Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Interview: Lee Min Jung

10: "Cyrano Agency" is a movie which contains elements of humor throughout. You seem to have said many times that you had fun reading the script so where was it that you broke out into laughter?
Lee Min-jung: The scene where Sang-yong (played by Choi Daniel) objects to the pastor's sermon? I thought it was really funny while reading the script when he asked for a deal, demanding the pastor end his sermon in an hour "Including the sermon, singing hymns and the words of guidance!" and the pastor responds "You win."

10: But I think the script must've been different from the completed movie.
Lee: Because there are parts of the script which have been expressed down to every detail while some things did not manage to make it into the movie. And there are parts which were changed on set as well.

10: In that sense, I think you may think that the scenes you like from the script and scenes you like from the movie must be different.
Lee: Well since it's our movie, I have an affinity for it and I think it's fun but I think the parts I'm not in are more interesting because I can look at them from a more objective stance. For example, I wasn't able to watch the incident which occurs in the beginning of the film being shot so it was better getting to see it in the movie. I think the beginning of the movie was done well. The incident opened up the element of humor. I think going into a movie knowing there are elements of humor in it is different from finding out in the middle that it is funny in parts. For example, I laughed out loud in the theater while watching director Park Chan-wook's "Thirst" but I think others didn't laugh because they didn't know it was black comedy. I think our movie does well in the beginning to show that as well.
10: Did you choke up as well?
Lee: In the part I just mentioned. It felt like Hee-joong is being cured. And I liked the fact he would start new love after being cured. I think there's a good mix of romance and comedy in our film. It's not a romantic comedy where there is more comedy.

10: Like so, it seems that the movie touches on universal emotions and the elements of humor and progress of plot are portrayed in a clean-cut manner. But on the other hand, like you mentioned just now, there are slightly maniac works like "Thirst." Which do you enjoy more?
Lee: I actually think that movies need to be fun. I won't blame someone who wants to make a minor picture which does not care about how commercial it is but instead focuses on it having a clear characteristics and fun, but I think it would be best if it's both commercial and fun. I like movies which are fun in general but I also like films which have been shown only in a few theaters such as "500 Days of Summer" and "Eternal Sunshine." It's not as if "Eternal Sunshine" is considered to have less cinematic quality because it doesn't run in theaters for a long time. It's important that it's gripping even if it may be a slightly minor movie. But movies are the result of commercialism as well as being an artwork. So I think it's best if it can satisfy both sides rather than lean to one side.

10: It's rare that happens so on.
Lee: That's right. That's what we call a masterpiece.

10: But like you say, as rare it is for a masterpiece to be created, shouldn't you have to xxx a various range of films to broaden your perspective on those two aspects?
Lee: I used to read a lot of books and watch a lot of movies in the past but I'm so busy that I haven't been able to any of that recently. I've been drained in terms of cultural sentiment. I think I'll have to run away somewhere with a few books and my iPod once I'm done promoting "Cyrano." I've been pouring out so much that I need time to recharge. Watching films is as important as shooting them but I was so tired that when I recently went to watch "Inception," I fell asleep. And I had really wanted to watch it because everybody was praising it. I saw how the main characters dream but I didn't know whether they were dreaming or if I was dreaming about "Inception." (laugh) And then I woke up right when the main character spins his top at the end. I was able to presume roughly from that ending what the conclusion was about.

10: But everyone would let out an 'oh' for that scene.
Lee: Everyone really did. (laugh) And that's why I thought, ah, it's a well-made movie. I should watch it when I'm not tired.

10: What style of books do you like?
Lee: I like Alain de Botton, and I've purchased Haruki Murakami's "1Q84" but haven't been able to read it. Of Korean writers, I like Kim Young-ha and works like "Salivate" by Kim Ae-ran. And it's a bit obvious but I also like Guillaume Musso who writes captivatingly. Now that I think about it, I really haven't been able to read at all the past year. I'm going to run away after promoting our movie. I'm going to break my mobile phone. (laugh)

10: But aren't you able to use what you watched back then in your acting now?
Lee: An actor can't experience everything so I think it's a positive thing to see what you've imagined through books in more detail. It's the same with watching other people's acting or a theater performance. So I tended to put in an effort to do as a large variety of this as possible. In middle school, I liked to listen to music so saving up the allowance my mom gives me to buy one or two CDs was the moment I waited for the most. A lot of the music I heard back then is left in my memory but after becoming able to download music or buy several CDs at once now, I just pass the music I don't like. Before I used to listen to a CD on my CD player until I buy a new album. I think such experiences are good.

10: You talk of such experiences in the past tense. Exactly until which point does that apply retroactively?
Lee: Before SBS drama "Smile, You"? I had some time to see such things before but from then on, I really just went forward and gave it my everything.

10: I can easily understand how you were busy from then on. I just thought that it would come earlier. Right after KBS' "Boys Over Flowers."
Lee: But "Smile, You" went into shoot in August of last year and "Boys Over Flowers" ended in April. I need at least three months break! If you think that's late, how am I going to take a break at all after this movie. (laugh)

10: Oh, I'm not talking about the time gap. I'm just saying that works like "Searching for the Elephant" and "White Knight" are surprising choices.
Lee: Ah, there was "White Knight." I really haven't rested. "White Knight" could have been a bit surprising. My character was re-created from an investigator from the original work.

10: And aside from the fact that "Searching for the Elephant" was rated 19, it was about destruction.
Lee: It was released late but I actually filmed that before "Boys Over Flowers." There were people who said they felt a maniac fun but it was more of a fantasy film than realistic.

