"Sweater, Fendi. Trousers, Dior Men. Necklace, John Hardy"
"Jacket, Kimseoryong OPPOSITE: Jacket, Kimseoryong. Top, stylist’s own"
In 2015, actor Kim Jung-Hyun made his debut as a rebellious high school bad boy gymnast in the South Korean coming-of-age film Overman. The role earned him Best New Actor nominations at the 25 Buil Film Awards and the 22 Chunsa Film Arts Awards, and kick-started a career that has seen him play a host of characters on both the big and small screens. Yet, it wasn’t until five years, three feature films and seven television series later that Kim can say without a doubt that he has arrived at the Big Leagues—thanks to his portrayal of Gu Seung-Joon in TV series phenomenon Crash Landing on You (CLOY). His ability to balance tragedy with an impeccable comic delivery saw Gu grow into one of the rom-com’s most beloved characters. Here, he speaks with BAZAAR on how life has been treating him post-CLOY and taking things one step at a time.
You came up tops in real-time searches for a period of time.
Yes, I was genuinely surprised. I’m really thrilled that people searched for my name and that of my character from CLOY.
Your topless scene in it made headlines as well.
I filmed a topless scene in the drama Don’t Dare to Dream too, but my character was a high school student, so I didn’t really feel any pressure back then, especially since the director from the show told me that I didn’t need to have a good body for the scene. It was different this time [for CLOY] because I was playing the character of a man. My body wasn’t ready because I didn’t have the time to work out throughout the filming. So it’s good that I’m trained in Brazilian jiu-jitsu—although there’s still room for improvement and to be a bit more toned (laughs).
Tell us more about your role as Gu Seung-Joon.
Outwardly, he may seem like the most immature character in the drama, but I feel that his character was more evolved than that: He’s not immersed in his sadness and, as a matter of fact, he lived brightly. While I was playing the role, I kept thinking about what it was that he really wanted; his motivations. Was it money? Revenge? Seung-Joon’s last scene saw him getting help from a young North Korean boy and it was then that I realised what it was that he was truly lacking. He was lonely. Perhaps that explains why I still remember that last scene so vividly.
Now that you have established your presence with this work, have you started thinking about your direction as an actor?
Not at all. I don’t particularly think of the shows to be in, or the roles to play. I want to be an actor who is able to portray anything, regardless of genre or character. Acting is a form of communication for me. I hope to be able to speak to people through my work, and for as long as I can.
What was the moment you realised how popular the drama had become?
My friends asked me for the scriptwriter’s phone number because they wanted to know why she killed off my character! Then there was the time I went to a restaurant and a lady working there asked me when I had escaped from North Korea.
What was your response?
I told her that I had escaped not long ago. She gave me more side dishes because she truly thought I had come all the way from North Korea! This is all still very bewildering to me. All the dramas I’ve acted in are meaningful, but this character was evidence, personally, that I’ve managed to reach out and connect with many people. I’ve gained confidence and self-esteem through CLOY; I can’t thank everyone enough.
What was acting alongside senior actors such as Son Ye-Jin, Hyun Bin and Seo Ji-Hye like?
I’m thankful that they accepted me as a co-worker and that we weren’t trapped within the usual framework of our junior-senior culture. They were kind and treated me well, which allowed me to act freely, without hesitation. Hyun Bin-sunbaenim (a polite Korean term that juniors use to address their seniors) is a very warm person, so I was very surprised when he was unusually quiet one particular day. It turns out that he had a cold and he sent me a text later that night to apologise, saying that he had kept his distance as he didn’t want me to catch a cold because of him. I was genuinely grateful for his concern and thoughtfulness.
You’re quite a serious person, but you stand out the most when playing crafty, youthful characters.
Through acting, I’ve discovered new sides to myself. I’m from Busan, and my friends there have said they can see me playing a cunning character.
You started studying English as soon as CLOY was over. Do you have ambitions to head to Hollywood?
Hollywood is not necessarily the goal. No matter the country or market, I just want to be able to resonate with a wider audience through various projects. A turning point for me recently happened when Parasite won Best Picture at the Oscars; I was completely impressed. I thought: “It’s possible to make it in Hollywood if the plot and acting are good; it’s not a closed door at all.” I’m not saying that I’m only focused on awards such as the one that Parasite won. It would be more meaningful for me if people saw my work and it resonated with them. Nonetheless, I’m trying to speak English as much as possible so that I don’t have to turn down any role or opportunity that comes along.
CONFIDENCE AND SELF-ESTEEM THROUGH CRASH LANDING ON YOU; I CAN’T THANK EVERYONE ENOUGH.
“I WANT TO BE AN ACTOR WHO IS ABLE TO PORTRAY ANYTHING, REGARDLESS OF GENRE OR CHARACTER"
Suit, Kimseoryong OPPOSITE: Shirt, Valentino. Trousers, Marni by Mue. Shoes, Givenchy
Makeup: Eunjoo Oh/Blow Hair: Hyun-Chul Moon/Blow
TRANSLATION: JANG YEA-JIN. ADDITIONAL REPORTING: CHARMAINE HO
PHOTOGRAPHED BY YOON SONGYI