Actor Lee Je-hoon is as clear as water, but he wishes to produce an irreplaceable glimmer from the variety of hues combined within him.
“I think I can be the best when it comes to portraying the character of Kim Do-ki in Taxi Driver. It is difficult to imagine another actor replacing me.”
Taxi Driver Season 2’s popularity is through the roof. Every single episode has been recording over 10% in ratings (so far). Having the opportunity to come back for Season 2 is already something to be grateful of, so I can’t even express how thankful I am for the great response right after it starts airing. It feels like a reward for all the hardships we faced during filming.
Kim Do-ki already left a strong impression during his first appearance on the screen. The writer wrote ‘Kim Do-ki is exercising behind the prison bars’ as the first line of the script. I should stay true to the script. (laughs) I prepared myself thoroughly for the scene, imagining it as ‘the last topless scene of my life’. I’m showing whatever left of those abs for today’s photo shoot. (laughs)
Kim Do-ki is a character who has to change into different personas in his journey to punish all the bad guys. Since it requires portraying a variety of characters in one drama, does it become a burden to you although with the desire (to do a good job at it)? It was a very enjoyable and blissful time working in this project. The gap from one alternate character to another is huge, so I was worried on how the audience will view them. I also tried to think of a way on how to incorporate the alternate characters more seamlessly. There were many instances when I did not have strong confidence in my own acting, but thankfully, seeing people enjoying the drama has helped to boost my confidence. Hence, I decided to be even bolder and have fun with all my heart while filming for Season 2.
In the documentary Another Record: Lee Je-hoon, you shared with actor Lee Dong-hwi about your desire with regard to comedic acting. This time around, you get to go all out with it. I don’t have the talent of making people around me laugh. Hence, I can’t really imagine myself when I’m acting out a comedic role. But this time around, the ensemble cast is great to be around and the script is fun as well.
It is a new challenge then. Actually, I’m not an actor who is great at ad-lib. If I used to act according to what was given to me, this time around, I’m open to new opportunities. Whenever I saw any space between the lines and the direction (from the director) that could be filled, I would make suggestions and write some additional lines before acting out the scene to fill the gap.
It could be considered a huge change as an actor. Frankly speaking, there were times when I felt that it was beyond my ability to be able to act perfectly according to the script. Right now, I feel responsible to lead the drama as a narrator of the story. Plus, working at the filming site is a constant fight against time. ‘Ah, why didn’t I do this at that time?’ ‘Why did I miss this?’ In order not to have regrets like those, I give my everything within the given time frame (on the set).
That passion of yours can be felt even today during our photo shoot session. It felt like watching a soundless scene out of a drama in front of us. It seems that there isn’t much difference between doing a photo shoot and acting. There aren’t many opportunities for me to be able to show myself wearing different types of cool and splendid accessories like today. Who knows, maybe it will present an opportunity for me to try out a different role in my next role with this new side of me on my mind. I think that the confidence to try out something different comes from the experience I have gained.
The viewers have a refreshing shock when you appeared as a country bumpkin speaking Chungcheong-do dialect in episode 4. That too. It might appear awkward to people from Chungcheong-do, but they probably look over it favourably because of the attempt itself. This time around, I gained something that I am able to do as an actor and as person Lee Je-hoon. Maybe I can try using the dialect when I visit Chungcheong-do one day. (laughs)
Kim Do-ki might become the best role and the role of your lifetime. It might be. The fact that I am able to show different sides of me just in one show makes it such an appealing project. As I acted, I even wondered, ‘Will there be another actor who can do a better job if he is to take this role?’ But then, when it comes to Taxi Driver‘s Kim Do-ki, I think I could do the best job portraying him. Of course, there are better actors out there. Still, it’s a precious and much loved character to me, so it’s difficult to imagine (someone else doing it).
Among the alternate characters of Kim Do-ki, do you find any of them who is similar to real life Lee Je-hoon? Actually, none of them really resembles me. (laughs) The intellectual side, the humorous side, and others are all tiny parts inside me, amplified to be shown to the viewers.
The scenes where you punish the villains give a sense of catharsis to the viewers. What is the most satisfying moment to you personally among those scenes? Rather than picking a particular scene or action, I felt that getting the message across is a satisfying act itself.
What kind of message do you mean? I can’t reveal it yet since the lines are from the second half of the series, but if I am to say it in English, then the words ‘memory’ and ‘remember’ should be enough. These are the keywords running through Season 2. In the end, it’s ‘Remember’. Each and every episode deals with crime and corruption that exists in reality. The message that the drama carries has become the foundation of Taxi Driver franchise itself.
