He made his face known through “Kimchi Cheese Smile” and left a strong impression through “Will It Snow For Christmas?” He was then acknowledged his potential through “Giant” and “Dream High,” and stirred female viewers’ hearts through “Moon Embracing the Sun” and “The Thieves.” In a relatively short time, Kim Soo-hyun went from being the boy next door to a man of one’s fantasies. His life during the past year in particular, following the showing of “Moon Embracing the Sun,” will have been astonishing and amazing for the 25-year-old actor. From ‘the rising star of the movie scene’ to ‘the blue chip of the advertising market’ to ‘a star with both acting skills and star quality,’ only praise after praise and much attention has chased around the young star. But what does the actor himself think of all the reaction and response surrounding him? This was what TenAsia wanted to know through an interview with Kim. It just so happened that the interview was on a quiet evening where rain was drizzling outside. Perfect for a heart-to-heart talk.
Q. Do you like rainy days?
Kim: Days like today. Where it stops raining, then rains again – I like weather that changes like that. And I also like the unique smell that rain has. The air started to smell like summer after turning warmish a few days ago. I like the smell of nature, like the smell that grass has too. But I don’t love it when during the rainy season it just rains too much.
Q. You must have a keen sense of smell.
Kim: A bit. I eat everything well now but I used to be really picky because of the smell of food. I couldn’t touch seafood in particular. But my friend told me, “If you don’t eat food from the sea, you’re giving up on eating 70 percent of the foodstuff that’s available on earth. Eat seafood and become a man.” (Laughs) I still don’t know how seafood has anything to do with becoming a man, but I’ve been eating it well from that day onwards.
Q. I read up on all the interviews you’ve done in the past and most of them said similar things. ‘Kim Soo-hyun is a good actor,’ ‘He is well-mannered and humble,’ etc. Would you say that’s the real you?
Kim: I think I change depending on the situation. But aren’t most people that way? I’m different at home, different at school, different when doing interviews. And I think everybody must be like that. For doing interviews in particular… I probably do and say only the things that are necessary. I think.
Q. There are still actors that say whatever they want for interviews. But how would I describe you… It somehow feels like you only give perfect answers.
Kim: Me? Ah… (Looks at manager) Well I guess I’m doing a good job then. (Laughs)
Q. (Laugh) Maybe you’re the type that minds other people’s perceptions of you?
Kim: I was definitely like that last year in particular. I was so mindful of it that I couldn’t even speak properly because I was worried I might mistakenly say something wrong. And it made it hard for me to make friends. I had a hard time becoming close to someone unless that person somehow broke through that shield I had.
Q. I wonder what made it so difficult.
Kim: When I suddenly received a lot of love, I felt a huge burden on my shoulders. So I got scared and just kept caving in and sinking. I kept hiding, running away, and defending myself. Because I became obsessed with the fact that I need to be careful, I increasingly became this mystery guy and got very intimidated. I just fell small. And I just hated it. The feeling of becoming smaller and smaller, that’s what I had a hard time with.
Q. We’ve all seen so many stars shoot to success one day but then bring failure upon themselves because they haven’t been able to cope with their popularity. The good thing is that you seem to be somewhat wary of your popularity.
Kim: Does it seem like that? I had even gotten to the point where I thought, ‘Maybe I’m not meant to do this… Why am I so scared?’ I couldn’t even leave my house when I was at my worst. But all of a sudden, I thought, ‘Wait, this is ridiculous!’ From that day onward, I forced myself to go out and actively met my friends because I wanted to break through these suppressed feelings I had. And after finishing filming of “Secretly Greatly,” I went back to school, and the good thing about school was that it helped me find my freedom in a natural way. Because in school, I very naturally met people my age and got to live my own life. I think that’s why people tell me I look better these days.
Q. I heard that you first took up acting because you wanted to change your timid personality. But it seems that you’re still looking to change something within yourself.
Kim: Because I need to sustain my life! (Laughs)
Q. I think you could have more trust and confidence in yourself.
Kim: I do think I have confidence. It’s just that I have just as much fear.
Q. Then when is the moment that you become most confident?
Kim: When I let go of myself. When I act after letting go of myself. And I was able to do that for “Secretly Greatly.” It felt refreshing to be able to give up on being myself in many ways by playing the role of the neighborhood idiot. I mean, all of us act formal to a certain extent when we meet someone, right? And there are things that celebrities in particular need to be careful about. But I was able to ease myself a lot in that regard by playing my character that’s naive to the point that he is a fool.
Q. This is your first movie as the main character. And I think you must feel both excited and pressured. Which feeling is bigger right now, ahead of the film’s release?
Kim: I’m more excited right now. I felt pressured before the movie went into filming. I was pressured to do well because it was based on a popular webtoon, it was my first film as the main character, and there were some intensive action scenes I had to do. I also had to learn to speak with a North Korean dialect. In a way, I guess I felt more pressure because I was basically playing two characters by myself.
Q. I think having played a monumental loser in your debut film “Kimchi Cheese Smile” must’ve helped you play your character for this movie.
Kim: I think I’ve had it within me since then. (Laughs)
Q. Do you think you’ve changed a lot since the beginning of your career?
Kim: I think I’m in at a neither-here-nor-there state. I used to be braver! I used to just throw myself at my roles. But you know, I’m now at the point where I don’t know a lot yet I know a bit. I know enough to get embarrassed and I know enough to get scared and back off. That’s sort of where I am.
Q. Maybe that’s why but when I see your acting, it sometimes seems that you go beyond working hard, to the point that it seems you’re acting with desperation.
Kim: Oh! Is that the impression you got yesterday (at the preview for “Secretly Greatly”)?
Q. So what I’m trying to say is that a lot of people seem to acknowledge the fact that you’re a good actor that also works hard. Yet sometimes, it slightly feels as if you’re pressuring yourself to be perfect.
Kim: If I showed any loose ends or imperfections with expressing my character, it would mean I was being vague and that’s dangerous. Starting last year, I’ve played a large variety of characters including an imaginary king, a young thief and the neighborhood fool. If my movie or show doesn’t do well, even when I’ve played my character well, I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it. But if the project did well but it seemed like I could’ve done more with my character? That’s scarier for me right now than the project itself failing.
Reporter. Jung Si Woo email@example.com
Photographer. Chae Ki Won firstname.lastname@example.org
Translator. Jessica Kim
Editor. Hong Ji You email@example.com