10: It was surprising because it came out after "Boys Over Flowers."
Lee: I think having appeared in a film with a slightly minor code has rather served as the foundation to me shooting commercial films and getting where I am today.

10: So you're saying that it has accumulated within you, like how you watched movies and read books?
Lee: You put it in a very nice way. (laugh)

10: Well I get that you're the type that also likes unique dramas or movies and you do not favor a particular genre. But if this movie does well, immediately after the success of "Smile, You," you may not be able to take on roles in such works anymore.
Lee: As of now, I'm foremost thankful that I can appear in a larger range of works. As the many times as I had flopped auditions because of the fact that I was not recognized, I really like how I have a large choice now, and I don't think I should limit myself when it comes to acting or genre selection. I haven't just taken a single path so far -- I've done plays, dramas and movies. I think it'll serve as the foundation to me not become a limited actress even if I may at one point reach the pinnacle of being a well-made actress.

10: When I look at your filmography, I have faith that you will be such an actress. But when you become a star, isn't there a point you reach where you aren't free to act as you want?
Lee: I've felt that a lot too. I hadn't known it before but I've become surprised at how important my words have become in things such as the process of casting. For example, I'll be asked what I think of a certain person. And I think that makes my decision-making process more difficult. Having more responsibility and more say isn't always a good thing. It means there will definitely be as much of what I'm limited to do and I think it'll be something I have to solve, face and break by taking on roles. That's the way doing movies won't be scary. So that's what I think but I don't know. I haven't been on that road yet so....

10: But you still want to reach the top?
Lee: I do. But this is what I heard from actress Cha Hwa-yeon -- that she went into hiding after she swept all of Korea with "Love and Ambition." She said she suffered from depression putting her soul into her acting because she knew there was nothing more that she could show. Because all there was left was for her to come down from the top. It's good to hit the pinnacle but I've been told a lot that you have to quit after that. Some people are more extreme about it -- they say an artist has to die when he or she hits the pinnacle. And so whenever I hear this, I think to myself 'I'm still a rookie.

10: Do you still feel like you're a rookie?
Lee: I haven't done that many films or dramas yet and I'm now into about my fifth year into acting so aren't I still a rookie?

10: Then what do you think about the popularity you currently have as a rookie?
Lee: Hmm... There has been a time period during which the public didn't know me so I don't think I'm the sort that became a star in a day. I think I took one step at a time. Although "Boys Over Flowers" helped me to take about two steps up.

10: Will "Cyrano Agency" do the same for you as well?
Lee: (laugh) That would be great.

10: Like you said yourself, you have a filmography which contains quite a diverse range of works. It's just that it seems those steps you took, which were below the surface, popped up one day quite suddenly.
Lee: That's true but I don't feel that it's unfair. Every actor goes through such a period. Lee Min-ho has played a big screen role where he dies as soon as he makes an appearance. You're bound to see your friends do well while you're playing minor or supporting roles. And I don't think it's necessary to parade those experiences or time periods. It's not like you say 'I came here because I didn't make it into the other company' when you join a new company. (laugh)

10: Do you think such experiences have made you stronger?
Lee: Yes. I have cried a lot and considered quitting many times. But in a way, I think there's a time when you overcome all that. The agency I was at before I joined "Boys Over Flowers" went bankrupt. So I was in a state where I was just tired and couldn't do anything. Then I met the CEO at my current agency and I was thinking I would give it another shot when I was handed "Boys Over Flowers." It helped me get back on my feet, so that I could run my next round by the time I was tired from the previous round. And it happened to work out well for me so it definitely helped people recognize me more. From then on, it became extremely easy to choose a role or take one on. That's when I realized, 'Ah, so this is why I kept failing in the past.' There's an advantage to having people recognize your name and face. Even if you may think you want to become not a star but an actor, I think the relationship between the two is quite indefinite. You don't get roles just because you're a star but if you're thinking you just want to be an actor, then you may not be able to take on any roles till you die.

10: So you're saying that you can't just do one but then it must be important to protect yourself to avoid becoming oppressed by the star status you may achieve whether it be through this movie or future works.
Lee: I think so too. I have actually thought about whether this work fits me or not. Because if you're going to be in this industry, you have to be picky, lie to people a lot, and tell people I am a such and such person, but I'm not good at that. I just speak honestly and what's good is just good. Even when someone recognizes me on the street, it's not a natural thing, I think 'oh,' but I guess I should instead politely say hello. They are things I might have to be working on to do this work but it's very hard.

10: When you appeared on MBC variety show "Come Play" and said it's nice to see how Lee Ha-neul enjoys himself even though he is in his fourties, I wonder if you had the desire to feel that as well.
Lee: It's because I though there was nothing that seems more happy than seeing a singer enjoy him or herself on stage. No matter how hard I try to enjoy myself, I'm sure it becomes more difficult to as the after evaluation becomes tougher. But I think Lee Ha-neul, or just DJ DOC in general, are very good at it. I don't think I'd be able to show as much energy from passion. I recently shot a TV commercial for a Korean liquor with them and we shot it overnight but it was extremely fun rather than difficult.

10: Then are you enjoying yourself right now?
Lee: I just feel great right now. I feel like I'm just doing what I've been doing for a while now, although I'm sometimes taken aback when someone says, "Wow, you've done this much?" but I'm a bit excited because people have been saying good things about our upcoming movie. I find it hard to fall asleep when I go home.

Reporter : Wee Geun-woo 
Photographer : Chae ki-won 
Editor : Jessica Kim, Lee Ji-Hye
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