At a lush hotel in London, IMK were lucky enough to sit down with the super cute and talented actor Lee Je-hoon. You might know him from popular TV series, Signal. His latest film ‘Anarchist from Colony’ is screening in London as part of the London East Asia Film Festival (19-29 Oct) and was invited to London to promote the biopic that tells the real life story of Park Yeol, Korean anarchist and independence activist who fought against the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1910.
Lee Je-hoon, just like you see on TV, is very polite, shy and of course very handsome.
Read our roundtable interview below where he told us how he quit carbs for over a month to portray the hunger strike scene in ‘Anarchist From Colony’, find out who his favourite actress is that he’s worked with, and of course whether there will be a Signal SEASON 2!
[Please note interview was conducted with a Korean-English translator]
In the film ‘Anarchist from Colony’ your character Park Yeol is quite different from roles you usually play, what were the challenges of that?
In this role I’m playing an actual character in history; it takes place during the Japanese occupation. Many Koreans were abused and oppressed, this character he goes to Tokyo and he stands up against Japan for the independence of Korea and by standing up against the Japanese government, he becomes someone who is a symbol of hope to Korea. Because that role was so important I felt that it was very important that we, not just myself, did not distort any of the historical facts, or embellish anything and we tried to keep it accurate to leave little room for misinterpretations of what happened. So I want the audience whether Korean or non Korean, whether they know the history or not, they would learn about what actually happened and see things as they really happened. Because I had to keep that in mind, I had to reflect that in the way I was thinking inside, the subtle nuances, my expressions and even my physical gestures, I tried to keep it in mind all the time. I constantly asked myself is this right, is this wrong what am I doing now. Is my line right, is my gesture right, so I kept checking.
So Inspire Me Korea is a subscription box that works to promote Korean culture, language, history and entertainment – We all know the power of KPOP with the Hallyu wave. How do you think we can better promote and focus on Korean films?
I think the story that the film is telling is very important, but we see films where there’s lots to see, it’s a spectacle, or it features big names and it gets a lot of attention that way, but I think if you get attention in that kind of way for those reasons its not going to last very long, so I think that the contents of the film, the story, those are the very important. Can people identify with that? Is it universal? I think that’s very important because I believe we have to continue to present stories that people can really identify or sympathise with and they can attract the interests of those who are non-Korean as well. Only by doing that, can we continue to get attention and affection from the audience. So I’m very interested in making that happen myself, because I was influenced a lot by actors/performances coming out of not only Korea, but Hollywood, China, Japan, and other countries. So those films and the performances that I saw, that’s what helped me grow my dream of becoming an actor, so I would like to work on films where although the language is different, it’s so strong in some way that somebody that doesn’t speak my language will see my performance and be touched and influenced, so they can feel all the various emotions that I feel.
What’s the difference between doing drama and action films?
I never limit the role that I chose. I enjoy the role that I play, I enjoy the people that I’m working with so that we can create a story that people can enjoy watching. When I’m doing an action film or series, there’s a lot of physical training so I have to get into shape, try to stay fit for my role and in the case of a romance story, chemistry with my partner is very important, so when I’m looking at my partner, people will have to feel that I really love this person, so the focus is there. I have to work and communicate with them very well. Its also the same thing in drama, I don’t think any story is done by one person, it requires the main role and all the supporting roles and everybody comes together for that story, communicating with my partner, my direct partner and all the people I’m working with; I think that’s key and most important in creating a good story and it changes the quality of the story too. So I always try to be considerate of what my coworker and colleagues want from this. What can we do for each other to make it better?
So will there be Season 2 of Signal?
I’m looking forward to it, I would love to do it, but in order for that to happen it’s not totally up to me of course, the writers have to write, the directors have to be ready, the three other characters have to take part and I would love to see everybody back again same as season 1. I would like to say I’m ready.
In your film ‘I Can Speak film’ you had to speak English – did you actually study English or just memorise your lines?
I didn’t study English for the role but I studied my lines. I really don’t speak English well, but the character that I played was supposed to speak English well… so I tried to practice as much as I could so I could sound as close to a native speaker. I had a tutor who helped me with that, my tutor lived in Brooklyn before so the accent I picked up was kind of east coast.
Can you share a fun or interesting moment from ‘Anarchist of Colony’?
