Thursday, June 17, 2010


'A rapper with the face of a wolf yet the soul of a lamb.' This exquisite sentence a fan wrote on the Internet may be the most clear description of T.O.P (Choi Seung-hyun). He is a rapper with sharp eyes and a tough voice but has the sentimentality to like Damian Rice and Labelle. And he is a member of one of Korea's top idol groups but was once a boy who fought against his inner insecurities. That is why it is useless to ask what sort of actor T.O.P wants to be or what project he has planned next as a rapper. Because as he has been doing from his teen years and continues to do so, he will write lyrics to express himself while sitting at his desk. And he said he chose to take on the role of Oh Jang-beom in "Into Fire" because he felt he was looking at himself. 10Asia sat down with the 24-year-old singer and actor to talk about his acting, rapping and Choi Seung-hyun.

10: How does it feel doing an interview alone, without members of your group Big Bang?

T.O.P: I didn't have to talk a lot when I'm with them because there are those who are good at speaking but I have to talk a lot now. I think they'll make me talk a lot when I go back as a member of Big Bang so I think I should do a poor job of speaking at interviews. (laugh)

10: This is your third time working as an actor. How is it? It could either become increasingly enjoyable or burdensome.

T.O.P: In the past, I never did anything without hesitation, whatever it may be. I would enjoy myself but I always had concerns and I tried to be careful. And I think it was because I was scared of something but I think I don't have that fear anymore. I think "Into Fire" has had a good influence on me.

10: I met with Cha Seung-won and Kim Seung-woo before interviewing you. And they would both call you 'Our Seung-hyun' when referring to you. (laugh) I think they liked you a lot.

T.O.P: I am so grateful to the senior actors and director I worked with for "Into Fire." I feel uncomfortable around adults and try to be polite to them so they might feel that I'm hard to approach. But the senior actors [from "Into Fire"] approached me first, helping me to become close with them. I felt a lot from seeing how they would be the director and senior actors on set but treat me as if I'm their younger brother when we're done filming.

10: Has your own life or sentimentality influenced the shooting for the film?

T.O.P: I felt a lot while looking at my senior actors. I like figure skating and it's because there's a certain stability to it. I think I'm drawn to how figure skating gives off the vibe of being an orderly entirety which is firm and stable, and I think I got a similar feeling of stability from the actors in "Into Fire." I felt a lot seeing how they would constantly call their families when they don't have shoots because I've never been in such a stable state before. I would wonder what would happen tomorrow or if tomorrow will even come. But I think I've found more composure after doing "Into Fire."

10: Is that why you chose to play the role of Oh Jang-beom in "Into Fire"? He's a 17-year-old boy but he has to risk his life for a war. So he's someone who can't help feeling nervous because he really can't tell what will lie ahead of him the next day.

T.O.P: That's why I was drawn to it. Because he's a nervous 17-year-old boy. On the other hand, I thought that both I and Oh would want to become stable adults. I felt that Oh is similar to the actual me, especially how he is when he is alone. That's why I wanted to try to become him as much as possible.

10: When you played Vick in KBS TV series "IRIS," I understand that you imagined your character thinking, 'If there were a character like Vick in film "Clockwork Orange."' I think that is proof of how much you thought of him as an imaginary character but I think you must've shown a lot of your actual self in "Into Fire."

T.O.P: I tried to inject as much of my real self as possible into my role. So I felt that I wasn't acting out an imaginary character but myself. I wouldn't say I have matured completely yet but I've lived my twenties pursuing various types of experiences and I think I'm maturing, little by little. I wanted to project that style of life I had lived into Oh Jang-beom. He has to take part in a war at 17 and lead a group of student soldiers which will mean he cannot help having many concerns and lead to him having no choice but to mature a lot during that short time period. I myself too would have been scared to play the role of Oh had I not matured at all.

10: How was it trying to express the emotions of a 17-year-old boy?

