There are people who approach their dreams one step at a time. They walk their own way unwaveringly and pave the way for the future. Actor Lee Sang-won is one of those people. He has been working towards becoming an actor for 11 years in supporting roles, and finally has served as the lead actor in the film, <Master and Man>, which was released on July 18th. He says he wants to be an actor who is close to people by constantly acting rather than being a big twinkling star. CAH met actor Lee Sang-won and talked to him about his story.
1. You have recently starred in the film <Master and Man>. How do you feel about finally playing a lead role?
I’m so grateful to play a lead role since I’ve been acted as a supporting actor. It’s been a great experience for me to lead a movie from start to finish, and I have so many people to thank.
2. <Master and Man> was originally portrayed through comics and animations. What is the difference between the live action movie and the originals, if any?
Actually, before shooting the movie, I first received the screenplay without seeing the original cartoon or animation of it. When I decided to play the role, the director told me about the cartoon. He wanted to compress scenes that were described in detail in the animation and produce them in a single drama. He also said that the genre of the movie, <Master and Man> is just a story of people. However, if the original story was a little more social-criticized, the film is focused on each character’s drama. And I think I was more concerned about how the characters would behave when they were in the context of the movie. I think these are the differences between the originals and the movie.
3. We heard that the names of the main characters in the movie have a special meaning. What does the movie want to say to the audience through this?
‘Min-ju,’ ‘Hyun-dae,’ ‘Young-hee,’ ‘Chul-soo.’ These are very common names and they are likely to appear in textbook. In the case of cartoons, I heard that the duality and universality of these names dealt with politically involved content. ‘Min-ju’ is a character who represents modern society, and ‘Hyun-dae’ is a person who stands for democracy. So, it occurred to me that the characters represent a lot of things in the process of preparing for the first time. But I don’t think I really cared much about that part while filming. I just didn’t think that I should be the person who represents modern society while playing the character. The director wanted to do the same, and he and I also thought that any dual meaning is up to the audience. For these reasons, this is one of the parts that I didn’t really care about intentionally. I just wanted to show a character’s drama rather than politically satirical movie.
4. Although Hyun-dae is a socially reprehensible character, as you played the role of him in the movie, we’re sure you grew close to him. What do you think about your role?
Hyun-dae may be a character who makes people think he’s a viper. However, I think all human beings have those desires and dreams, and they just can’t express them. For this reason, I made up my mind to show them all on my behalf. I thought, ‘Let me show the audience all the desires people have and let them see what happens if we take them to the end.’
5. In addition to the movies, you have played a lot in plays such as <The glass Menagerie> and <Incendies>. What’s the difference that you feel between acting in a movie and acting in a play?
I don’t think there is a difference between them personally from an actor’s point of view. I think plays and movies are a little different depending on how the expressions change. Gestures should be large on a stage because the audience can’t see actors closely like they can find a movie. In addition, in a play, you act it all at one time. So, in the performance stage, there should be no mistakes or cuts in the middle. And if there is a mistake, the performance will have to go on anyway. But the process of preparing for acting is the same. Analyzing characters and scenarios and considering chemistry with other actors.
6. What do you think is the attraction of acting?
Acting has a charm of representing people’s dreams. There are various genres such as thriller, comedy, and melodrama, and audiences have probably imagined and dreamed about hopping into those different genres. They imagine being a character in a movie. However, the attraction of acting that I feel as an actor is to discover another me. People say that being able to be a variety of characters is probably the most interesting thing about being an actor, but not so much for me. Rather, I sometimes discover the real me. People tend to keep trying to hide themselves. But as I act, I learn things that I didn’t know about myself. When I play the role, I often think, ‘I can’t believe I could be this extreme.’ It’s fun to find it. And through this process, I feel like I’m settling in on who I am.
7. As you’ve been acting for 11 years since your debut, can you tell us what the hardest part of your career was and how you overcame it?
