"I don't know where he went. Whether he went to the countryside by himself, whether he went to meet his mother, or he might have been on his way to commit suicide." This was Kim Jae-wook's explanation of his character Hong Jae-wook from SBS TV series "Bad Boy" who left alone, leaving everything behind. This man who had always been the first to take on the most 'hot' and trendy roles as proven in MBC drama "The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince" and film "Antique," always turned his back on the spotlight headed towards him. And he then showed a new side to him through "Bad Boy" by playing an heir of a conglomerate who is temperamental and acts the way he pleases, yet on the inside is actually craving for affection. But despite his jobs as being a model, actor and musician, the most attractive aspect to Kim is Kim Jae-wook himself. 10Asia took a peak into the interesting world that this 27-year-old man lives in.
10: It's been about two weeks since shooting for "Bad Boy" has ended. How have you been since then?
Kim Jae-wook: It feels like it's been more than a month. I did nothing but sleep. I'm tired no matter how much I sleep and the fatigue won't go away. When I'm working on a drama or movie, the thought that I'll get to meet so and so and do this and that when I'm done, is in a way sort of the hope and drive that keeps you going but now that I'm actually done, my body can't keep up. I feel lethargic about everything right now.
10: Does it have anything to do with the style of the drama or the role you played?
Kim: The thing is, it's hard to make a judgment on that. When I was done filming "Antique," there was definitely a process and time it took to shed off my character but I just wasn't quite aware of it when I was actually in that situation. You realize it once you let go of the character completely. Right now, I'm not sure. And put aside what others think, I myself sometimes wonder to myself whether I've already caught the actor disease when I'm not even anybody yet. Also, from a realistic standpoint, things didn't end the way I planned them to so that's also why it feels like I haven't come to a complete stop.
10: But of all the different work that you've done so far including modeling, music and even movies, dramas are the most popular genre. What was the response from people around you?
Kim: The funny thing is, I had monitored the show with Kim Nam-gil and Han Ga-in, and after the show goes on air, they'd receive piles of text messages from the chief of their agencies, friends, mothers... And they would say what was good and what was bad but never once did I get such messages. I guess I haven't lived my life properly. (laugh) When I talk to people around me for something else, they'd just say, "I saw you on the show briefly. You were pretty good." Even my own parents sent a text message once, after the first show, saying they saw me and when I asked later on why they wouldn't call me after the shows air, she said, "Why, do I have to? I saw you, I did. I just expected you to be busy." (laugh)
10: How was it working on Korea-Japan co-production "The Love of Pygmalion" with director Kim Yoon-chul? He's probably the person that thought the hardest about how to utilize an actor who isn't used to the TV camera.
Kim: I'm actually quite... the type that bothers the director a lot on set. It was like that with director Min Kyu-dong for "Antique" and with director Lee Hyung-min too. Other people might think we're fighting (laugh) but I'm always asking "Why?" But I never had to do that for "Pygmalion." I was cast for the movie in mid-December and we talked about every single scene so much, for almost a month and a half until we went into shoot, that my script was almost in shreds. Because we had talked about everything, I had a firm trust in him when I went onto the set so when the director says something, I'd say okay right away. I wanted to die because we shot under an extremely tight schedule but I think I felt very comfortable on set.
10: "Bad Boy" is almost the first time a role you've played has been involved in romance properly.
Kim: That's right. It was fun. I feel this every time I take on a role but I'm very lucky when it comes to people so all of the actors were such great people that we came to be close enough not to misunderstood each other no matter what was said. It was very comfortable acting with them. And I actually become so close with Han that she said she actually felt uncomfortable shooting our kissing scene. (laugh)
10: In that sense, your relationship seemed like that of brother and sister rather than a man and woman.
Kim: I think it rubbed off from how I usually treat her. For example, if we were given detailed directions, we'd do what we've been told to. But in a situation where we have more freedom, it's up to the actors to show the changes in expression or create the atmosphere. If there's a kissing scene, there's a subtle change in the atmosphere before and after it, but it's no use calculating what you should do after that because what comes after that depends on how that kissing scene is shot. You could treat the other person more gently or become like a child. That's why we just concentrated on each other for each scene based on the most basic frame. We'd do ad-libs to the point that it wouldn't be problematic, that would change how the other person responds and then you start forming things that only you two know. We had fun doing the acting but I don't know what viewers might have thought of it. (laugh)
10: Have you been given a more diverse range of scenarios or projects since "Bad Boy"?
