So 이번 생은 처음이라 / Because This Is My First Life wraps up this week. This interview came out in October, right before the show started airing so it’s kinda old news at this point, but I needed something to occupy me between episodes and it’s been ages since I’ve translated celebrity news anyway, so here it is.
Man, this drama. I came for the contract marriage trope (and also Lee Min-ki because I literally can’t remember seeing him in anything other than Dalja’s Spring) and stayed for the earnestness, the poignancy, the tender heartache present in all the characters.
Growing up, I thought a lot about love and marriage and how they relate to each other, given that my family feels one way about it and the society I grew up in feels the almost exact opposite. And now with those two worlds currently colliding in my life, this drama couldn’t have made a more timely arrival.
이번 생은 처음이라 will soon be the only Korean drama I’ve managed to finish in 2017. I may be speaking too soon, but I think it’ll be sticking with me for a long, long time after as well.
(Disclaimer: All copyright belongs to the original source. I am not profiting by this translation and cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
Source: Marie Claire
A man with a house and a debt, a woman without a house or money. Due to air in October, upcoming tvN drama Because This Is My First Life is the story of young adults who struggle to survive in an age where taking care of oneself is hard enough, never mind getting married or dating, and where money has to come before your dream.
What kind of person is Nam Se-hee, the character you play in Because This Is My First Life?
Hang on. I wrote down my thoughts about Nam Se-hee at one point. Oh, I wrote quite lot! (Laughter) He’s the kind of guy who only does things that he can take responsibility for. He will carry the exact amount of weight that he is able to carry, and take on the exact amount of work that he is able to bear. He sees life as something that is mathematical, as though he can cut with a sword. He is the type of person who never crosses the line he’s drawn for himself.
Do you always hand-write your feelings about the character you’ll be playing?
It’s different every time, but this time I wanted to write it out by hand.
You must enjoy writing by hand.
I think writing by hand is better suited to my personality than typing on a keyboard. Unfortunately, I have terrible handwriting so I’m the only one who can decipher it.
How did you prepare for your role as Nam Sehee?
I talked a lot with my friends. This Is My First Life is essentially a story about the worries that young people my age have. Obviously, we can only live in our own times, we can only think our own thoughts, but the values we live by are influenced by our parents’ generation. Marriage is like that too. There are lots of complicated preparations involved. That is to say, marriage itself isn’t just the will of the man and woman involved, it’s influenced by various other circumstances too
You’ve taken on many characters with intense personalities in the past. In contrast, this character feels much more realistic. It’s possible you may not be familiar with this type of role.
It’s not that my intensity has waned in the last three years. The actor in me continues to exert himself in order to act well. I have to completely embody the character that I take on but my desire to do well interferes a lot with myself. I want to quickly immerse myself in the role.
Since this is your first project in a while, I assume that you would want to show people a new side of yourself.
More than wanting to show a new side of myself, I want to be able to properly reveal the story that this drama aims to tell. Because it tells the story of our generation’s worries. I want the drama to not necessarily provide the right answer, but shed light on those worries. This drama makes you conscious of one’s space, for example. It’s only proper that you maintain distance between someone else’s space and your own. But often, it’s easy to be disrespectful and encroach on someone’s personal space. SNS is the same way. Online, you can very easily encroach on someone’s domain. I hope this production will make people conscious of that sort of thing.
Is there something you’ve become conscious of thanks to Because This Is My First Life?
That you shouldn’t live your life thinking one-dimensionally. People tend to simply accept the previous generation’s ways because, ultimately, they’re not sure about their own ways. It’s like brainwashing. I used to be like that too, until recently. For example, when you’re driving and someone honks loudly at you and overtakes you, of course you’ll get angry.
But after some time, it’s important to realize that maybe the other person had an emergency. Regardless of what the situation is, if you take a moment to reconsider it, you’ll find something that will help you understand it.
We did an interview with you over 10 years ago. It was a long while back, but I remember you said your ambition was to play all kinds of characters.
Back then, I wanted to experience everything. As it is, we only have one life to live, so I wanted to try living as a different people through acting. I hadn’t had proper training when I started acting, so I thought I needed to experience everything to be able to act.
Have your feelings about acting changed since then?
Rather than saying it’s changed, I’d say I see things more from afar these days. In the past, I used to dive intensely into the script just for saying one line, but now I want to pull back slightly and communicate the story the script intends. Of course, I still worry about whether I’m acting well or not. The more I keep acting, the worse I become, I think. It’s getting harder too. I am one person. I don’t know how to show anyone anything else. Sometimes I even think I was better in my past performances.
It’s difficult for anyone to evaluate himself.
It might also be because of my personality. There are those who think they’ve done something very well even if they’ve only done the bare minimum, and there are those who agonize over the slightest thing they lack. I’m the latter. I worry a lot about how I can make up for [fill in] the things I lack and the extent to which I lack those things.
What’s something [that you lack] that you would want to fill in?
Too many to count. [Veteran actress] Kim Hye Soo said once to me that she worries about whether she’s filling in enough parts of herself as she gets older. Because of that desire to keep filling herself up, she spends every night reading or watching movies and doesn’t even have time to sleep. I think I understand what she meant now. I want to fill in parts of myself until I feel a little more solid.
The more you fill yourself up, the more you have to empty yourself too. Is there anything that you want to set aside?
A few years ago, I read a few books about minimalism and I discovered the root of all the stress I had been experiencing until then. Thanks to that, I thought a lot about how to clear things out. I started putting it into practice as well. The fewer the things you carry, even if it’s just one small thing, the lighter your thoughts become.