I’ve always been thinking that I have to endure the empty hours. I think I’ve had a lot of waiting times. There were times when I have no works to do. During those empty hours, I’ve been rambling about my career path. I was frustrated that I had nothing to do, so I kept thinking I’d have to do something different than act. However, I didn’t want to give up being an actor. So, I decided that I would rather have a meaningful time. I wanted to continue to be an actor even if I had to endure it. So, I kept trying to learn anything, and I filled in my lack of acting.
8. Can you tell us specifically what you’ve tried to be as an actor?
I’m a person who tries to be as sensitive as possible. Actually, when I was a college student, I acted a little bit roughly unconsciously. But I think that changed a lot as I worked as an actor. Because of changing my behavior, as I get more detailed in my work, I could feel more considerate of others. In the past, I used to think that it was better to stand out when I was acting. But the more I worked, I realized that it is important to work with people working with me to make a more complete work.
9. Your agency Walkhouse Company is known to have launched a program called ‘Walking School’ on YouTube! And I heard that you played the role of a manager in the program and walk a lot. What do you think is the appeal of walking?
Walking makes me get rid of distracting thoughts. If I walk a lot, at some point, I get a freedom from all ideas and thoughts. Actors leave a lot of time, so if I get tired of waiting for work and just stay home, I often fall into self-destruction alone. And a friend of mine recommended me to go out and just walk. So, I went out to the Han River and kept walking. As I walked, I couldn't think of anything. I used to listen to music at first, but I don't listen to music anymore. I see people passing by, I see the sky, I see grass, I see bugs, and it relieves me. It is like moving yoga. And I saw in a book that walking actually clears your head and removes thoughts. I don’t neglect walking even when I get to work. If I have an audition, I walk and recite the lines. Then I can open my mind and easily analyze the character more than at home. I heard that some companies in abroad holds a meeting in the park because it can make people have more creative ideas. So, I highly recommend walking.
10. You are known for your frequent visits to the field to watch the LG Twins’ games. You are surely a passionate baseball lover and you have played baseball from your youth. Based on this, is there any special reasons for being a devoted fan of the LG Twins? We hope to understand why you are rooting for the team.
I used to play catch often with my dad and granddad. They kept telling me that I throw well—that’s probably why I got interested in baseball. My dad has influenced me heavily in choosing the LG Twins as my team. He has been a fan of the LG Twins since it had its former name, MBC Cheong-ryong. In the past, the team played fairly, and my dad would take me to show me the team very often, so naturally, I became an LG Twins fan. Indeed, I originally wanted to become a baseball player. There was a baseball club in middle school, and I told my parents of my dream to become a baseball player. At the time, my parents wanted me to focus on studying while leaving baseball as a hobby. Reminiscing through the past, I believe that if I had not become an actor, I would have tried being a baseball player. Nowadays, I still enjoy playing baseball with two teams. In a way, playing baseball is a way to relieve stress for me.
11. For leisure activities, are there anything else than playing baseball, walking or acting?
While taking a rest, I just walk around. Other than that, I watch movies. For instance, if I come to like a particular actor, I watch through his or her filmography. By doing this, I learn from how his or her acting developed. Of course, I like watching old movies. I also enjoy meeting people and chatting with them. I usually drink beer and talk about what I watched recently. This is how I usually spend my time.
12. In CAU, you majored in Theatre. Did you originally crave becoming an actor? Were there any particular reasons you choose the acting career? And did the experience from CAU help you career-wise?
When I first entered the university, I had not thought of becoming an actor. In my high school years, I did not know about my major that much. At the time, street casting was common. I was cast on the streets a few times—these experiences gradually convinced me to apply for a play. The high school which I graduated is not specialized in any forms of Arts; nevertheless, I prepared through attending private institutes. Thankfully, I got into CAU.
Well, the thing is, that I watched the fall and spring performances of the CAU seniors before the university enrollment. I did not know much about acting at the time; yet, seniors who were performing the play, <Carma>, seemed magnificent. I would say this was one moment that pulled me into the world of acting. During my campus life, seniors and teacher assistants suggested that I participate in the musical, <West Side Story>. I started off not even knowing whether the musical genre is. There were so many things to learn since performing in a musical cast requires dancing, singing, and acting. I practiced for a month and a half and in the fall semester. The first curtain-call on the first week of the semester gave me thrills. For the first time, I realized why people act on stage. This CAU experience became a momentum for me to continue on acting without rests.
