“You better feel honored that you got to see a drama like this!” Dokgo Jin of MBC TV series “The Greatest Love” shouted out at the end of the show’s last episode. So was it Dokgo Jin or Cha Seung-won that laughed confidently while he said this? The time during which this drama aired, when the border between drama and reality broke down, existed between Cha and his character Dokgo Jin as well. Cha, who is a top star like Dokgo Jin, has lived in the imaginary entertainment industry that Dokgo did, for 22 years. And Dokgo adopted Cha’s trademark moustache and beard as well as the product he endorses. Of course, the Cha in reality is not a 37-year-old single man and does not have a past of being a sick boy. But like he said, he came to think “there is actually an actor named Dokgo Jin in Korea” and that they existed “as separate people, not a Dokgo Jin played by Cha.” There are many actors who play their characters realistically and embed their images into their roles. But few hypnotize viewers to make people mix reality and an imaginary situation.
However, no matter how loved the show was, it is not easy for a character of a timely drama to overcome the passage of time. Like Kim Joo-won (“Secret Garden”) and Gu Joon-pyo (“Boys Over Flowers”), Dokgo Jin too will weather. But even if Dokgo Jin disappears, Cha will remain. The Cha who managed to show “the cuteness to men” through not a confession but admittance and not love but bragging. Here is the interview through which you can ‘recharge’ yourself.
Dokgo Jin and Goo Ae-jung have been loved by viewers to the extent that the story went as far as to show what happens after everything happens, in sort of a ‘and they lived happily ever after’ way. And you had enjoyed popularity as character Jo Gook in SBS’ “City Hall” as well. How do the two experiences compare?
Cha : It feels different from then. Because “The Greatest Love” has been a very popular drama. And I think “City Hall” is doing well too thanks to the popularity of “The Greatest love.” I was told there’s response to it in Taiwan and Japan as well. But it’s only been possible because “City Hall” was a drama with great quality. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to work on a drama like that ever again. Also, something I felt once again was that when it comes to projects, the script needs to be good. A good script brings out the characters, helps whatever is done not seem awkward and can move people. It also keeps the story from straying from its original plot. I think everything is thanks to the script.
What were your thoughts on Dokgo Jin when you first got the show’s script? He didn’t have much weight in the beginning.
Cha: I think there were about two episodes worth of script that was out and I didn’t want to play a character that was going to be obvious. There’s a typical image to the main characters in these sorts of dramas – they’re always amazing and try to seem amazing – so I wanted to change that. In a way, Dokgo Jin is very bad-tempered and narrow-minded. He is also extremely defensive. But he’s hard to hate. Everybody probably different has different standards to what being amazing is but I think it’s the cuteness they show in a situation that isn’t 100 percent romantic. And that’s the sort of guy I wanted to play. For example, it’s something like this. It’s not about the man doing something a lot for the woman because he loves her but him usually not being able to do something for her but that heart of his getting delivered to her more because he did it when she’s having a hard time.
Dokgo Jin was definitely the guy who makes a big deal out of the times he treats Goo well and hesitated over love because of realistic calculations.
Cha: In dramas, guys usually speak their emotions of ‘This is how I came to love you and this is how I came to give you my heart.’ I didn’t like that. What viewers fall for is when a character doesn’t reveal his feelings but they get delivered anyway. And from then on, no matter how hateful that person acts, people believe that that’s not his true feelings and understand it as being part of his personality. People support him and don’t say that he’s a bad person. Then when he grabs at that woman when she’s standing at the end of a cliff, that’s when he completely wins over every woman’s heart. (laugh) “The Greatest Love” was a drama that was equipped very well with such setups. I wanted to play a character who would move back and forth between comedic and conventional and this was a drama that was equipped very well for that. I was worried that switching between the two might seem very weird but there were even times that both comedy and conventional existed within a single scene. We’d shoot a sad scene but not end sad but funny. And it wouldn’t be that he’d turn around and cry but end the scene with a laugh in an ironical situation. I think the repetition of this made Dokgo Jin a character that differentiated him from characters in other dramas.
Like you said, the comical aspect to Dokgo Jin was the difference between him and the typical main male characters to other romantic comedies. It’s true that we weren’t able to see your unique style of humor in your recent works but it looked like you went all out with the comical set ups in this drama.
Cha: The humor I do isn’t ordinary. It’s quite affected and technical. And it’s a style that could be repulsive but it worked well with Dokgo Jin’s character. I was actually half in doubt. He could’ve easily been hated by people because he comes off as a very strong person in the way he talks and acts. But once people accept him, whatever he does passes. These are the sort of characters that make you laugh even when you see them on the street. That’s why it’s also okay for him to say weird onomatopoeic words and lines. That’s why there was a lot I could do with him. And [Kong] Hyo-jin played a character that is quite realistic so the contradiction between us was what made our drama more rich. The drama would’ve been very boring if two very ordinary characters met and too over-the-top if it was between two characters that weren’t like that. There was a good balance between the two in “The Greatest Love.”