T.O.P: I think there is still a part to me which is young. It's also one of the reason's I like figure skating -- because I want to stay young. And my character Oh is innocent and humane in many ways which is completely different from what I have shown [to the audience and fans] so far so I tried to find this to me too.

10: What's different?

T.O.P: Up till now, I think I tried to package myself to seem like someone who is completely different from me. I'm not saying that I fooled myself and acted fake. I'm someone who does music and I have to show myself to the public. But I think I was worried that the closer I got with them, the more sick of me they would get. That's why I thought at one point that someone who does music should not be on TV too much. So there was a time when I tried to hide myself to keep the public from noticing this. I wanted to keep a distance from others. But I think I showed as much of myself as possible through "Into Fire."

10: I saw that you once said during an interview that you asked yourself questions to establish your character when doing "IRIS." What did you ask yourself this time?

T.O.P: I actually try to rid myself of those thoughts because I end up having too many questions. When I was acting before, I thought too much, wondering 'Is this right?' I went the opposite way this time around, ridding myself of complex thoughts and told myself I am acting like I do when I'm on stage. I don't have any know-how into how to establish my character like my great senior actors do. But I tried to use my five years of stage experience to establish my character. I couldn't do this production otherwise.

10: In Big Bang's essay book, you wrote that you refused to go to acting school when doing KBS' "I Am Sam" because you were worried your acting might become standardized. What about now?

T.O.P: Everybody probably has different thoughts on acting, but I think that's right for me considering my personality. So far, I prefer maintaining the experiences I've had or emotions I have felt and reflect them into my acting rather than become standardized by learning something. For example, I thought about what my rapping voice should be like for 10 years until I came to use my current voice that I came up with myself. It's not my original voice but something I've purposely come up with so the head of my agency too tells me that I use a different type of vocalization technique to rap. So I'm taking the same approach with acting too -- that I'm slowly establishing my style. Only then I think I will be able to learn the technicalities.

10: You need to concentrate that much on your role to act but isn't it difficult to do that while also pursuing a singing career in Japan?

T.O.P: I listened to music on the film's set to focus on my emotions. I had no know-how whatsoever when it comes to immersing myself into my role so I wanted to graft music into the process.

10: What kind of music did you listen to?

T.O.P: I listened only to classical music for six months while shooting "Into Fire." I listened to a lot of Labelle. And I've been listening to Nine Inch Nails recently. I switch back and forth. (laugh)
10: Labelle is so elegant that women usually like it more.
T.O.P: There's a very feminine side to me. I'll write manly lyrics, those that will suit my voice but I think I also understand women's sentimentality to a certain point too. I think such aspects influence my rapping and acting too.

10: What's the difference between rapping and acting?

T.O.P: When I'm with Big Bang, I show who I am as TOP but when I'm acting, I think I show who I am as 24-year-old Choi Seung-hyun. Of course, both are me and both enjoy music. But I think TOP is an imaginary character who I had been picturing in my mind. He's another me that is not quite me. On the other hand, I am myself while doing this interview and a lot of the me you see right now is reflected into my acting.

10: Now that I think of it, I think there were many times you were acting as your imaginary character on stage. Especially when you do featurings for female singers like Gummy or Uhm Jung-hwa.

T.O.P: I'm a rapper and I believe rappers are people who deliver messages. That's why it's important that I am remembered in many people's minds so I try to deliver my emotions and messages through certain expressions. With "I'm Sorry," I imagined myself as a boy who has been hurt emotionally and with "DISCO" I tried to show an imaginary being like the robot Jude Law acted as in his film.

10: I think that's how differently you rap depending on the situation you're in. Your voice changes a lot too between the Korean and Japanese songs, just like the style of songs change. The song "Tell Me Goodbye" that you recently released in Japan left a strong impression in particular. The rap is more melodical so that it suits Japanese tastes and you cry in the music video while rapping. It's as if the actor TOP and TOP in Japan has been added onto the normal you.

