[Interview] Kang Ha Neul’s Interview for 10Asia

Kang Ha-neul was an actor that enough people know in the musical scene. After making his debut in 2006, he appeared in a number of recognizable musicals including “Thrill Me,” “Spring Awakening,” and “Assassin.” And then he got cast as main character Jung Sun-woo to cable channel Mnet’s music drama “Monstar” in 2013. While a musical actor, he appeared in a few films and dramas but not once had he gained so much recognition as he did through “Monstar.” Simply put, he gained stardom. Music dramas are actually genres that actors would not dare take up unless they are fully equipped and prepared to because you need to both act and sing well. Plus, not everybody gets the main character role.What a long way of explaining that Kang Ha-neul is an actor who is already equipped with many talents. Now let’s listen to what he had to say.

Q. I heard you’ve already finished shooting all your scenes for “Monstar” so what are you doing these days?

Kang Ha-neul : I got done on July 5 so it’s been about two weeks. And since then, I’ve been working out and learning a lot of things. I’m actually addicted to exercising. I wasn’t able to work out that much while working on the drama so I’ve been doing everything I can from kickboxing to weight training to swimming.

Q. When did you start working out? And I didn’t mean to ask this sort of question from the very beginning of the interview but I met producer Kim Won-suk [of “Monstar”] a few days ago and he told me a funny incident regarding the scene you showed some skin (laugh). How satisfied were you with the scene?

Kang : (Laughs). Oh that! I actually wasn’t happy with it but I thank the director (producer Kim Won-suk) for it very much nonetheless because it gave me an opportunity to show a different side to me. However, I personally think that I showed that body as mine, not Sun-woo’s. And I’ve been working out since I was in high school. I started gaining weight in middle school and in high school, weighed up to 100 kilograms. So I worked out to lose weight and at one point, I got so skinny that I started going to the gym to put on some muscle. I’m hooked to exercising now.

Q. Wow, 100 kilograms? I can’t imagine it. How did you lose all that weight? What’s your secret?

Kang : Not eating is my secret. I still don’t have anything after 6 p.m. except for water. I do go out to drink once in a while these days but I usually don’t have dinner. And it’s tough not being able to eat but I can control myself when I think of going back to those days.

Q. Based on what you’ve told me so far, I think your school days must’ve been very different from that of your character Jung Sun-woo’s. Jung Sun-woo was a well-behaved guy who seemed cold because he didn’t show his emotions easily. How different and similar are you to him?

Kang : Of course we’re different in many ways but I think that of the “Monstar” characters, I’m the most similar to Sun-woo. I’m not outgoing and I wasn’t a model student, but I liked playing instruments. I’m similar to Sun-woo in that sense. I’m also quick-witted because I did a lot of part-time jobs since I was young. And it’s one of my biggest strengths. I also have the habit of thinking to myself. So if something turns out the way I thought it would, I rejoice by myself thinking, ‘Yes, I was right!’ But I wasn’t an outsider (laughs). I guess I should say that I was just a bit odd in some ways.

Q. Then is there anything that your oddness prompted you to do out of the blue?

Kang : I suddenly wanted to go on a penniless journey during summer vacation of 11th grade. So I went to Gyeongju by myself with just enough money for round trip transportation and 3,000 won (approximately 2.5 dollars). Once I got to Gyeongju and went a bit away from the city, it was all fields and paddies. So I helped out there, got fed, and slept at bus stops. I was a beggar by the time I returned home a week later.

Q. I think you must’ve decided to become an actor around that time as well. You went to the Department of Theatre at Chung-Ang University.

Kang : I graduated from the department of theatre at the National Middle & High School of Traditional Arts as well. But I hadn’t thought of going to college up until 11th grade because I felt rebellious toward Korea’s college entrance system. I was immature and thought, ‘I won’t prepare to go to college by reading the same monologue scripts that everybody else does too.’

Q. You’re definitely sounding less and less like Jung Sun-woo (laughs). How did you come to have a change of heart then?

Kang : When I was in 12th grade, I thought, ‘Okay, let’s still go to college. I’m sure there’s something that only college students can experience!’ I’m all for experience. I felt that it was worth experiencing so although I was already behind everyone, I started preparing for college. And I pulled all-nighters every day to do so. Everyone else had teachers to practice with, but I started late so I had to practice alone.

Q. But you got accepted in one go.

Kang : I was lucky. And I felt proud because although I was behind others, I tried hard and my effort paid off.

