This is a long and very well-written article. Some of the contents are similar to the previous articles in this series which I have already published. However, there are additional information that are mentioned here which were never mentioned in the other articles.
In this article Jo Hyun Jae explains why, after being discharged from military service, he has been experiencing long gaps between acting projects. Hyunjae says that he still receives a lot of offers to appear in various acting projects. However, most of these offers are for standard roles, similar to the ones he used to do in the past. Because he wanted to do something different from those standard roles, he decided to wait for the right project to come along.
Article Title: Jo Hyun Jae said, “Real acting begins from here on out.”
[Ten Asia, Han Hyeri, Reporter] 2015.10.23 10:44:50
This is his 16th year as an actor. This is not considered to be a small experience. When Jo Hyun Jae made his debut, he was only in his early 20s and for a whole 10 years he packed on his acting experience very fiercely. This was the case for a while but at some point in time it was not very easy to see him compared to before. The reason behind this was due to him going for his mandatory military service. After being discharged from the military, people thought they would be able to see him as often as when he was in his 20s. Unexpectedly, after being in a few projects, he had a gap that lasted for 1 year and 6 months. This is not an easy decision for an actor to make. Jo Hyun Jae did not show himself so easily like in the past.
Ever since he appeared in MBC drama “King’s Daughter, Soo Baek Hyang” (KDSBH, 2013-2014) it took him 1 year and 6 months to take on another drama, which is “Yongpal” (2015). Jo Hyun made a daring move with the drama “Yongpal”. He challenged himself to act as a villain for the first time in his acting career. He played Han Do Jun, a character that is very ambitious. This villain role he played remains as an unconventional and shocking venture for his acting career. With this career move, there was more and more curiosity about the gap between his acting projects. We were all able to get the message that his hiatus brought the opportunity for change. Moreover, how did the gap in between projects affect him as an actor? With this curiosity in mind, we met with the actor Jo Hyun Jae.
Question 1 (Q1): “Yongpal” ended successfully with record high ratings. How do you feel about it?
Jo Hyun Jae (JHJ): I feel very good because I received a lot of positive reviews for my first villain role in “Yongpal”. I considered a lot of different things when I was making my mind up regarding this drama but the outcome is a lot better than I hoped. So, I am very thankful about this.
Q2: This is your first time to play villain since your debut. How does it feel to play villain?
JHJ: With this villain role, having such a twisted heart and all, I was able to express myself through my actions and the way I delivered my lines. I have never acted in this way before, so it was very new to me. I have encountered a role that is totally different from what I have done in the past. When I was playing this role, it felt very electrifying. There were times when people said that Han Do Jun is so bad and scary as they watch the character do his thing. As an actor, every time I hear something like that it made me feel so pleased.
Q3: It is quite a defiant gesture for an actor to make an attempt to change an image that he has had for over 10 years already. The outcome is pretty successful but before you made the commitment to do this, I am sure you were concerned about many different things.
JHJ: I had a strong image as an upright young man in the past. However, I have always wanted to encounter a character that is the opposite of a prim and proper young man. I did try to change my image when I was still in my 20s but the opportunity never came my way. However, I was able to get what I have always wanted when I was offered “Yongpal”, albeit a little late. Of course, I had many concerns before I started to act as Han Do Jun. That is a natural thing to happen since it was a new kind of challenge for me. I really wanted to carve this new image into the public’s mind.
Q4: There is this curiosity as to what the people around you thought regarding your acting transformation.
JHJ: Many people said something like this, “Would this role suit Jo Hyun Jae?” The people I knew and even fans talked about how worried they were regarding this role. However, the people who knew me very well said otherwise, they said that this role would suit me quite well. There were people who were concerned at the beginning but their feelings changed 180 degrees after watching me. It was a delightful thing for an actor. Yes, I felt very deeply moved by this. It made me want to get a taste of things like this more often.
Q5: How is it now that it’s over? Are you satisfied with your performance of your first villain role?
JHJ: It’s really difficult for me to evaluate my own work. (Smile) No matter what project I am in, I can’t always be 100% satisfied with my performance. I always feel a certain regret, and I always wish I have done better. I tried to change my image, and it’s such a fortunate thing that I got favorable reviews of my performance instead of receiving harsh criticisms. I can feel that people are interested in what I do and I feel the love of the viewers as well. Now that I am receiving so much love and support, my thoughts about acting is getting even deeper than before. I think I feel more responsible about my work and also more cautious regarding the things I do.
