Any fans of The King 2 Hearts’ heart-melting, swooniest of swoony, squeal-worthy Eun Shi-kyung out there? I’ve been keeping an eye on actor Jo Jung-seok since I first saw him What’s Up, where he plays a nerdy kid with a great voice but terrible stage fright; all I can say at this point is GIMME MOAR.
Jo’s actually a well-known name in musical theater, but this year he found his way into the the realm of TV and film and I can only hope he has plans to stay. I came across his interview in Singles magazine last month and wanted to have another go at translating longer articles, so here goes. (Disclaimer: All copyright belongs to the original writer. I’m not profiting by this translation and I can’t guarantee its accuracy.)
Look! At! That! Face!
조정석은 서른셋 소년이다
Jo Jung-seok, a 33-year-old boy
In 2004, he made his debut in <The Nutcracker>. Now nine-year actor Jo Jung-seok says he has his own ‘ridiculous acting philosophy’ that he abides by. His ‘immature charm’ must be counted as part of that philosophy. With an expression that can never predict the future, resembling a boy’s days to come.
We must take ahold of this and turn it over in our minds. What is one’s first impression of actor Jo Jung-seok? Is he Nabddeuki, who ranted about what a kiss felt like in <Introduction to Architecture>, or is he the taciturn but charming Captain Eun Shi-kyung from <The King 2 Hearts>? Considering the raging mania for musicals, surely we must choose from one of the following productions. Perhaps the goof Roger from <Grease> or the haughty rocker from <Hedwig> or maybe the sharp-witted Moritz from <Spring Awakening>. But one thing is certain, he is Ppodwig (milky, fair-skinned Hedwig, as nicknamed by his fans), praised as “Idol of the Musical Community”! Then one day, Ppodwig took on two characters with strong personalities in TV and film and became hot stuff this year. Because in 2012, audiences laughed until they cried at this man’s brazenness and way of speech, and because his eyes for Princess Jae-shin made the hearts of girls everywhere race.
One Monday afternoon at 5 PM, at a bar in Itaewon, I met him face-to-face for this interview. He said he had been to and from Jeonju several times to film his movie immediately after his drama had ended. He appeared somewhat weary, but throughout his photoshoot and interview, his eyes were filled with energy just like that of a sweet, innocent boy. Like a new actor who had just made his debut. Before the interview, I was curious whether his real personality was more like Eun Shi-kyung’s or Nabddeuki’s, but after talking and laughing with him for an hour, ‘Jo Jung-seok-esque’ was what resonated with me most strongly. It doesn’t matter whether he is most like Eun Shi-kyung or Nabdeukki. What matters is the fierce charisma of Jo Jung-seok who played both of these characters simultaneously.
I noticed during your photoshoot that you have a really diverse range of emotions. Do you do face yoga?
Haha face yoga! Well… the truth is, contorting and manipulating my expressions aren’t difficult. Stuff like that comes from my immature features, you see. I’ve been like that since I was young. I find those expressions come very naturally to me. If I’m happy, I laugh, but I can also fully transform my face to a laughing one even if I’m not particularly happy.
Let’s go back to the first time we met in 2005. You had the role of Roger in <Grease>.
Hm… Roger! The goof (laughter)!
Amazingly, I can still see a lot of how you were back then still in you now.
Well… I’m an immature kind of person (like Roger). Immaturity is good for an actor. And I think all my crazy notions stimulate me a lot. If I ever do mature… (head tilt).
Watching your drama, a thought occurred to me. That Eun Shi-kyung’s character shines even brighter because of Nabddeuki.
You’re right. In reality, rather than thinking of them as opposites, it’s better to think of them as “two characters who are very different.” I think the people who remembered Nabdeukki probably felt really strange about approaching Eun Shi-kyung. But because a character like Shi-kyung has charisma of his own, maybe that’s why he attracted so much attention?
Did you feel the full extent of the fans’ Shi-kyung Fever on set?
Hm… I think we definitely did get some feedback. With dramas, you can immediately get a sense of the viewers’ reactions the day right after an episode has aired. But even though we had that feedback, there wasn’t a lot of time to deal with it during filming. Because when we were in between locations, I would always be sleeping in the car and on set, I would be thinking a lot about how Shi-kyung should act.
You looked so good with Jae-shin (Lee Yoon-ji) that a scandal broke out.
