45.3%], Ojakyo Brothers [19 February 2012, 36.3%] and Gaksital [7 September 2012, 22.9%]. These are all the records of success ever since Joo Won’s TV debut.
We met with Joo Won on 17th September.
“Another success? I myself am not clear about the reason for it [laughs]. The only thing I can be sure of is that my luck seems to have been very good all these while. The script was good, the actors’ acting were also good, and there were many exceptional sunbaes and teachers. Compared to me, in Gaksital alone there were many actors in whom the audience trusted. This is probably the key to success.”
Lee Kangto in Imperial Japan’s rule – “Dog” image acting
In Gaksital, Joo Won played to perfection the role of a policeman during Imperial Japan’s rule and the hero who rose up to fight against Imperial Japan for the sake of his countrymen. His lively performance won his widespread praises and recognition.
Acting as Gaksital and commencing his fight with Imperial Japan’s lackeys, this meant that there were many action scenes. To portray the role of Lee Kangto, Joo Won began his preparations as early as March 2012, for a whole period of 6 months, until the drama ended.
“There were acting scenes and also action scenes so there was a lot for me to do. I begun filming for the drama on the 1st of March. Ki Woong hyung and Se Yeon started in April. So I started my run [on this drama] from March. Because I started early, it seems like I was able to obtain more experience with filming action scenes as compared to the other actors. Although I started earlier, and there was more time for me to prepare, there was one thing for me to battle with. That is the lack of sleep. This was the toughest for me. It got to the point where I even felt that the word “sleep” was a luxury. Even now when I think back about it, I still feel that it was amazing that I could still memorise my lines and complete my acting even in those conditions. Even though I was exhausted, we were still able to complete it smoothly…that was really amazing. I stayed up continuously for a few nights. Although I told myself “Let’s focus and do well!”, I still had a difficult time thinking about how to express the conflicted look between Gaksita the hero and Lee Kangto the police. It felt like my head was going to explode haha.”
Joo Won encountered a lot of difficulties in trying to portray Lee Kangto. The Lee Kangto who served the Imperial police so willingly made one think of a dog.
“When I first got the script, to describe it simply, it would be the word “Dog”. Because of this, I had a lot of trouble thinking of how to portray Kangto. The script required me to shout a lot and I had a lot of problems trying to think of how I should shout and how I can vary them. Although in a real life situation I would shout without hesitation, but I also thought that the audience might find the shouting unacceptable. Because there were so many shouting scenes, after completing those scenes, even my limbs would turn numb and it felt like I was going to collapse any moment.
Beating my chest and stomping my feet while crying and feeling like I’ve lost everything – I really cried in that scene”
What was the most memorable scene in Gaksital for Joo Won?
“I remember all the scenes. If I have to choose 3, one would be when I cried into hyung’s [Kangsan] back while we were sleeping, another would be when my mother passed away and the last would be when Mok Dan got shot. During each of those scenes, even thinking about it would be scary. When I was crying into hyung’s back, it was because the script resonated with me. I didn’t know how to continue living and my feelings resonated with the character. Lee Kangto is just like that. He did his best to fight for every penny for his family to make end meet but everyone looked at him like he was an evil person. I could understand how he felt.
“The scenes that are deeply imprinted on my mind are all the sad ones. Even after the scenes were done, there were lingering feelings. It wasn’t because I was too immersed in my character, but rather it was because I really cried out loud because I could personally feel those painful emotions.”
“The scene where I was alone, beating my chest and kicking my feet and crying, I cried so badly because it really felt like my heart was being ripped into shreds. Before we starting filming, I squatted in front of the two tombs [hyung’s and mom’s]. Looking at them, I felt that I had lost everything. If I had 100 items to my name, then the feeling than wasn’t just only that I had lost all 100 items but it was more like I had lost 200 items.”
Although to Joo Won, Gaksital was a tough drama to work on, it was also the first drama to change Joo Won into the exceptional “actor Joo Won”.
“Acutally, after the audition, I immediately felt a lot of stress. Aside from the production budget, the most important thing on my mind was that this was the first time I would be taking the lead role. Everyone that I knew would keep telling me “You must do well” everytime they saw me and that gave me a lot of stress. Although I was laughing, but actually I was panicking. Especially before the drama aired, the time where we edited the scenes that had already been completed was the hardest to bear with. Because there was no way to monitor my acting on TV, so there was no way to find out how the audience reacted. I was afraid I didn’t do well enough so I frequently discussed with the people around me and did my scenes at the same time. So what came out of this was, even if I could not do everything perfectly, I thought that “Ah, I can do this too.” and felt more confident. Just like when I was acting in Baker King and Ojakyo Brothers, through this drama, I also felt that “Ah, I’ve grown even more.”
Gaksital is a story about a hero and the Independence fighters who support him during the era of the Japanese rule in Korea. This is the first time that Joo Won is challenging a drama which is based on history. Because it was not an era he could personally experience, thus there was a lot of stress in acting as “The People’s Hero”.