Have you thought about how you want to grow moving forward? Like the kind of adult you want to become?
It’s hard to say what kind of adult I want to become. I think I just want to keep on maturing. Won’t a person who grows up having had good experiences become a better person? If you encounter bad people, you start warning others about them. You know that understanding people means more opportunities to get hurt and suffer, so you start avoiding them. You know that nothing good comes out of talking a lot, so you start talking less. If you’re a good person in a good environment, you’ll be able to become a good adult, won’t you?
You’re back in a new role much sooner than expected.
I was planning on resting a little after <Father Is Strange>. Since this is the second consecutive production I’ve done in the last six months, I figured people would be tired of me and, of course, I was really worn out too. Usually, I would have rested but there was nothing usual about <Because This Is My First Life>. It’s the first time I’ve found a project interesting just from reading the synopsis.
Do you find the character appealing?
In the past, I used to weigh the character that I was playing much more heavily, but now I look at the entirety of the project. The wittiness of the script was appealing to me, but not just for Yoon Ji-ho’s character; her friends were interesting and lovable too. I was excited to see how these fascinating characters were connected and watch the story unfold. The interesting thing is, there are quite a lot of similarities between me and my character. Ji-ho makes unpredictable choices all the time. She didn’t listen to her father who wanted her to study education and instead enrolled in Korean Studies. I did the same thing. My father thought I was going to major in dance, but I had secretly applied for the acting department. My character’s friends in the drama are similar to my friends in real life, too. I’m also part of a trio with two of my childhood friends from high school, just like Ji-ho. My parents raised me in Jinju, and the drama is set in Jinju too. There are lots of little similarities like that. It’s like the the writer had written the part based on my life.
Where do you think the courage to make unexpected choices comes from?
I’m the type of person who can act decisively if I’m confident that my choice will make me more happy. I choose what will make me more joyful. In order for that to happen, I have to have a definitive criteria for that choice. In my early- and mid-twenties, I was anxious. I wavered a lot during that time, but since then, I’ve come to establish my own values to live by. Obviously, I’m not done coming up with all of them but now I have more leeway, and when I’m at the crossroads of some choice, I’ve learned not to waver. In the past, I placed a significant amount of importance on my career as an actor. But now I think my life is what is most important and my confidence is what shouldn’t be shaken. Because only if I exist does the actor Jung So-min exist as well.
It must be easier to play a character who is similar to yourself.
There are a lot of small similarities, but strangely, it makes acting harder. When it’s someone else I can explain things objectively. But, when it comes to myself on the other hand, I don’t quite know what kind of person I am. Usually, I act by grasping the shape of the character, but this time I don’t know what that shape is. What kind of person am I? I’m just me. It makes me feel vulnerable and exposed.
Your chemistry with your co-star in Father Is Strange was really good. You must feel some pressure to have been paired with another actor before we’ve forgotten that chemistry.
It bothers me more than it should. Even though it’s just acting, it kind of feels like cheating? (Laughter) But I have confidence in myself too. In the beginning and middle of the drama, Lee Min-ki and I will be showing you a “subtly awkward” chemistry. It’s not that they’re not attracted to one another, but there’s something awkward about their relationship. Above all, Lee Min-ki has shown me a lot of care and consideration as a more senior actor.
How had you originally planned on spending your time after wrapping up your previous drama?
For the past 2-3 years, I’ve worked without taking a break. In the past, when I had free time, I would learn something. I liked learning and experiencing new things. But now, if I have a month or two off, I just rest. I feel frustrated if I have to go out somewhere during that short period of time. I think it’s because I’ve been working too hard. Now, when it’s my time off, I just want to rest thoroughly. If I had a long vacation right now, I’d travel. I’d originally promised to take a trip with my mother, but I’ve broken that promise twice now. I’d made plans to travel to Europe with my mom after finishing up Father Is Strange, but Mom ended up going alone.
Because This Is My First Life is a story about the worries of this generation’s youth. Are your worries similar to Ji-ho’s?
Some of them are similar. The reason you worry, ultimately, is because of the future. Even though she graduated from Seoul National University, Jiho has been financially struggling as an assistant writer for 10 years. She’s so busy trying to survive today that she has no time to plan for tomorrow. Not being able to plan for the future is the part that’s similar to me. Even though it’s not exactly a worry, there are a lot of things that I can empathize with. For example, the unfair things you experience during your work life. The reason Jiho is a good person is that even in that situation, though she is flexible in other aspects of her life, when something goes against her beliefs, she always calls it out. Like, ‘I won’t go this far.’
With this a new upcoming show, you must feel some pressure to show off a new self?
More than that, I want to learn something from the character I play. Because that character isn’t me, I’ll learn something for sure. Acting is like learning how to be someone that isn’t you. I want to make an effort to learn the characteristics that I don’t have but that I want to emulate. Having acted now for almost 10 years, the good parts of many characters have stayed with me. I think the way I look at the world has changed for the better too.
What do you look forward to learning from Ji-ho?
The thing I want to emulate the most is Ji-ho’s ‘clarity.’ If she feels she’s been wrongfully hurt by someone, she doesn’t keep quiet, she brings it up then and there. She doesn’t let it build up or swallow it down. It’s not that she thinks she’s special, or that she’s trying to look cool. It’s only been about ten days since we started filming, but I hope as this production continues, I’ll master that part of Ji-ho.