Q. How good were your grades in school?

Kang : I did well at everything other than Korean literature, English, and Math (laughs). But I’ve always loved to read although there’s a reason for this. I love actor Morgan Freeman and he once said that an actor is someone that reads books. So I started reading. I didn’t like reading before that but I did because of what he said, and now it’s become a habit. I’m hooked to psychology books these days so I’m thinking that I’d like to minor in psychology. It’s a field that helps a lot with acting.

Q. Here’s a typical question. Your parents must have been against you pursuing acting so how did you overcome this?

Kang : They weren’t. And it’s been so much help. My parents were actually stage actors and my mother was even a fashion model. They don’t like having their names mentioned though because they do different things now. But anyway, all aspiring actors usually face a lot of opposition from their parents but I didn’t go through it. They rather accepted it as if was very natural. So I’m lucky in that sense.

Q. Then they must monitor your work very closely as well.

Kang : That’s the tough thing about them (laughs). So on Fridays when “Monstar” is on, I go home late on purpose because I get embarrassed when they sit me down and comment on this and that. But they really like my character Sun-woo and tell me that I should always be thankful to the writer and producer.

Q. I heard that producer Kim Won-suk scolded a lot of actors on set. Were you one of them?

Kang : It’s embarrassing to say this myself but I actually didn’t get scolded, not even once. But I wasn’t the only one. Yong Jun-hyung and Park Kyu-sun didn’t ever get scolded either.

Q. But you’re still new when it comes to dramas so it must’ve been very encouraging to get compliments.

Kang : I’ve been told I need to be humble when I talk about how hard I work, but I really did work hard this time. While playing Sun-woo, I came to learn the cello, bass, and contrabass – instruments I had never played before. And I practiced playing them by sleeping only an hour or half an hour. I was stuck to the cello all day. So I was thankful that the producer believed in me and complimented me after all that hard work I put in. I don’t think I would’ve been able to work as hard if he hadn’t complimented me.

Q. Are you the type that gets encouraged by compliments or works harder when you’re scolded?

Kang : I’m actually the type that does better when nobody cares. I’m thankful for the attention but it sometimes puts more pressure on me and I lose steam when I get scolded. My motto is to do what I need to do so I’m the type that’ll complete whatever I’m supposed to do even when nobody cares.

Q. I know this is a bit of a mischievous question but I became suspicious of your relationship with actress Ha Yeon-soo who plays the main female character in “Monstar” because you looked at her so affectionately at a public event.

Kang : No. There’s really nothing. But we’ve become friends. Very good friends. I haven’t been acting for long but she approached me first to ask me about things. Yet since I’m not in the position to teach anybody how to act, we worked together on figuring out how to play our roles. And so we became close naturally but I don’t have any ulterior motives.

Q. She picked you as her ideal guy at the press conference. Although it’s also because you guys worked together on a commercial before.

Kang : But it’s still nice getting picked as someone’s ideal type.

Q. What sort of scene partner was Yong Jun-hyung?

Kang : He was so busy that we weren’t able to eat together after I got done with the drama. But I sent him a text message and told him that I thank him a lot. I texted him, “Thank you for being my partner and thank you for being my scene partner. I learned a lot from you and I was really very happy.”

Q. You’ve decided on your next project, which is writer Kim Eun-sook’s “Heirs” (translated title). I think it’s a role that’s guaranteed success.

Kang : But playing a main or supporting character isn’t that important for me. The only important thing is that I get to do good projects. And I’m not being fake. Really, my view on acting is that there may be small actors but there aren’t small roles. You become a small actor once you start becoming particular about whether your role is big or small. In the first drama I did, I was a supporting cast member. I don’t even remember what sort of drama it was though because I was going back and forth between different dramas back then. Yet in the first scene I ever did, I showed my back and wore a wig to pretend I’m a female student. I still had fun doing it though.

Q. Producer Kim Won-suk was very happy over news of your next project. And when I asked him whether it feels like he’s lost you to someone else, he flatly denied it, and said he’d rather like you to become so popular that he’ll never be able to cast you again.

Kang : He called me to congratulate me. But he told me that I must be kidding when I told him, ‘I like playing main roles but I prefer doing good projects’ (laughs). He had actually told me during our first script reading session, “Become an actor that is impossible to cast.” It didn’t hit me back then but he said it again when we talked over the phone recently and I was both moved and thrilled.

Q. We’ll have to end the interview talking about your dream as an actor. What’s your goal?

Kang : To be able to proudly say that I’m an actor. I haven’t ever called myself an actor yet. I’ve always been an aspiring actor, always learning to act. And I’m still learning. And I’d always like to dream of the impossible because I think it’d become a possibility some day.

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