How do you grow a talent
He counts amongst the hottest Korean male stars this year. In a world of abundant Oppas occupying the Hallyusphere, YongPali (The Gang Doctor) has broken through the 20% ratings threshold, putting it as the highest rated kDrama in 2015 to date. With a passion for work and a relentless schedule all these years, he has blazed a trail with most of his productions. Yet we hardly hear of him in the media. Often playing the genius though once taking on the role of a simpleton, who exactly is Joo Won? He would tell you, “I’m not one who is reckless or wild.”
Compared to his popular contemporaries with lively personalities, he seems a lot quieter and subdued.
Perhaps that is just his personality. As a child, he was introverted and reserved. Desiring to change that aspect of his character, he took up drama classes and inadvertently discovered his life’s passion. An unassuming youth, he gradually became a star. Fate has certainly been re-written, but his fundamental personality remains.
A 29-year-old man, but still bashful.
In person, he spent 80% of the time looking at his interpreter as she spoke; 10% of the time, he looked at the table. And the remaining 10%, he would look at the interviewer.
It’s not that he’s aloof. After the photoshoot, just as he sat down for the interview, the first thing he did was smile and grab some candy off the table for a bite, and the feeling I got was that of watching a kid getting caught sneaking sweets he shouldn’t have. And when he gets excited, he will start to gesticulate as he speaks.
Each question was carefully answered despite the likelihood that he had already been asked these questions countless times through the marathon sessions of interviews he’d already had.
Since his debut, he has played the lead role in many of his dramas and his appearance in them being a guarantee of high ratings. This has earned him the moniker of “Ratings Man”, leading to him being the envy of many. Everyone always looks at his successes, yet he offers that last year’s production, “Tomorrow Cantabile” did not do well (in the ratings). But there is strength in weakness.
He will enlist in the army at the end of next year, and this is a time when most stars start to feel some level of anxiety (for their career). However, he has told South Korean media that, “There will be those who will forget me, but there will be those who will not. I have confidence in myself, that all will work out well when I return even if it means starting from scratch. It will be alright.”
Ready for battle and full of confidence – that is exactly what makes a man charming.
The birth of Actor Joo Won… As a child I was extremely introverted. When I was in my 3rd year of middle school (TN: about 15 years old), I started thinking about wanting to change this aspect of my character. So I enrolled in an acting class. My first experience of acting was an absolute eye opener. Acting brought me such joy. In performing, I learned ways to express myself; watching the audience’s response when I acted also made me very happy. Then in the university, I decided to major in acting and started attending auditions. That was how I found myself in musical theatre.
The reason I am as I am… I think what makes me different from my contemporaries is probably that I fulfill the characteristics required of a stage actor. Back then (TN: reference to college/university days), not many were able to do what I did. I was not afraid to challenge myself and successfully took on roles which others avoided.
Everyone’s Mr Nice Guy… I actually don’t see myself as a really nice person. I just try to be considerate of others regardless of time or place. However, I will admit that having to perpetually consider all things and take into account everyone’s feelings does get difficult and tiring. I just hope that the impression that everyone has of me is that I am a good person. Regardless, I believe that as long as you approach things with the spirit of kindness, everything will work out for the good.
My most unforgettable role… The role that has left the deepest impression in me and which I found most interesting would have to be the one I played in “Good Doctor”. I played a doctor with savant syndrome on the autism spectrum. At the time, I thought through very carefully how it was that I should portray this character. I wanted people to better understand such a disorder through my representation of him onscreen and it had to be as accurate as possible. It was very difficult, but I think it turned out well and is something I am very satisfied with.
Turning point in my career… I feel that most of the turning points in my career relate to my work in films. The first was when I did my first film, “Special Investigation Unit”. Through the filming process, I found that I learned a lot from my seniors. In particular, I learned how to adapt to the filming environment and how to interact with others on set.
The second major turning point for me was while filming “That Guy”. What if you were to take all your feelings and desires, and set them loose? What do you think would happen? All the characters I had played before, their emotions and reactions were always well calculated and controlled. But this time, this was the first time I allowed myself to let go of that control and simply allow the emotions to overtake me. I believe this would be the second major turning point.
Joo Won vs YongPali… Regarding the character Kim Tae Hyun, I would say that at the start when the character was still living a wild and thrilling existence, I didn’t feel very much for him – I don’t have that sort of reckless personality. What in his character that resonated more with me was his wholehearted devotion to the person he loved. Despite his aloof exterior and even seemingly shameless disposition, you know that deep in his core he pursued justice; his value system was strong and intact. He was willing to sacrifice all for the sake of his sister. I do not know if I would be able to do as Tae Hyun did in reality, but I think if faced with similar challenges, I would be willing to risk all for my loved ones.
Coming in close contact with the goddess herself… About having Kim Tae Hee as my partner, well, many would think that it would be awesome just getting to act with such a beautiful co-star. However, I feel that my biggest take away was just having been able to work with such a wonderful person. During the production period, we communicated with each other frequently and talked about almost anything under the sun. Even though the relationship we had was that of a senior and junior, she made me feel very comfortable with how she treated me and that closed the social distance between us. This helped in us being able to collaborate well, and for this, I am very grateful. How did we prepare for the kissing scenes? [laughs] Brush our teeth, get our emotions in control, the usual. Naturally there was some amount of nervousness during the first kiss scene and I felt fidgety, but there were many kissing scenes in the drama and as the filming progressed, we slowly got used to it and the emotions developed naturally in the show like that of any other pair of lovers.