Q6: Han Do Jun isn’t the type of villain who engendered feelings of wrath and rage among viewers. Instead, this character aroused feelings of pity from viewers. Probably people thought that it was reasonable for this character to be greedy and ambitious because of his childhood background that made him unhappy. What did you yourself feel about Han Do Jun?
JHJ: This character is a person who is extremely lonely and also very pitiful. He wasn’t born a bad person. When Do Jun was a child, he was left out and abandoned by his family. He didn’t even receive any love from his own father. All throughout his young life he learnt from his father that money and power are all that matter. In addition, he was always being compared to his younger sister Han Yeo Jin (Kim Tae Hee). Even as a grown man he wasn’t loved by the woman whom he adored a lot. Han Do Jun is a character who has issues with lack of love in his life. There are people around him who just wanted to use and manipulate him. He didn’t want to be trampled all over by these crooks so maybe that is the reason why he became meaner than a cutting blade and habitually committed evil deeds wherever he goes. Basically, he became a bigger villain so he won’t be trampled all over by the other bad guys.
Q7: Your character was obsessed about success, but despite that he came across as a person who truly loved Chae Young (Chae Jung An).
JHJ: It is true that Do Jun really loved Chae Young. The only problem was that his love was deeper than most average kind of love. Do Jun always expected something from those he loved and cared about. Unfortunately, Chae Young did not give anything to someone like Do Jun, and this made him even more angry. He was basically thinking something like this, “Even you? How could you do this to me? How dare you! Who do you think you are?!” He was thinking something along those lines. His love became more and more twisted as time went on. So in the end, his wrongful emotions gave birth to him making bad decisions.
Q8: On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder if Chae Young loved Do Jun after all…?
JHJ: Chae Young doesn’t love Do Jun. Chae Young basically married him because she wanted some kind of power as well. It was purely for some sort of personal benefit. Do Jun had nothing but those kind of people in his life.
Q9: What do you think about Han Do Jun’s death? He got into an accident, got stabbed and all sort of occurrences happened so suddenly. I bet you felt like everything was in vain.
JHJ: I thought to myself that my character just had to die like that. I did feel a little empty inside in a way. Both President Go and Han Do Jun passed away just like that. Even though they had money and power, these things are irrelevant when it comes to death. Even though through Han Do Jun all of this was portrayed in such a dramatic fashion, I felt like it can happen in real life to real people. I think there are a lot of people living lonely and empty lives. They might look like they have plenty on the surface but when you look deep inside these people, they might be very lonely and are quite pitiful. This made me look around me more closely. People usually tend to look back and regret about things. I suppose I wanted to leave a message like this to the audience through Han Do Jun’s death….
Q10: There were a lot of different kinds of opinions going around regarding the ending of the drama “Yongpal”. There is quite a bit of curiosity to how you feel about this as an actor.
JHJ: It really depends on how one looks at it when it comes to the ending of a drama. I think this type of ending is probably the right way to go if it made you, as an audience, look back at Han Do Jun’s circumstances and environment. However, I thought that it could feel empty and vain if I looked at it from a different perspective. Some could say that they really liked it while some would say otherwise. Anyhow, the picture is made by the writer and the director. The actor usually cannot change the situation to their liking, and they shouldn’t. Actors are in the position to just be accepting of the task at hand.
Q11: Every time you finish a drama, are you the type who could easily come out of your character or are you the type of actor who has a difficult time coming out of your character?
JHJ: It really depends. Sometimes when I am so immersed in my character, I would feel bad and at other times I would feel good. At times, I would even have my phone turned off and practice my lines all alone. I would just scream by myself at home, and this made me think that I could be such a cold-hearted man. I would be so immersed in my character and would want to concentrate on rehearsing my lines that I would turn off my phone. It would be like that for days. I think I was even more like this back in my 20s. Back then I didn’t have time to do other things anyway. In my 30s though, as I finish a drama, I try my best to come out of my character as fast as I could. I think that it could be inconvenient for my livelihood if I get too immersed in my characters.