I know right haha. Though you can’t really call it a scandal… I’m incredibly grateful that people are still interested in Yoon-ji and me even though the drama has ended. “Eun-Shin Couple” is what they nicknamed us, right? I think that because viewers went to the extent of feeling like ‘Ah~ I wish they had gotten together at the end. Why did Shi-kyung have to die,’ all of this was possible, because that kind of longing and regret was so huge. I’m merely thankful and grateful for that type of reaction. I think the scandal probably arose because of something we said during an interview we did after the drama. It seems that we praised each other a little too conspicuously. So that’s why a lot of people misunderstood but there’s absolutely no reason for them to misunderstand in that way (laughter). Because as our characters, we cherished and loved each other within the drama.
Speaking of scandals. I’m curious about the type of women you like in real life.
At present, a nice, easygoing person! It’s true that I tend to always be drawn to attractive, appealing women. But the appeal I’m talking about is an appeal that only I can feel. Even if others think she isn’t that great, if I notice that appeal, I will like her. But there aren’t any specific features that I can list in particular.
Hm… that’s a bit confusing. Could you give an example?
A hidden sophistication that you can feel in an unsophisticated person? Something like that. Is that confusing (laughter)? There’ve been times when I’d notice an appeal like that and my heart goes “Oh?” and starts racing. Also something like appearing boyish on the outside but actually being really feminine?
So, what kind of boyfriend are you? You said in an interview that you were the type to “give his all” for her.
(T/N: 퍼주다 = 아쉬울 것 없이 마음대로 인심 쓰듯 준다는 의미와 ‘일방적’이라는 의미; very loosely translated to ‘give one’s all’ in an emotional sense) What kind of boyfriend am I? Me (laughter)? Ah, not again… are we talking about my love life now? (laughter) Hm… I don’t think I’m a bad boyfriend. Saying I like someone makes me so incredibly self-conscious, my hands and feet curl in on themselves. In English, I’d say “Not Bad”? I’m the type of person who’d make an effort for my girlfriend, even if I don’t really know what she likes or wants.
A man who would give his all and make an effort for her… sounds exactly like Eun Shi-kyung.
Does it (laughter)? I definitely like taking care of people, but I’d like it if my girlfriend can take even better care of me. I’m confident that I can properly take care of anyone I date, but it isn’t easy to meet a girl who can take care of me. It’s a feeling like ‘If you’re going to take care of me, please do it better~’ a feeling like that (laughter)?
Seems like a maknae-who-needs-taking-care-of style.
I’m actually the maknae at home. I have a sister and brother who are much older than me. It’s because I’m the youngest.
You are pretty much considered an idol star in the musical community. After finishing <Hedwig>, you became incredibly popular off-stage with <What’s Up>, <Introduction to Architecture>, and <The King>. Was there a special reason you were drawn to dramas and film?
I’ve always wanted to try acting in movies. I talked to a lot of people around me about it too. As soon as I had decided to give it a try once had the chance, such a chance presented itself. When <Spring Awakening> was playing, the writer and PD of a musical drama called <What’s Up> watched one of the shows and expressed interest in working with me. And through <What’s Up>, I got to do <The King 2 Hearts>. So I took a little break from the stage. When I was filming, I had little time to prepare for performances and because I had to set aside time to rehearse every day, it was impossible to do them both at the same time.
It seems like this is different from theater in every respect. Did you face any challenges?
There were mainly a lot of technical points that I found challenging in filming dramas because the fields are essentially different. But more than the acting itself, I thought the essence of it was much more important. Genuineness. My sincerity, wanting to properly convey things like that on camera. I went through a lot of trial-and-error as I thought about that during filming. Worrying about how I should I act with certain camera angles and other points aside from that, how to achieve my goals and expectations for my scenes, led me to feel a bit dissatisfied with myself. I felt those things as I monitored them. I think I was able to get it slowly but surely as I experienced those trials. I threw that idea together just now, thinking about how to summarize that feeling.
It’s really common to see musical actors branching out into TV these days. And many actors venture into a number of different genres and do really well. Oh Man-seok, Uhm Ki-joon, etc etc. Is there anyone in particular you consider a role model?
