Really experienced painful love through the role of Lee Gak
Since Yuchun debuted in the drama world in 2010 with ‘Sungkyunkwan Scandal’, every piece of work has left solid results, giving off a unique sense of presence as an actor. In the drama ‘Rooftop Prince’, the ease of acting from historical drama to comedy, mournful and moist eyes, cute look of surprise with big round eyes, and more, the 20-episode drama showed all of Yuchun’s charms at one go. And this work is by far the best interpretation of a role, bringing to everyone a fantasy-like realism. “I really experienced painful love, even the atmosphere during the shoot became strange,” Yuchun recalled those times.
Felt it was very interesting upon first reading of the script.
Q: When choosing a work, we heard that you will select it if the story attracts you when you first read the script. Is it the same for ‘Rooftop Prince’?
A: If I want to really compare, out of the 3 works that I have done to-date, ‘Rooftop Prince’ attracted me the most. When reading the script for Sungkyunkwan Scandal, there were 4 episodes, ‘Miss Ripley’ was also about the same, ‘Rooftop Prince’ had only 2 episodes of script, but I decided I have to act in it after reading these 2 episodes.
Q: Which parts did you especially like?
A: Time travel and one person acting 2 roles were great, and the role of Lee Gak was very attractive. In the 1st episode, he is a very dignified Crown Prince (first in line to the throne), but when he came to 21st century Seoul, that stance completely collapsed, this is what I really liked. And on the script, it was written that it will not be a simple comedy ending, so I decided to take it on.
Q: From the first broadcast, it was evaluated as a very interesting drama, did you expect that?
A: When I first read the script, I already felt that it was very interesting and it would be very popular. But when practising, I started to feel it would be bad if I was the only one who thought it was interesting. There is a big difference between the script and the image, isn’t it? Not only me, the director and the 3 servants also worried over this. So when Lee Gak time traveled from Joseon period to 21st century Seoul, I was careful not to look too exaggerated. As much as I could, I acted serious and so viewers felt it was interesting. Even in a funny situation, Lee Gak has a serious look on his face, so I think that made viewers laugh.
Q: Joseon crown prince Lee Gak and modern princely Yong Tae Yong, how would you compare the two?
A: Lee Gak is like a celebrity; Tae Yong is like a person who wants to escape from the life of a celebrity. Lee Gak is in the centre of all matters, he is watched by many eyes, every action is accompanied by responsibility. In contrast, Yong Tae Yong lives the life he wants and is a free spirit.
Q: When you decided to act in this, there were only a few days to the start of the shoot. In this situation where you had no time, how did you shape the character?
A: In forming the character of Lee Gak, the most difficult part was deciding on the overall tone of voice. The tone is not just decided by thinking “have to do it this way”, but it should flow naturally out of the character. In the first half, when I had not fully merged into the role yet, I was bothered by the tone. I kept feeling that I did not show well the majestic dignity of a crown prince, so I concentrated on this part when acting. For example, when I am leading my men, just by my eye expression, the other party will feel overpowered; or by my eyes I express that I “will not let criminals go unpunished”. I focused on showing these details.
Q: The tone and actions that only a crown prince has, were they set by you?
A: There was not enough time to prepare; at the start I was worried about the pace of speech, posture and gestures. But after a while, I grasped it naturally. Especially the habit of clasping my hands behind my back, after the drama ended, I still do it out of habit. (laugh) Recently, I have been reminding myself not to put my hands behind my back.
Q: In the second half, one person acting as two characters, Lee Gak even posed as Yong Tae Yong. When you were acting, were there any complicated areas?
A: No. I just concentrated on the role of Lee Gak and the rest of the acting came naturally. In the Joseon period, I just focused on showing Lee Gak’s grief and anger at losing the Crown Princess. In the modern world, I considered the situations that Lee Gak was in and had to show all sorts of feelings. But in the later part, acting as the real Tae Yong was a bit hard. Preparation time was insufficient, plus I was used to Lee Gak’s ancient style of a soothing tone of voice, and I became unable to catch up with the speed of modern speech. When I had to act as Tae Yong immediately after acting as Lee Gak, I think I did not handle the details well, so I have some regrets there. At that time, I suddenly thought of spectacles. With spectacles, it’s Tae Yong; without spectacles, it’s Lee Gak. So the 2 are clearly distinguishable.