Kim: I was given a lot of roles along the lines of the pretty boy from "Coffee Prince" when that ended and then similar roles to the gay patisserie I am in "Antique" after that was shown. The funny things is, I was wondering whether things would change a bit after "Bad Boy" but I think I haven't been given very different roles yet. And I actually haven't been able to look closely into the scenarios. I think I'd have a hard time feeling, "Oh! I like this!" in my current state... It would probably be closer to "Ha... I guess I should do this one..." I think I won't have an easy time making new choices for the time being.
10: You lived in Japan when you were young so you pulled off your lines in Japanese very easily in "Bad Boy." Being able to speak a foreign language also means you're open to more opportunities. Are you interested in any other languages regardless of how practical it is?
Kim: I do think I'm much more interested than other people. And I really want to speak English and Spanish well but the problem is that the desire is stronger than the effort I put in. (laugh) I don't have to sound like a native, I just wish I could deliver my opinion, but I don't study it separately because I'm lazy. And I relieve my stress of having to study by watching "Friends." I turn it on, thinking I'll start by working on my listening skills, and end up just listening the whole time while moving around the house.
10: I heard that you spoke almost no Korean when you first returned to Korea around the time you entered elementary school. It must've been very stressful not being able to speak your native language at that age.
Kim: Hmm... This is from a very long time ago but my dad and older brother actually spoke Japanese well but not my mom. So me and my mom communicated in a very weird way and instead, I think I knew how to communicate with Koreans who don't speak any Japanese. I learned the Korean alphabet only after I got into school, while everyone else was learning what one plus one is, but kids young early at that age.
10: The strict rules and uniform system of Korean middle and high schools is difficult for even normal Korean students to bear. I heard you tended to ask many questions about irrational regulations regarding clothing or hair when you were in school. I'm curious to know how you bared through those times because such conflict leads to extreme clashes or the student quitting school.
Kim: Once, when I was in middle school, I told my parents that I might not go to high school while we were in the car on our way to eat out. My dad isn't the type that interferes with my life but for the first time that day, I remember him saying, "But still, how about you study humanities in high school?" And being able to join a band when I go to high school played a big part too.
10: You already knew you'd be able to?
Kim: Because my brother was a bassist at a band in Seoul High School. So I was thinking I'd go to Seoul High School too and join that band but I ended up being assigned to Dankook High School.
10: It seems like joining the band was more important to you than going to high school?
Kim: I think that was sort of was the case. (laugh) Luckily, there was a band with tradition at Dankook too so I think I probably stayed in school thanks to getting into that band. I actually wasn't even going to college up till my senior year of high school. I've hurt my mom before from not going to school. I wasn't the trustworthy student.
10: Were you under any sort of determination when joining the band? Or have any thoughts on what you'd do if you didn't get in?
Kim: No. I was only thinking that I must get in.
10: Did you think you'd get in?
Kim: ... Yes. (laugh)
10: How was the audition?
Kim: The auditions took place at a classroom, on top of the teacher's table [LOL Interesting Freudian slip. I wonder if he really said "on top of" and not "in front of" or if the interviewer/translator just wrote it so]. Unaccompanied. Students trying out as vocalists all sat in a row at the back and sang in front of the juniors and seniors one by one. I remember being extremely nervous because it was the first time I was singing in front of someone for a certain purpose. I don't think I was that nervous the first time I walked the runway.
10: You started modeling in your junior year of high school too. It's a very common job now but it must've been very rare that a high school student was a model back then.
Kim: That's right. I wasn't even interested in fashion then, all I wanted to do was music, and it started with one or two shots in a magazine. Somehow things got serious but it wasn't as if I had graduated an academy and I hadn't even learned to walk when I went on my first show. I was a mess. (laugh) Now that I think about it, I don't know where I got the nerves to do it.
10: Many people like you who like music, especially rock and are in a band, decide that music is their path and will be their lifetime job. You majored in applied music in college as well.