Hm… I don’t really have a role model. I did when I was doing musicals. Musical actor Im Choon-gil. But I’m not sure about right now. I’ve always thought that I’m going in the right direction. ‘I’m going to do things the way I always have till now, Jo Jung-seok-esque! Let’s do this in a Jo Jung-seok-esque way. I work hard, keeping this in mind. I do regard my seniors as a source of motivation but they don’t feel like a role model to me. All my sunbaes are fantastic and they each have their own style. Thinking of someone as a role model is like saying, ‘Oh, I want to do this in their style,’ but I don’t know what kind of style I have myself and I don’t know what kind of actor I am either. I think it’s fine if I keep doing things my way, Jo Jung-seok-esque style.
What does Jo Jung-seok-esque feel like?
I’m in the process of finding out myself. Doesn’t it connote the way I live, the way I act? But in the past years, I have come to understand one thing to certain extent. During performances or interviews or through various other types of media, people make presumptions like, “I think Jo Jung-seok is that kind of person.” That’s what Jo Jung-seok-esque is, isn’t it? My choice of projects, certain points in my acting, they’re like that too. Summing up all of that in itself is what Jo Jung-seok-esque is.
Hm, honestly speaking, isn’t a situation like that something that’s only possible if you’re somewhat of a seasoned actor already?
Hm… I’m not sure about saying one’s seasoned…
Or is that how you’ve always been?
Yeah, I think so. That’s my own crazy philosophy that I believe in. An actor’s ideology? Outlook? Stuff like that has really taken hold of me.
Do you think you’ve had some luck with choosing your projects?
Project luck? I like that. A lot.
For example, you did <Hedwig> three times. You’re probably the actor who did it the most number of times.
Yeah, I was. I did do it the most number of times. A total of three times during the season. I think my project luck is very good indeed. I have great pride in all of my projects. From my 2004 debut in <The Nutcracker> to <The King 2 Hearts> which I just completed. If an actor doesn’t have that kind of pride, it’s like spitting in his own face. I’d hate for something like that to happen to a face like mine, even just talking about it is being unfair, isn’t it? I think that sort of mindset represses all of the possible strength and energy that one can draw from. That’s why acknowledging and taking pride in actors like me lets me be even more energetic.
You show great affection for all of your characters. Among those projects, do you have any that you consider a turning point in your life as an actor?
I can talk about two, <Grease> and <Hedwig>. Through <Grease>, I was able to show a lot of people who Jo Jung-seok the actor is. And in <Hedwig>, Jo Jung-seok the actorhad a little more growing up to do, so this provided me with a foundation, a springboard for that.
You’re filming dramas and movies at the moment. Do you ever get the itch to sing?
Not really. I feel great when I sing and I do tend to sing to myself a lot but I’ve never felt like, “Aw man, I’m itching to sing so bad.”’
That’s a surprise. I presumed you would have a thirst for the stage since that’s your usual line of work.
Is it asurprise? Hm… I always have and always will have a thirst for the stage. That’s why I sometimes avoid watching performances on purpose. I’ve done that before because I was afraid I’d feel like wanting to perform again. But I’ve never felt that have this huge itch to sing right away just because I haven’t been singing.
You had mentioned you wanted to act in a sweeter melodrama in the future.
Not just sweet, I want to try any~ kind of melodrama. Comedic ones, enjoyable and elaborate ones. Tragic and sad and tender love stories are good too. I think it’s because all the characters I’ve played till now have been mainly strong roles. Of course, taking on those strong characters in film and drama will probably feel different from musical theater since the genres are different too.
How do you feel about being known as an actor who pays extraordinary attention to detail? I was curious about the style you used to play Nabddeuki.
I’m not really sure. My first approach is to become the character. Putting aside myself completely and becoming that character. But I am me, right? So when I’m acting, I can’t help but exude a sense of myself. But I decide to remove the majority of myself and become that character. That’s how you start studying a character. When you become the character, even if you make a mistake or get confused for a second, as that character, you can recover. Because the audience shouldn’t break their concentration on the character. In a play, even if a person makes a mistake, you look at it like it’s the character’s mistake in the work, not the actor’s.
In that case, you must focus very intensely on yourself.
That’s right. I have to focus a lot as that character. And not just on stage. It’s the exact same thing with TV. I focus as that character, and I become that character. Then I can imagine to myself, “Why does this character think this way? Why did Shi-kyung speak this way in this situation? Ah, Shi-kyung could probably say that because he’s Shi-kyung. Shi-kyung would say this and act this way, right?” As I strive for that, at some moment, I become closer to that character.