In the scene at the amusement park, felt dizzy due to inhaling helium.
Q: In the first half of the story, with the death of the crown princess etc, the turn of events caused big emotional ups and downs. Did you adapt quickly to the shoot?
A: In the first episode, there was already a show of emotions and it unfolded very quickly, so shooting was tough. The content in episodes 2 and 3 were compressed, emotions had to be explosive in one moment and withdrawn in the next. And the scene where Lee Gak in modern Seoul thinks back to Joseon, that was a big burden, honestly speaking. Thinking about filming a funny scene, then very soon, we had to shoot the sad scene of seeing the crown princess’ body at the same location.
Q: To switch feelings so quickly, it requires a lot of concentration, isn’t it?
A: Yes. The feelings will not come or go in just an instant. So after shooting a scene, I will eat a sandwich to calm my feelings down, drink Milkis (a Korean carbonated drink, like Calpis Soda, that Yuchun likes) to adjust my mood. (laugh) Listening to music, reading the script over and over again, thinking about this and that. The outdoor shoot at Namwon (南原) was like that. Because there wasn’t enough time.
Q: Can you tell us some interesting bits about the outdoor shoot at Namwon (南原)?
A: The scenes of Joseon in the first episode, strolling with the crown princess, discovering the body in the pond, were all filmed at Namwon. These scenes should only take about a day to film, but it started to rain in the afternoon and it became dark quickly. So the scene where Lee Gak and the crown princess were strolling side by side and Buyong was walking behind them, it was shot at daybreak after waiting one night. Because it was a daybreak after rain, the sunlight was very beautifully reflected.
Q: In the 3rd episode, Lee Gak and Park Ha went to the amusement park and you inhaled helium, that scene was very interesting. How was it like filming it?
A: That was rather difficult. There were many scenes to be shot at the amusement park, the sky was getting dark, I just kept inhaling the helium gas earnestly (laugh) After saying to Park Ha (imitating voice after inhaling helium), “Unreasonable fellow!”, there were some more words. The feeling in the 2 lines must be continuous, I had to maintain the same voice. I sucked in as much gas as I could from the balloon, it caused me to become dizzy and I couldn’t say my lines. I had a moment of blackness in front of my eyes and I swayed; Han Ji Min sunbae (t/n senior) had a fright and said, “Your lips are purple!” I had no other thought but “quickly inhale the helium and finish it fast!” (wry smile)
Q: Are there any other scenes that we see as very interesting but were very hard to shoot?
A: Lee Gak and his 3 servants learning to brush their teeth from Park Ha (episode 2). (Jung) Suk Won hyung (as Wu Yong-sul) kept laughing and NG many times. Ji Min sunbae also looked very apologetic as she squeezed toothpaste on the toothbrush. (laugh) If the shoot was boring and you are not getting along with your co-actors, it would be very difficult. As for us, our relationship was very good; while swallowing toothpaste, we could still be laughing happily. But when you swallow too much toothpaste, you start to feel a bit faint. You have hiccups and your stomach feels very uncomfortable. (wry smile)
Q: What is the secret of maintaining a good atmosphere on set with actors of the same age?
A: I think the key to that lies with the actresses. In many situations, there are many actors and fewer actresses. For males, even if we don’t have a bath sometimes, it is alright. But for actresses, skincare is very important in order to look their best. So they often go without make-up. The actress who is the red dot among the green, if she is not in a good mood, the whole atmosphere on the set will be affected. But this time, Ji Min sunbae was more cheerful than anyone else on the set. The other actors and staff also got the job done calmly and smoothly. Jung Yumi who acted as Se Na was also like that. When you are tired, it is not easy to smile and chat cheerfully while eating, but Ji Min sunbae could face everyone cheerfully even when she was tired. Because of her, everyone had strength to complete filming.