“I’ve tried to understand that era. Because I have not personally lived in that era, and there is no way for me to personally experience it now, I managed to experience it through the script and my heart felt a lot of pain. I’ve also learnt a lot of history. Before I started filming, I even went to study and do research specifically on the period where Japan was occupying Korea. This way, I was able to get a grasp of the feeling when I was acting. Even if I couldn’t directly experience it myself, I did put in a lot of hard work.”
“‘Patriotic Youth’? Honestly speaking, it’s a huge burden. Our citizens are all patriotic people.”
Near the time of Liberation Day in August, Gaksital touched on the issue of comfort women, thereby exposing the evil deeds of Japan. This became a hot topic. At around the same time, Joo Won went to the island of Dokdo in 1 Night 2 Days. After this event, Joo Won’s name naturally earned the prefix “Patriotic Youth.”
“‘Patriotic youth’? I really am not worthy [laughs]. I didn’t purposely put on this image for the sake of the drama or the variety show. Actually, even when we were filming the drama, I never once thought that it would become an “Anti-Japanese” drama. I made my choice based on the script. I heard that a lot of Hallyu stars had rejected this drama because they took into consideration the anti-Japanese sentiments but I do not think that just because they rejected this role, it naturally translates into it meaning that these stars are not patriotic. Every citizen in our country loves Korea and so it is that every actor also loves his/her home country.”
Not only did Joo Won begin filming for the drama in March, he was also picked as a fixed member of 1 Night 2 Days at the same time. Aside from having to film for the drama, Joo Won also had to film for 1 Night 2 Days once every fortnight on the weekend. As lead actor in a drama and a member of a reality TV programme, Joo Won began his “Forced March”.
“Physically speaking, I was exhausted. [laughs] But when we were filming for 1 Night 2 Days, it was really meaningful and fun. It is physically extremely taxing to film a drama but when filminf for 1 Night 2 Days, I am laughing the whole day. Not only do I get to see beautiful scenery, I also get to eat delicious food. So even though it is still considered work, it feels more like I’m going on a vacation. After filming for 1 Night 2 Days, my entire being feels energised so it also helps me when I’m filming for the drama. Although I’m tired physically, mentally I get to rest.”
Even though Joo won says that 1 Night 2 Days is fun and interesting, he is still unable to fully grasp the role of magnae. It was only recently that he showed more of himself in the games and spoke up boldly in front of Kim Seung Woo, Uhm Tae Woong and other hyungs.
“Actually, I don’t feel any stress for 1 Night 2 Days. The only stress I feel is about my role on the show and what I can do. At the start, “Ah, the hyungs are all doing so well, why am I the only one so far behind and lacking”..I was troubled. Right Now I can’t say that I don’t have any stress at all but I just want to enjoy the experience. Before I joined the show, I was only close to Tae Woong hyungbut now I get along very well with Seung Woo hyung and Tae Hyun hyung. At first, I thought that it would nt be easy to get along with them but after I met them, I realised that they were cheerful and easygoing. They even said it was cute if the dongsaeng showed more aegyo [laughs] So I was very happy and willing to stick close the hyungs and everyone is getting along well and our relationships keep improving.”
“1 Night 2 Days is just like taking time out from our busy daily lives to go on a relaxing vacation.”
“Truthfully, if it was another variety show, I might not be able to do it but for 1 Night 2 Days, I am able to persevere. 7 grown men traveling around the country…this is a rare opportunity. I feel that to be able to taste the local produce of a place and get to know more about its culture is a good experience. This show has been a great help to me personally.”
“Ever since season 2 of 1 Night 2 Days started, every member has taken turns to treat the rest to a meal. But because I was filming for Gaksital, everytime filming for 1 Night 2 Days ended, I had to rush off to the drama set so I had no time to do so. But now that the drama has ended, I was able to treat hyungs to a meal.”
With Gaksital’s last episode airing on 6th September, Joo Won will be heading to Japan for a fan meet at the end of this month and also start to consider his next project. He says he wants to challenge the romantic-comedy genre.
“Up until now, the roles which I’ve played are not in the same age group as myself. I want to act in a drama about a sweet love story of a couple in their 20s, the kind of cute role that doesn’t need to have blood on his body haha. Everyone says that romantic-comedy is the hardest to act so I want to challenge it.”
At the end of the interview, Joo Won expressed his gratitude to his fans. These are the people who provided him with strong support and encouragement during his toughest times when he had just debuted. Joo Won said “I spent a lot of fans’ money when I was 20. Because I didn’t have money for food and petrol, the fans spent quite a bit on my behalf. So they are the fans that I’ve always felt sorry and thankful to. I’m always grateful to the fans who have supported me from when I was 20 until now. In this world, there are a lot of things that make people happy and I hope that my growth and change [as an actor] will be one of those things. I’m moving closer and closer to the promise I made with them at the beginning, so I’m very happy. I am very grateful to my fans. Now that I have more fans, I am even happier and thankful. I will work harder and I hope that everyone will grow with me everyday.
Chinese translation by minidadalove 由米35 @ baidu
English translation by mojobobo @ soompi