Kim: I think I was like that up till high school. I'm sure there are lots of people like me but I really blindly idolized Kurt Cobain. It was to the extent that I thought I want to die like him when I'm 27 after releasing just three or four albums. There was even a time when I had an inferiority complex about my family being so happy. I was an immature high school kid who used to try to rationalize by thinking, 'You need to live that kind of life to make that sort of music and release that sort of energy. That's the only thing I lack in.' (laugh)
10: But it seems like you've been making choices which show you're not swayed too much by what people say and just do what you think is important instead of what people say you're good at. Have you ever thought , 'I made the choice but quite tiring and difficult living like this'?
Kim: I haven't. I'd be lying if I said I've never thought that but if I hadn't [done what I've done], I think I would've had a much harder time. I think I would have been agonized everyday if I had made the wrong choice just because I didn't want to stand out and go with the flow of the times or submit to someone's pressure. And I don't want to live like that.
10: The entertainment industry is a place where you start building up on your career the moment your face gets known. But it seems like the way you have worked till now is to push out popularity or practical things as much as possible. Even with the image you gained from "Coffee Prince" or "Antique," people usually try to utilize that and make the most of it, not lay it aside. So it seems as if at one point, you might leave behind everything that you've achieved so far with no regrets, and disappear. What are the thoughts you have behind all that? I won't die even if I don't do this? I can become more happy doing something else?
Kim: I think it's actually the opposite. If I think about whether there is something I could concentrate on as hard as I do on what I do right now, there isn't. I once taught aspiring models for about a year. I'm not the type that is good at teaching people so I just told them about my experiences and once said, "Put aside money or reputation, I want to be someone who can quit my job when I can think, 'There's nothing more to suck out of me.'" Then one student lashed out at me saying, "Do you think that's realistically possible? Why are you trying to be so cool like that?" In a way, I think it's only natural that the student responded like that. But I do hope to be the principal agent of my life. I think that's the last string that I will keep hanging onto. I think I'd become a component the moment I let go of it.
10: But I think if you're in a system which tries so hard to turn people into components, it's hard in itself just trying not to become one. And people age.
Kim: Yes, as people age, they want more stability and there are things they have to protect. But there are too many things I haven't been able to do with the energy that I have right now. It's too early for me to say I can find another form of energy from that. As of now, I'm not sure whether when I'm in my thirties, that I will proudly be able to say 'I was like this in my twenties' or feel embarrassed about having been so immature.
10: But with music, especially if you're comparing yourself with someone like Kurt Cobain, I think it's a genre where you can see the limit of your talent very clearly. Have you ever thought of that?
Kim: I've felt it from a long time ago. I think it's an excuse to say I haven't been able to concentrate my energy on one field, that's just the limit to what I can do but I cling onto it. And because that's when I feel the most alive. But I don't think I would've said all of this if I was younger. I had been living such a risky and competitive life till now that the moment I admitted to it, I might have become crushed. Now, I think I've become more at ease compared to then. And I both like it and dislike it. It makes me think whether I'm just becoming like everyone else, that I'm losing my uniqueness.
10: Well since you're done with the drama, you'll have to start your activities with band 'Walrus.' How did this come about in the beginning?
Kim: We're all friends from college. It started with the three of us but we didn't have a bassist so one person joined recently. I had always wanted to work with him and it turns out he finished serving in the military early this year so I half forced him to join. (laugh)
10: I heard that it's been nine years since Walrus was formed. You weren't able to pursue your activities as a band very actively so what was the driving force behind you remaining together?
Kim: I'm not sure about that either. And I don't know about the other members but I at least have never given up on the fact that I'll do a band. Added to that, I always thought, 'I'm going to do a band. I'm going to do it with these guys.'
10: I don't know if it's understandable for a third party but how is it that you're sure that it's 'these guys' that you want to work with? I'm sure it's not just an issue of being close friends with them.
Kim: Hmm... Well with drummer Tae-hyun, I thought that I should do with him the moment I first saw him when I entered college. And I got to know the guitarist a bit after that. I think everybody feels like this? It doesn't work with one-sided love. I'm sure there are vocalists who are much better than me and drummers much better than Tae-hyun but I just felt that I should work with him.
10: I'm sure you have a simple dream for your band, not as a model or actor.
Kim: Well, if I may tell you without any consideration of what my band might think, (laugh) it's my dream to go on tour like in the movie "Almost Famous." We'd all live together in one bus for months -- the members of our band, the staff and a reporter from a magazine. I think it would be impossible to do in Korea so maybe, if I may be a bit greedy, I think I'd be very happy if I could live like that for a few months in the Asian market.