Looking at your filmography, there are a lot of projects which have received immense popularity or bagged many awards, Taxi Driver included. Should we say that you are lucky when it comes to projects, or that you have discerning eyes in picking good projects? I do have my own way when it comes to choosing projects. I have the desire to do projects that will remain in the viewers’ mind and heart for a long time. It’s good to be remembered for the fun, but it would be perfect if the projects could have influence in people’s lives. Even as an actor myself, it’s the same about the projects; I’m also influenced by my own projects.
Your movie with actor Koo Kyo-hwan, Escape, will be greeting the moviegoers soon. During the 42nd Blue Dragon Film Awards, you said, “I really hope I’ll get a chance to act with Actor Koo Kyo-hwan,” and you got your wish. Did your words back then have any effect on the casting process (for the movie)? I was curious about it as well so I asked the production team. They said it did. I have become a successful fan then. (laughs)
How does it feel now that you have the chance to act with him? The movie itself is already interesting, and having the chance to be in it together with actor Koo Kyo-hwan makes it even better. I got to realize again how important the cast is when it comes to projects. Even if we haven’t had many chances to have long talks, he has become someone I’m comfortable to exchange lines or emotions (for the movie). We never met outside work before this, but working together with him seems to be very smooth-sailing.
Should we talk about those days when you first dreamed of becoming an actor? You withdrew from the college you attended and entered Korea National University of Arts at the age of 25. You did not join any theater club or act prior to that, so was there any special reason that made you return to college? I was around 21~22 years when I first had the urge to try acting as I wandered around Daehak-ro. I thought that with 1~2 years of acting experience, I would be able to make a decision. In order to continue walking on this path, one needs to have the talent or love for acting. But then, as time went by, I realized that I did not have much confidence in either of them. In order to make my dream come true without giving up halfway, I thought that I needed something as the reason for me to keep going.
However, people who have worked with you expressed their confidence for actor Lee Je-hoon. Director Yoon Sung-hyun said that you were a gifted actor when he reminisced about the days working together for the movie Bleak Night, and actor Park Jung-min said that your pathos, energy, and your internal strength as an actor were remarkable. Having heard such remarks ever since you were a rookie actor, doesn’t it mean that you are born to be an actor? I’m not really sure about that. It seems that I was able to hear those words coming from the people who discovered me and brought out something from within me. The director and writer casted me, while the filming director made me as his subject, all which made it possible for me (to hear those words of praise). It is impossible for me to be seen clearly without the light from the lighting director. No matter how confident I am with my own acting, without these people, it would be impossible for me to shine as an actor.
It has been about 17 years since you debuted through the indie movie Truth, Litmus. It might be due to your appearance which haven’t changed much compared to Seung-min in the movie Introduction to Architecture, so we did not imagine that your years of experience had been that long. Wow, it’s been that long already. Now that I think about it, I even set up a production company with people who worked together with me in Truth, Litmus. (laughs)
Was it 2 years ago? You set up the production company Hard Cut with director Yang Kyung-mo and producer Kim Yoo-gyeong. That’s right. I tried to imagine what kind of work I would be able to do if I happened to be unable to continue to act by choice or by force. Would I be able to do something else, or is there something I wanted to do? But then, it turned out that there weren’t many options. Even if I could no longer act, I wanted to be someone who would be a part of the filming set. I could be the person giving the ideas, or I could even be the youngest member of the lighting team holding the reflector board. That was how I came to set up Hard Cut, which made me experience lots of new things; how much I love movies and how should I continue with my acting from now on. All those things that I was unable to see before suddenly became visible to me. When it comes to filmmaking, I have the will to do anything from whatever position it is.
We are curious about the concerns an actor of 17 years in the industry. Rather than concern, I have the thought that now is the moment to make relentless effort. There are so many things I’ve yet to show and improve, not to mention my desire to meet decent projects. Sometimes, I wonder whay my answer would be if I am to receive this question 10 year, but it would be great if my answer remains unchanged. I want to be an actor with endless thirst for acting.
Do you have moments when you feel glorious? During the holidays? (laughs) Special movie screenings are held on those public holidays. If my projects are shown on those screenings, I feel so thankful. They could be popular movies or works with good messages, but regardless of the reason, they are all meaningful.
What kind of title you would like to see being attached to Actor Lee Je-hoon? An Irreplaceable Actor. That itself is the greatest compliment, don’t you think so?