Hidden talent… A talent unknown to me…[laughs] Probably my ability to get people around me to feel comfortable and to enjoy the work we have to do on hand. I feel that the most important thing on set is that everyone should be working towards the same goal, moving in the same direction. Today in the Korean entertainment industry, male and female leads often have very demanding schedules. Often, there’s very little time to sleep and rest. But I believe it is still our responsibility to ensure that the atmosphere on the set is a positive one.
I’m an easygoing person, and don’t have too much of an opinion of things. While I’m at work, I try my best to create and maintain a good working environment because I believe this makes it easier for those who have to work alongside me.
The undefeated Ratings Man… On the one hand, I am thankful that the drama has done well and received many accolades. But I also realize that this comes with expectations. There are always two sides to every coin. When a work does well, people will tell you, “Oh, this will certainly benefit your next project.” But then you feel the need to keep meeting up to those expectations. Everyone calls you the “undefeated ratings man”, and at times, that in itself is a burden.
What made me really happy recently was a message I had received from the director of “YongPali”. He said that he has met many good actors before, but this was the first time he had met an actor whom he felt was working with him as a team towards a common goal. This message meant a lot to me, and so, for my own sake and for the sake of those around me, I will continue to work hard.
The good in the bad… Contrary to popular belief, my life hasn’t been all that smooth sailing in actuality. Although I have completed some successful projects, last year’s “Tomorrow Cantabile” didn’t do very well by regular standards of success. Yet for me I felt that the production added to my acting experience and I gained friends out of it too. So, while people might view this as a failed project, it has also shown me that perhaps this is genre of dramas that most people might not enjoy. This too is a learning point. I won’t be disheartened simply because of a failure, or think that I’ve messed up and slip into despair. I choose to look at things positively, learn and grow from these failures. Life is like this.
The joy of simple things… I’m someone who thinks a lot. Everything that can will be pondered over. When I was little, I would think about things like, “What is the meaning of marriage? What would bring happiness in life?” I still don’t have answers to a lot of these questions. What’s the best thing about being Joo Won the Actor? This is probably also one of life’s most difficult questions to answer. [laughs] I believe happiness comes from the simple things in life. For example, when you complete a project, there’s always that bittersweet mix of emotions you feel. Everything has finally concluded and you engage in promotions out of the country, meet with enthusiastic fans. That there are people who like my shows and I have enjoyed working with colleagues, all these are happy things. The next thing I’m looking forward to is my movie “That Guy”. I don’t know how well it would do, but the promotional clips look good. From the point of sowing to when you see your work bear fruit, this entire process is what makes me as an actor happy.
Joo Won, 5 years from now… I expect myself to still be acting, to become more mature. I ought to have become more experienced by then. I hope too to have taken on more different roles, continuously challenging myself. In 5 years’ time, I also hope to have a girlfriend with whom I can seriously consider entering into a marriage. The plan is also to eventually make it to Hollywood and I hope to be able to teach others about acting.
A Day in the Life of an Oppa
A self-declared bore with not many other interests apart from acting, he likes to spend his free time jogging or walking for exercise. “Even if I do not go abroad, there are many scenic places within South Korea (to go to). I enjoy roaming about in Seoul.” His record was a 10km stroll through Seoul shopping, and there is evidence of that too – there are pictures he took of sights and people along the way which have been shared on his IG account.
The Power of Fans
What does Oppa do during his free time on the web? “I often go to fan sites and try to respond to at least 10 messages a day. I always gain a lot of strength and encouragement from fan messages.”
Enjoys Satay Most
While in town to promote his latest drama in October, which among the local dishes did he enjoy the most? “As this was my first time to Singapore, before I came, I asked Kim Soo Hyun, who had been here before for work, about the place. He recommended that I should try satay, and I love it!”
The Gang Doctor (YongPali) will begin reruns from 7 Nov, Saturday, at 4:30pm on Channel ONE (StarHub channels 820, 823, and Singtel TV channel 513).
Joo Won at a Glance
DOB: 30 September 1987
Personality: A reserved gentleman who is oftentimes too serious; he can’t tell if someone is joking or being serious, and his friends find this to be unbelievable.
Capacity for alcohol: He can’t drink. His eyes go red only after 2 shots of Soju. Once, he tried having chat over a drink of beer with senior Yoo Hae-Jin and ended up falling asleep right through to the next morning.
Likes: Walking, drinking coffee and crying. There was once he cried so much at a rehearsal that his female co-star got worried.
Dislikes: Overly noisy places. He doesn’t eat chicken feet and sundae (TN: A Korean dish made of pig’s or cow’s intestines)
Dating history: He’s had 2 relationships. After his debut, work became intense such that even if there was someone he was interested in, he did not have the time to pursue the interest, and over time, they would drift apart.
Financial management: His parents manage his income and he receives a monthly allowance for his living expenses.
Education: He topped his performing arts class in high school and is a graduate in Performing Arts from Sungkyunkwan University. He is presently pursuing a master’s degree at Konkuk University.
Ratings King: King of Baking, Kim Tak Gu 50.8%, Ojakgyo Brothers 36.3%, Gaksital 22.9%, Good Doctor 21.5%, YongPali 21.5%
Source: i 周刊, i-Weekly
Photo ：Ealbert Ho