Q: You don’t think that it is because of your good looks that you are so well-loved? Your co-actors say Yuchun does not ever let others see exhaustion on his face.
A: I am a normal person; if really tired, it will also show on my face. (laugh) Sometimes I will also quarrel with my manager. But the way you express is very important. For example, to my manager, I can’t use an agitated tone, I will say something like, “As a human, we should sleep for at least an hour a day, isn’t it? Even you would be tired, right?” If people around me see that I’m tired, wouldn’t they be even more tired? Actually when I first debuted, I was very exhausted and felt very dissatisfied. Why did I have to do this job, I did not know what was more important and I just did the job. But now I am very clear about what I’m doing and how important this job is, so I just do it happily. But controlling my own agitated feelings is still very difficult. (laugh)
Q: After the filming ended, did you still keep in touch with the other actors?
A: Yes. After the filming ended, Lee Tae Sung hyung and Yumi came to my home to play. Ji Min sunbae didn’t come because she wasn’t feeling well and was getting a drip at the hospital. We drank beer and chatted about all sorts of things, and then we went to a restaurant near my home (明太鱼料理店) and drank soju before we parted. Actually Yoo Ah In and Song Joong Ki that I acted with in ‘Sungkyunkwan Scandal were also very warm and friendly; they left a deep impression on me as actors. But the Rooftop Prince team were more like old acquaintances rather than actors and our relationship naturally became good. This kind of experience was a first, so it was unbelievable, but it felt really good.
Q: Lee Min Ho, Choi Woo Shik and Jung Suk Won who acted as the trio of servants, did they have tacit coordination right from the start?
A: From the start, there was no time to consult with each other on acting, but the tacit coordination was good. The 3 of them became very good friends, and I could also join in and act in a very relaxed manner. I think it’s because the trio prepared very enthusiastically, even the most detailed areas were accurately set, that’s why we could do improvisations. Especially Choi Woo Shik, he is very clever. He kept coming up with new ideas.
Q: Talking about improvisations, “omurice” being split up and pronounced as “o-mu-ra-i-su”, was that your idea?
A: Koreans now generally pronounce it as “omurice”. In Joseon, there were no foreign words, so the pronunciation should not be so smooth, I thought “maybe I can say it separately, syllable by syllable”. So that’s what I did, and for the last syllable, I thought it was more realistic to pronounce it with rounded lips “su”(수) than with straight lips “seu”(스). This way of pronouncing it was very interesting and had a great response. The trio who imitated me also said so, and after that, even the script was written in that way. (laugh) It does not mean that we had to do it that way, but thinking in Lee Gak’s position, words and actions that were different from the script naturally came out.
Q: Yuchun has the looks that will move a woman’s heart…
A: (Immediate reply) No, I don’t think so. Talking about being handsome, I am still lacking. I think it’s because I am not perfect, that’s why I am loved. (laugh)
Q: But still, Yuchun, who is normally good-looking and trendy, (laugh) had long hair and weird fashion like a red jersey and a denim jacket and jeans in the drama. How was it like wearing them?
A: I personally like it very much. I actually like that kind of outfit. It’s very different, isn’t it? A denim set and snow boots, is there anyone dressed like that? The hair is also bundled up. (laugh) This kind of dressing, if it does not bind with the scene of the drama, it will make people feel strange. But it goes well with Lee Gak who came from Joseon 300 years ago, has strange actions and is very awkward. It’s a pity that the wig wasn’t quite suitable at first and looked a bit strange. During filming, it was improved upon, until it finally suited my head shape, and then I had to cut my hair due to the storyline! (laugh)
Q: The love with Park Ha was deep and caused much suffering; what are your thoughts on acting this love that traveled through time with Park Ha?