Shooting anarchist during Janaury/Feb in Korea it’s very cold, usually if we’re doing a scene where it’s cold or we’re covered in dirt, a team will all flock around me and make sure I didn’t get hurt, or anything is out of place, because of the continuity of the scene they have to make sure I look the same, they’ll also make sure to check if I’m cold or not. But because of the character himself was filthy and had to be messy all the time, I could sit in the corner and roll around on the ground and nobody would care, nobody would take notice of me. So it was really cold, but I had to wear thin clothes as well because of the character in the setting. I didn’t have anyone come swoop me up and wrap a thick coat around me to keep me warm, so I felt like I was kind of mistreated [laughs], or as well as I’m used to, but ultimately that helped me in playing that role.
The character of Park Yeol is thrown in prison and goes on a hunger strike, and the actual period was quite short, but because he’s not eating he had to get thinner and I had to show that physically on my face as well. So I did not eat any carbs for about a month, month half. So you’ll be able to see when you watch the film, my face in the beginning and my face at the end, it’s very different. That’s not makeup, that’s me, giving up rice; I didn’t eat rice for the entire period. That’s when I learned that if we don’t eat any carbs, it makes you very vicious and very angry and very sensitive, and because I went through that process of pain and agony, I did endure it. Because of what I went through it helped me realise how much more horrific it must’ve been for the actual character, because he was in prison for quite a long time and I realised that, I felt very humbled, very apologetic towards him and a lot of respect. It made me want to do this role even better.
You mentioned earlier you liked Chinese film, which actor/director would you like to work with?
I’ve been tremendously influenced by Hong Kong films ever since elementary school, I watched so many of them like Leslie Cheung, Andy Lau, Tony Leung, Stephen Chow, Director Wong Kar Wai and John Woo. Because of that influence I go to Hong Kong twice or three times a year. When I go I feel nostalgic, the Hong Kong I remember seeing in the 1970-80s in the movies and the Hong Kong I see now, I think they did a good job of maintaining a lot of that. I can feel it when I go there, I like going there few times a year and it’s good to see that things haven’t changed that much.
Does it shock you Hallyu is very popular in UK?
Oh really?? I’m very surprised to hear this. I will try to come back with another great film to help promote Korean culture. London is THE city I’ve always wanted to come to and I finally have and it’s a great opportunity for me. I don’t know what will happen in the future now that I’m finally here, now I know what you told me I hope I can come back.
Why do you love London so much?
When I travel it’s like travelling through the movies that I’ve watched. That’s why I also like NY, but London has especially been in a lot of films that I’ve watched so it’s a very special place for me to visit. After the breakfast event today, I had time to go out for a bit, so I went to the bookstore that was featured in Notting Hill, and on the way back we stopped at a tailor shop where they made the suits for the sequal of The Kingsman, I took a photo in front of that and then I went in front of MI6 and took a photo there, like Daniel Craig, so by doing that, I feel like I’m in that movie as well, I really wanted to come.
You’ve recently been on SSS. Will you join more variety shows in the future?
Usually when I do reality shows like that it’s to help promote the film that I’ve just worked on or a TV series, but last year I received an award at TVN and the presenter of the award was the producer of all these famous shows, so we were talking backstage and I told him I’m a huge fan of his programme and was telling him I watched SSS and all his shows he does about travelling, and he said “are you interested in coming on the show?” I said “sure, give me a call any time” and he did. I really enjoyed it and if by me being on the show it gives enjoyment to the viewers then that’s great, if I get another opportunity I’d love to do it again. Realistically I won’t be able to go on shows like that a lot, but if I do get another opportunity and people like seeing me, then of course I would love to go. I think I’ve been on most of them, except for 1 night 2 days.
Who are your favourite Western artists?
Coldplay had a concert in Korea this year and I went and screamed liked crazy. I also like Ed Sheeran, Craig David, they also influenced me, now that I’m in the UK, I’m planning to go to galleries and watch as many musicals as I can, because from what I know there are so many, but I’m just sad I wont be able to watch all of them. I heard Matilda is good.
What about your favourite actor/actress you’ve worked with?
In the Anarchist, the actress who played my partner Choi Hee-seo, we had really good chemistry working together. Also the senior actress Na Moon-hee in ‘I Can Speak’. They were both wonderful to work with because I didn’t have to try and express myself, they were patient with me, they were very attentive, and they just knew by looking in my eyes what I was trying to do and they acted accordingly, so they made me feel very comfortable and were very easy to work with, it just happens that they’re both actresses [laughs].
And at the end of the interview is when he very kindly agreed to take these photos below!
Lee Je-hoon says he’ll be going to Paris next week for the Paris Korean Film Festival.
BY GUEST WRITER: Katie Wong
Official images including featured image provided by LEAFF.