Q12: I think that your love for the character Han Do Jun would be like no other since it is a first transformation for Jo Hyun Jae. If you were to rank all the characters that you’ve played over the years, what number would you assign this particular character?
JHJ: It is true that I am very attached to this character since I went through great pain and I have put so much into this character. While I was making it happen with the director, automatically I was able to fall in love with this role. I think it would be difficult to put a number behind this. I would have to say that this character, along with my other characters are on equal footing. However, if you still want me to rank it, then the number I would assign it would be a number that can be counted with the fingers of one hand.
Q13: Are you planning to continuously change your image in the future?
JHJ: As an actor it’s quite natural to make transformation every time. If it is possible, I would like to play a different kind of villain next time around. I want to show other types of villains that I can possibly play. Perhaps, a vampire-type character that we see in Hollywood movies and something that will give you goosebumps? I would also like to play a role in some sort of fantasy genre as well. I am also quite fond of being in an action film; summer blockbuster types of movies would be good too. I just want to do every genre that I haven’t tried yet.
Q14: Many actors prefer to make some sort of change in their careers. It could be a change in their image, or even the types of roles that they get cast in. What do you think is the reason behind this? Do you think they feel some sort of ecstasy from the twist and reversal?
JHJ: An actor practically lives through the script. Through this we are able to make something and act as someone with a different type of personality from our real life personality. I think this type of work is very fun and exciting. And, on top of that if the public likes my work and identifies with it then it’s a fortunate thing. I think this is the type of job where people have to relate and identify with what you do as a character. If people are not able to identify with the character you’re portraying then it could make an actor a little bitter. Fortunately, this time around the viewers were able to relate to the project that I was in. I feel really good because of that.
Q15: At first there was doubt about you playing this role because of your image. You had a strong image as a pure-hearted young man and you’re the kind of actor whose kindness seems imprinted all over your face. So, I think you had a lot of problem with this fixed image of yours.
JHJ: When it comes to being cast as an intense character or as a villain, I am not the number one guy for that. It’s because I don’t have the image for those kind of roles. This is why my chance to play a villain came late like this. However, things are different now. Trends are changing a bit. It’s more scarier when a guy who has a good boy image commits evil deeds; that adds a little bit of twist to everything. Once I received the script for “Yongpal” and found out the kind of role I would be playing, I didn’t feel any burden inside me. My attitude was just to act to the best of my ability as I made my character come to life in my own way. However, it might not suit me at all to play the roles of a primitive man or even a bandit. Ha! Ha!
Q16: Do you live in an upright manner just like the image you have? (Smile)
JHJ: I am extremely prim and proper in real life. It’s true. I don’t even violate any traffic laws, that is why I don’t get any traffic tickets mailed to my home. Is that something to brag about? Ha Ha. I try my utmost best to live honestly. Since I am like this in real life, maybe that is the reason why I want to play villains onscreen?
Q17: You don’t have any scandals. I think it’s time for you to get married.
JHJ: I do have thoughts of getting married. I would love to make it happen before I turn 40. My life goal is to have my own happy family. Also, “Yongpal” did really well so I want to be able to receive flexibility from my work. Family is very important to me, but at the same time, I can’t let go of my work either. This is the current state I’m in. I think I would be able to catch two rabbits at the same time bit by bit.
Jenny’s note: “Catch two rabbits at the same time” is a figure of speech which means that Hyunjae wants to reach a state where he can enjoy 2 things simultaneously. The 2 things that Hyunjae wants to enjoy at the same time are: (1) success in his beloved work, and (2) a happy family of his own.
Q18: You started going on Instagram once you started working again. Joining a social networking site like Instagram seems so far from your image. What made you join Instagram?
JHJ: I am really not the type to go on a social networking site. (Smile) Once I started on this drama “Yongpal”, I decided to open an account on Instagram. I used to do Facebook in the past, but I didn’t really go on it that much. What I like about Instagram is I can conveniently go onto my smart phone/android/Iphone and post something. I am really very thankful towards my fans. I’ve been acting for 16 years now. A lot of my fans have been with me since my debut. It’s not easy to support someone for more 10 years without a change of heart. Even if I come back after taking a one year break, my fans are still there for me. I feel so thankful to my fans that I made up my mind to start an Instagram account. I wanted to be able to send messages to my beloved fans. I am trying my best to show my fans everything about myself, but I am not really used to going on social networking sites so it is very difficult for me. Ha Ha. But, I am really trying my best to do it in my own way.