T.O.P: I was supposed to just lip-sync that part, not act it out. But I think I hadn't been able to free myself of my character Oh Jang-beom from "Into Fire" because it had been less than a week since I had wrapped up filming it. I think I just cried, without knowing what it's about or what character I'm supposed to be. That's why the music video director asked me why I cried. (laugh)

10: I think your acting has influenced your music, and your music your acting.

T.O.P: I think so. I think I apply who I am as a rapper and an actor while trying to learn to act at 24, putting in the effort to develop a style of my own, and trying not to waste my time. I think I'm learning to do what only I can do rather than do what other people know how to do.

10: Doesn't that mean the thoughts that you have at a certain point will be that much more projected into your rap?

T.O.P: I'm a rapper so I don't want to do anything that isn't meaningful, even when it comes to acting. As a rapper or as an actor, I want to become someone who delivers certain messages. That was why I was able to take on "Into Fire" too. I spent a lonely childhood and it wasn't because of the situation I was in but I just had a lot of complex thoughts. I felt lost for a while too. Oh Jang-beom from "Into Fire" reminded me of my teens. I think that's why I was able to do it.

10: When I look at your lyrics, it seems you constantly have concerns but that you're thinking about how to overcome your present state.

T.O.P: I'm always asking myself questions. I think I had complicated thoughts in my teens. I spent a lot of time sitting at my desk to write lyrics. That's why when I write lyrics, I don't like becoming a storyteller who lays out a detailed picture for the listener. For example, talking about where I am right now and where my love is going to. (laugh) 

I prefer to write what the listener can sympathize with, yet leave out a certain amount of my thoughts so that everyone can think their individual thoughts. And more than anything, it's important that it seems sincere.

10: I think that's why it becomes so important to know who you are. I understand that your grandfather had emphasized the important of meditating. Do you have time to meditate these days being so busy?

T.O.P: I haven't been able to recently. That's why I actually feel like I don't know who I am. I think I still haven't freed myself from Oh Jang-beom either. I think it may be because I don't have much acting experience. I felt that I threw myself into the role but I haven't been able to bring myself out from it yet. I had wanted to go on a trip after filming the movie although I don't have time to but I think I've been able to sort out my thoughts about myself while doing music.

10: I think you'd be able to discover who you are again by making music. What style of music do you want to make these days?

T.O.P: I've written lyrics since I've been 11-years-old and I've liked hip-hop. And honestly, I've grown a bit sick of it too because I've liked hip-hop up till now. (laugh) That's how much I've been listening to it. That's why I think it would be an issue of conscience to do just ordinary hip-hop music (laugh) so I've been trying to make music that is as refreshing as possible, containing fusion elements.

10: You work on a very tight and busy schedule but on the other hand, I think you would make music that is reflective.

T.O.P: That's why I think I'd make very difficult music. The head of my agency text messaged me one day and said my music moves too fast (for the public's taste). (laugh) That's what I'm worried about. People in this industry are so emotional that once they start to fall into another world, it's hard to come out of it. I think a smart person is someone who can separate his own world from what can be relayed to other people. I do my music to be shared with the public so I can't get lost in my own world. I sometimes think that my own world and communication with the public clashes.

10: Then what will your solo album be like?

T.O.P: I want to have a larger perspective and make an album in which each song is different from the others. I also hope I will be able to communicate with the public with them while writing unique lyrics. I think that the more attachment I have to the album, the more responsibility I feel for it. My agency's head told me that I don't need to do music that has mass appeal because what I do becomes that. I think it's neither good or bad to hear that (laugh) but then wouldn't that mean I should be able to do what I want to do and release an album when I want to? (laugh)

10: Last question. If you could write lyrics for a rap right now, what would you write?

T.O.P: A very sweet melody with sweet lyrics. (laugh) I think such lyrics will help me discover who I am.

Senior Reporter : Kang Myoung-Seok two@
Photographer : Chae ki-won ten@
Editor : Lee Ji-Hye seven@
Editor : Jessica Kim jesskim@
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