You were in an environment where you can show all the comical elements that you want but I don’t think it would’ve been easy to find the balance between romantic and comical because you had to switch off between the two at time, even in a single scene, under a large amount of time constraint.
Cha: I try to look at my script as much as I can. I’m someone that act with my mind at ease when I’m well-acquainted with the script. I can try out this and that only after I’m so well-acquainted with the script that I can play around with the dialogue. Whether it’s with a theatrical play, drama or movie, there are some elements you need to calculate because you can’t pull them off with merely with realism. And the more I look at the script, the more ideas and lines come up. And I use them at the right times. Viewers watch dramas because they are interested in the relationships between people. So I try to look at those relationships from various perspectives and angles. Even if I’m acting with one other person, I’m always telling myself that I need to look at what I do from a third person’s point of view, the other person’s and mine.
You said on your me2day account that you go back and forth between Dokgo Jin and your actual self.
Cha: These days, I spent more time preparing and filming as Dokgo Jin than living an ordinary life. So I’m sure there are habits or practicies that the body has gotten used to. People who wouldn’t know that may think I’m possessed with him (laugh) but it’s only natural because we filmed 24 hours straight.
“The Greatest Love” depicted on show business as it is in reality, not in the form of a fantasy, from the star Dokgo Jin to Goo Ae-jung who was a celebrity to make a living to their managers, to reporters who dig up facts on their lives to malicious ocmments on the web that drive them to death.
Cha: It showed better in the script. Things are crazy these days because of malicious comments and there’s a scene where Dokgo Jin sues the people who post up those comments. It turns out though those people are college professors, elementary school students and ordinary housewives. But they’d write things like, ‘So is Goo’s baby dead since she got in an accident?’ And when you ask them why they did that, they say ‘Just.’ So one of the reasons I have a good opinion on our drama is that it doesn’t just look into the fun things that happen in the entertainment industry.
You’ve been in the entertainment industry for over 20 years now so a lot of thoughts must’ve come to your mind when you come across such portrayal of that.
Cha: I think people think only of themselves too much. Once someone starts getting attacked, others do as well even without ill-will. But it gradually gets worse. So I’m hoping that people think about this at least once and look back on themselves. Things such as, ‘Why do I hate that person in particular? Why am I attacking?’ For now, I don’t think they really have a reason. They said, ‘Just,’ didn’t they? It’s disappointing.
Well that issue is handled in the drama but when it comes to ill comments on the Internet, I think the media is not entirely free from the responsibility of writing about them and rumors.
Cha: I once talked about (Choi) Seung-hyun in an interview while working on film “71 Into the Fire.” And the reporter asked me what I thought of his acting. He’s young and doesn’t have any acting experience so of course he wouldn’t be good. But he’s not someone who regards acting as an easy job. He puts in a lot of effort into acting which he in his own way, finds value in, so I think he should be respected for that. So I said he doesn’t act like he’s somebody because he’s an idol star and Seung-hyun really worked hard for three months, living his life as his character, but the reporter just wrote, ‘Choi Seung-hyun is bad at acting.’ I think there are reporters who should reflect on themselves and that everybody should think about this problem.
Actor Kim Seung-woo recently said at a press conference for MBC’s “Miss Ripley” that he wished he could play Dokgo Jin. (laugh) But there are actually very few actors of your age that can play the main character to romantic comedies. And that can be a huge advantage for you but in a way, I’m sure you’re nervous about having to maintain that status.
Cha: Romantic comedies are very much a genre I’ve wanted to do. I don’t know how many more I’ll get to do but I think love stories are always great. (laugh) I want to appear in more of them because I think there’ll never be changes to portraying love and loving someone. The problem is this — how people will receive it. People used to respect actors who act out the troubles and hardships to life in serious projects but I think that’s wrong. But that’ll limit the range of choice or acting actors do and there are so many actors who have so much to show through numerous genres so I think it’s wrong for them to be devaluated because of that. Actors have characteristics of their own so I’m thinking that the atmosphere will gradually change to them being respected for that?
Dokgo Jin did everything he could to protect Goo Ae-jung when he himself was on the verge of life and death. What is one that you, as Cha Seung-won, want to protect till the very end?
Cha: What I want to protect till the very end is my family. But not just my family but my family including myself. Because to protect them, I have to be there for them. I want to protect my family and be their fence. Being in entertainment, there are many elements that try to step into the boundaries of our lives. So I need to protect them from those. I’ve said this before but I’m a very aggressive person. And I will stay this way. I don’t care if that doesn’t make me a nice guy when I need to make a decision to protect my family. (laugh)
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Reporter : Lee Ji-Hye seven@
Photographer : Lee Jin-hyuk eleven@
Editor : Jessica Kim jesskim@