13. It is known that you and the CAU’s alumni—the actor Ha Jung-woo and the film director Yoon Jong-bin —are on special terms. The three of you have worked together in various films, including <Beastie Boys> (2008), <Nameless Gangster> (2012), <KUNDO: Age of the Rampant> (2014), <A Violent Prosecutor> (2016) and <The Spy Gone North> (2018). How did you get so close?
After graduation, I willingly went through as many auditions as possible. Meanwhile Ha Jung-woo suggested me to audition for <Beastie Boys>. I took the chance and made it. Then was the first time that I truly interacted with the director Yoon. Before getting the part in the movie, I only got to say “hi’” a few times; but after, I got to converse with him. Shooting the movie was indeed an enjoyable experience. The three of us naturally became close with each other since we all graduated from CAU. My role in <Nameless Gangster> was not crucial but being able to participate—that is, I believe, what truly matters. Another CAU alumnus, the assistant director of <Beastie Boys> made his directorial debut through <A Violent Prosecutor>. Director Lee Il-han also graduated from CAU, as well as the director Kim Kwang-bin who filmed <Closet> and many other movies; the CAU alumni in this field naturally become connected and get along well together.
14. Are there any classes or professors you specifically remember? Or what reminds you the most while attending CAU? Please tell us in detail.
Performing class was enjoyable— specifically, building on the performance. Another class that I enjoyed was the art of conversation by professor Yoo In-chun who has retired. I also liked the drama production by professor Bae Jong-wook because filming the scenes were quite fun. Out of all the classes, however, my favorite class was production. Within the major, production class is crucial and taking it twice is a requirement for graduation. Due to its importance, all students concentrated well during the class. The outcome of the class is the biggest event. For me, I took the class in the 45th anniversary year of CAU Acting major. In celebration of the anniversary, I got to play a part in <Othello> for the spring semester and performed in <You Can’t Take It with You> for the next semester. The plays were directed by professor Choi Chi-rim who was my academic advisor. Overall, working during the production class really helped to show me happiness.
15. If you are able to go back and be a CAU student again, what do you want to do the most?
My university years were a turning point for me because I transformed so much from the high school me. Before the university entrance, I loved hanging out with my friends. The Anseong campus life, however, made it difficult for me to meet them frequently. Instead, I got to get along more with people I met in the university. If I could travel to the past, I would try harder and prepare much more beforehand. Now that I think of it, I had so much time back then. I did enjoy my campus years, but I think I would be able to live more intensely. That way, I would have gained more specialties during the campus life.
16. Being an “actor,” what is your future objective?
Like now, I wish I would continue to play roles which are suitable to my age. Rather than being a super star, my goal is to be a friendly actor to the public. Again, I hope that my career path would lead me to roles that are suitable for my age. As such, steadily stepping up one by one is my current goal.
17. Last but not least, we would ask for words for your fellow CAU juniors.
REAL CHUNG-ANG FIGHTING! Please enjoy many different activities while attending university because after graduation, an intense life awaits you. Try to become a campus couple or much more! Anseong Campus has its merits and from the recent visit to the Seoul Campus, I realized that the campus facilities upgraded due to the remodeling. What I am saying is that you should enjoy your campus life. Another important thing is that you should prepare passionately before graduating. I hope that many of you will succeed after graduation since meeting CAU alumni outside campus, regardless of graduating from different majors, has always been pleasant.
Actor Lee Sang-won is someone who keeps on trying. He wants to be an actor who sticks around for a long time, and he wants to play a role that fits his age and continues to act. His constant efforts to develop himself as an actor weighed down what we commonly call a ‘true actor.’ Chung-Ang University, he says, is a space that has helped him fulfill his dreams. For him, experiences in Chung-Ang University and people he met there are the driving forces behind his performances. CAH finishes the interview, expecting him to achieve the goals he wants in his field.
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