Q19: Your fandom and popularity is quite large in Asian countries, especially in Japan and China. Of course, you filmed a Chinese drama after all; but that was way after you are already popular. Basically, you were able to gain popularity in those countries just by your Korean dramas alone.
JHJ: My Chinese fans support me very passionately. Japanese fans would come in groups even until now and support me passionately as well. I am truly very grateful towards them. I even have fans in countries like Thailand and Iran. I never even thought of such a thing. I have many fans from around the world supporting me through my Instagram account. By seeing so many fans from overseas, I feel like I need to work even harder than before. I think that Korean dramas as a whole is more popular globally instead of just me as one individual actor. I feel really great that the Korean Wave has been spreading all around the globe.
Q20: “Yongpal” is a drama that you have done after KDSBH. Between the 2 dramas there is a gap of a year and six months. You took a long break and you have made such a great change after such a long hiatus, so there is some curiosity regarding this. While you were resting during such a long gap, how did Jo Hyun Jae spend his time and what were those times like for you?
JHJ: In my 20s I basically acted to make a living. Even if I wanted to take time off, I just couldn’t do that because of my personal circumstances at that point in time. I just kept on going mindlessly. On the other hand in my 30s it was different. I just got back from the military and I even had some gap. I had a lot of time to reflect on my acting career. So because of this, the gaps between projects became longer and longer, although, I didn’t really intend that to happen initially. However, the more I became a thinker, the more challenging it was for me to pick a project to work on. I had many thoughts regarding how I can approach the viewers. The truth is, I do receive a lot of offers coming in to me, but all of them are standard roles, similar to the ones I used to do in the past. But I want to do something else, so I kept on waiting for something fresh to come my way.
Q21: The drama production environment and medium has changed over the years. A lot has changed since Jo Hyun Jae was in the military, when he got discharged and the big change happened while you’re taking a long break. Did you feel the overall change in the way things are being done?
JHJ: While I was working on “Yongpal”, I felt that a lot has changed. A lot of people watch a film or a drama through their smart phones/androids/Iphones. The medium has become extremely diverse. As an actor the diversity in medium is very good news. Previously, I met with the public through the network television channels and also through cinema. However, with such a big change in the production environment I want to be able to meet with the audience in more diverse and flexible ways.
Q22: You moved to a different agency this year. Also, you are able to make your drama into a hit/box office success through your new drama “Yongpal”, where you made a successful acting transformation. This is a very meaningful year for the actor Jo Hyun Jae.
JHJ: So many good things have happened to me this year. I think this year is full of good energy all around. I feel like I’m getting paid for all the losses in the previous years. I also think that there would be nothing but good things coming my way in the future.
Q23: Fifteen years have passed since you’ve became an actor. How was your 15 years of acting life?
JHJ: In my 20s, it was tough. I didn’t even have time to look back at myself and my career. I think that as I came into my 30s, I have become more careful with what I do but at the same time enjoy my acting job. I would like to look at it this way, I was pretty much learning my way through acting in the past. I have been an actor for 16 years as of this year but I think this is the starting point for me as a real actor. ‘Start down Start’. I am really looking forward to how I will meet the viewers in the future and what kind of characters I will be playing. This makes me quite excited.
Jenny’s note: I have no idea what “start down start” means. Sorry!
Editor: I think “start down start” means press down the start button again, as Hyunjae feels that with his change in attitude towards acting, he is also re-starting his acting career.
Q24: I can’t help but to get curious about how you will show yourself as an actor. What are your specific goals?
JHJ: I feel so good that this drama ended on a good note. I want to be able to hear something like this from the viewers, “All dramas that Jo Hyun Jae is in are all so fun.” I want to be able to act for 20 more years. I would consider myself successful if I’m able to get things done in a vital manner. If possible, I would still like to act 20 more years and beyond. (Smile) I want to cultivate my characters one by one. I want to be an actor who will remain in people’s hearts and minds for a very long time.
Credit: Photo as labelled. English translation by Jenny Park. Thanks! Editing by Prissymom. English translation is not verbatim.