A: I think it is the same for all acting, but especially for a setting like time travel, if you cannot merge yourself into the role, the feelings of romance will not arise. If you are not serious in acting, and it is not realistic, it will make viewers feel that it is just imaginary or it will give a feeling of falseness. On the other hand, if you are totally immersed in the role and understand the love that traveled through time, and then you act it out, your mood will become very depressed. I cried several times while filming this drama. Jimin sunbae as well. Once you have fallen into this unimaginable love, you can’t pull yourself out. This kind of painful love lasted during the filming. And so I am very afraid of the theme of time travel or fantasy.
Q: What are the love scenes that you still remember vividly?
A: In episode 19, the wedding scene, and the scene where Lee Gak and Park Ha are lying in bed and saying thank you. But the one that left the deepest memory is not these. It was shot for episode 19 but was not shown because of the time factor. Lee Gak has gone back to Joseon, Park Ha alone goes back to the bench where they used to sit and reminisces their past in tears. Because she is so sad, Lee Gak appears in her imagination, smiling, and then disappears. Knowing how the two are feeling and seeing Park Ha crying, but I had to smile, it was really very painful. Oh right! I also like the scene where I put the necklace on Park Ha. Knowing that we have to part very soon, putting the necklace on Park Ha, she touched my clothes, and suddenly I felt a gush of pain, ah, the feeling became very strange. My feelings were a mess and I was thinking, “What should I do~”. Then, from the rehearsal of the wedding scene, I cried a lot. Ji Min sunbae really, really wept. Seeing this kind of crying was the first time for me.
Q: You also cried in the kissing scenes. Was it written like that in the script?
A: No. In this drama, I cried a few times because I could not help it. The kissing scene was one of them. Especially the first kiss with Park Ha, it was not just a confession of love, but also held the meaning that Lee Gak has decided to give up returning to Joseon. After understanding his own feelings for Park Ha, doesn’t he have to abandon the mission of solving the mystery of the Crown Princess’ death and going back to Joseon with the 3 servants? When I thought of this, I couldn’t help but shed tears.
Q: When doing the shoot for kissing scenes, did you feel uncomfortable?
A: Like I said just now, Ji Min sunbae is very cheerful and straightforward. Filming together for about 4 months, I felt like I have known her as a friend for 10 years. So although it was the first real kissing scene, compared to the light touching of lips in ‘Sungkyunkwan Scandal’, it was done more easily.
Q: In the last scene, holding Park Ha’s hand, was it Lee Gak or Tae Yong, viewers have different opinions. How do you see it?
A: I thought it was 100% Yong Tae Yong. Holding Park Ha’s hand and changing into Lee Gak, it does not mean that Lee Gak came back into the modern world. It is just an expression of the love between two people who cannot meet. The image is imaginary, but we still want to convey to the viewers something real. Although Yong Tae Yong is the reincarnation of Lee Gak, he does not have any memory of his past life at all. So in the script, when Tae Yong goes to Park Ha’s shop, it is first written that when he sees Park Ha, he does not sense anything. But thinking that Park Ha left all alone in the modern world was very pitiful, we made this adjustment, Tae Yong keeps looking at Park Ha like he senses something, and then he smiles gently.
Q: What did you learn from this work?
A: My acting skills have widened, the desire to do dramas is stronger. Not that “I want to get better” but filming has become much happier. Rather than saying acting is pressurising, I think it is a lot more interesting than pressurising. There was acting that I did after agonising over character analysis, there was also acting that came naturally out of being totally immersed in the role. In ‘Rooftop Prince’, I showed feelings and actions that were not in the script and I got to know this kind of joy. So from now on, I want to take on the challenge of different roles. I hope one day I will become an actor that does not rely on make-up, lighting or camera angle, but relies solely on acting to be the best. Of course there will be times when I meet my limitations, but I will not be like how I was during ‘Miss Ripley’. At that time, I had the idea that I must act well and the pressure was huge. Because of ‘Rooftop Prince’, I changed my mentality towards drama shoots. From now on, I want to film every one of my works happily.