Considering how much you focus on your work, there must be a few things that you had to give up in your life.
Not at all. I don’t want to give up a single thing in my life. The most important thing to me is people. I want to live my life happily, cherishing them. That’s one of the things that makes me happy.
If you feel like someone’s on your side, are you the type of person to protect that friendship without wavering?
I’m not that “type” of person, I am that person. Loyalty is very important to me.
What do you do to relieve stress?
I meet up with friends, have a drink, and chat about various things. That’s what I like best. People are very important to me. So that’s how I am best healed. One the one hand, people can be extremely scary, on the other hand they can be extremely precious, I think. Whenever I’m having a hard time or whenever I’m feeling happy, I’m forever grateful for the people who have stayed by my side.
Who comforts you the most these days?
Ah… who did I meet right after finishing up my dramas… my friends! The first thing I did was have a drink with my friends (laughter).
Are you the type of person to drink a lot?
My limit is one and a half bottles of soju? That’s about it. I’ve had more in the past but right now, that’s all I can handle.
What kind of movie is <Steel Dae-oh Saving the Country>?
It’s by Director Yook Sang-hyo, who directed <Dalma, Let’s Go to Seoul> and <He’s on Duty>. It’s about a Chinese food delivery boy Kang Dae-oh who falls in love with a female college student Seo Ye-rin and pretends to be a student political activist. The 1985, 1986 student takeover of the U.S. Cultural Center forms the basis of the movie. I have a supporting role a student activist. Kim In-gwon and Yoo Da-in play the main characters with the love line.
You look tired. Is it because it’s a Monday? What do you usually do on ‘crazy Fridays’?
(T/N; 불금 = 불타는 금요일의 줄임말로 대체로 금요일 밤에 약속도 많고 술도 마시고 클럽등도 활발하다고 붙여진 말로 일종의 주말에 대한 기대감; loosely translated as ‘crazy Fridays’). Ah, crazy Fridays! I don’t experience anything like that. Stuff like ‘crazy Fridays’, ‘crazy Saturdays,’ that kind of modifier doesn’t suit me. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, whatever day can be ‘crazy’ for me (laughter). Really! Since I’m not an office worker, I don’t really pay attention to the days of the week. When I go out for drinks with my friends, it’s usually at a pojangmacha (T/N: tented food stalls or food carts on the roadside) or at a quiet pub. Eating, chatting, playing pool, I have fun like that in a healthy way. Since my close friends who are office workers have an actor like me as their friend, they tend not to care about the day of the week either. Of course, there have been times when we’d think, “Oh, we should meet up on the weekend.”
Where do you usually hang out?
Hang out? My neighborhood! Banghwadong.
Then we should tell our readers to go to Banghwadong.
Hahaha. I’m also in Gangnam a lot these days but not regularly. I used to go to Hongdae a lot in the past, but not so much these days. Yeah, the place I frequent the most… is definitely my neighborhood (laughter).
Aside from the movie you are currently filming, are you up to anything else?
I don’t really have anything else other than filming my movie. Because it’s better to go into a project thinking entirely about that specific character. I’m the type of person to think entirely about a single project. I should take some time to think about my next project.
In that case, when can we see you on stage?
The stage… I’m not sure. But I know I’m definitely going to do it again so I ask my musical fans to not be disappointed.
Do you have something you want to say to your ever-increasing number of fans?
How should I say this, it’s been quite some time since my last drama ended but I’m touched that you’re still showing interest in me. I’m grateful and thankful. Regardless of what I do, even if you forget me for a bit, I’ll be okay (laughter).
I want people to find out slowly, over a long period of time, what kind of projects I do, the steps I take in the future, the type of actor Jo Jung-seok is. For a veeeeery long time. I don’t mind if people forget me for a bit because I’d rather they discover me over a long period of time than suddenly expressing a mere passing interest.
Wow, isn’t that a rather self-assured thing to say (laughter). It would be difficult to say that if you didn’t have confidence in yourself. Don’t people usually say things like “Don’t forget me~~” (laughter)?!
Ah… is that so (laughter)? Hm, in that case, I ought to say that. (Clapping) Don’t write what I just said. I’ll answer again. “Don’t forget me…”