10: You performed on stage a couple of times last year including at the Grand Mint Festival. How would you evaluate your band's performance?
Kim: I don't know. I don't look at what we did afterwards. It's not because I'm confident but because I'm not. When I was in high school or before I started acting, I had so much freedom because people didn't have the image of me as being 'actor Kim Jae-wook' but I couldn't find my tension in the two performances I did after that. The performance had to go with my music, mood and style but my body just wouldn't move well. It's not that I'm scared of damaging my image as an actor. But I'm aware of it. Ultimately, it goes down to me, my identity. Fundamentally, there's also the problem of not having rehearsed enough or not having certainty about my music. I don't know when I'll be performing again but I'm going to try not to be like that again. I'm very sensitive about such trial and error. I need to make sure that it doesn't happen again if I want to feel happy about it. And I need to monitor what I've done. I still block my ears and scream "Ahhhhhh I don't know, I don't know, I don't know!!" when my friends start saying, "Hey, I saw you on YouTube and..." (laugh)
10: But I thought that people who do work that involves showing many other people usually fall under strong narcissism. I think they don't have that certain aura about them without it. It doesn't necessarily have to be narcissism but do you think you sort of have something like that too?
Kim: I do. I think it's really hard to be in this industry without it. I talked about that once with actor Lee Sun-kyun while drinking with him -- whether someone without narcissism can do something by exposing themselves and make something that has no answer to it. And we came to the conclusion that you can't express something and show who you are without being narcissistic. But the word 'narcissism' doesn't give off such a great vibe in Korea. It all goes down to whether you change some form of energy into narcissism and while I think I mostly felt hostility and rebellious when I was younger, I think I've changed a bit now. I've become more broad-minded as well. I think it shows in the lyrics that I write too.
10: I think songwriting probably feels different from modeling or acting in the sense that you express your idea in text and deliver it through singing. In a way I think it's the most difficult job to mask yourself.
Kim: I think I show myself the most through music. Because it's a genre where you can so express everything so purely without any filtering. And that's also why I think it's the most difficult. It's difficult and I try to be careful with it. Maybe that's why it took nine years. (laugh) And it's also difficult because I didn't learn to write somewhere and I don't know how others do it.
10: You started working in your late teens and you're now in your late twenties. I would say that you've relatively taken a path that you've chosen for yourself. What do you think?
Kim: I had fun. And rather than finding satisfaction out of it, I really think 'I would've had a really hard time if I hadn't done it this way.' Back then it was a really small choice that I made but I think not giving up or stepping back changed a lot of things for me. I also think I'm lucky even with the fact I've gotten this far. I guess I'm lucky. I actually haven't changed by much compared to then. I've just become more sly so I act differently from then in how I try not to have people misunderstand me, dislike me and not think I'm weird. If I keep using my energy to express hostility or rebelliousness while living a life that others don't think is natural, I'll only be turning myself into an outsider. But I think I'm growing increasingly scared because I didn't used to feel much stress over this back then. Now, I have things I need to protect and support, and a small mistake I make can lead to causing big problems. So I do have migraines that I didn't have before.
10: Do you still become interested in different fields of work?
Kim: Yes, I've had so many dreams since I was young. A police officer, cook, archaeologist and I've also wanted to save penguins in the South Pole. But there's only a limited number of things one can do in their lifetime. And even though I know that, there are still new things that pop into my mind. I recently became an avid fan of the Spanish national football team. And I though, 'Is it too late to start soccer at 27?' I wanted to become a national soccer player of the Spanish team rather than wanting to play soccer. And I'm Korean! (laugh) So I just bought their home and away uniforms. I wear it when I'm at home and when I workout. I actually like baseball the most but I play a lot of soccer these days.
10: What do you think you need to live with the minimum amount of satisfaction?
Kim: I think it's people. The energy that is made during the time I spend while I'm alone is created during the time that I don't spend alone. So I think ultimately, you gain the most from people and you can't do anything without them.
10: Then what is the virtue you consider the most important of people and what would you never look past?
Kim: Hmm... This is difficult. There are many things I feel instinctively everyday when meeting people but I don't think I've ever put them into words. And of course there are a lot of things I wouldn't approve of. But I'll talk about this again when we do an unlimited interview. (laugh)
Source: 10Asia - 1, 2, 3