Only after passing the established time did we end our conversation. Nam Joo-hyuk talked about youth all throughout that time.
When watching dramas there comes a time when an actor’s gaze cannot be forgotten and lingers in the mind. Even more so when the actor’s chemistry with the other actor is good. In the recently concluded MBC drama Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo, Nam Joo-hyuk played the role of genius swimmer Jung Joon-hyung who is unfortunately ridden with start trauma, and he exceeded acting expectations. His ‘ultra perfect chemistry romance’ with co-actress Lee Sung-kyung may have been great, but more than that, what was great was his focus and manner towards acting. His passion that went through the camera and communicated through the small screen was good, and even the ‘Nam Joo-hyuk-like’ gaze that we have not seen before was good. It is the reason Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo left such a deep and lingering image.
We met Nam Joo-hyuk the day after the drama ended. With long strides he walked, sat down in front of the reporter and kept talking about youth in his interview. As fresh as his age of 23 years and wanting to live life more fiercely than yesterday, he is in the middle of youth.
What do you think about youth?
Me right now! Wouldn’t youth be the me of today, stirring with something hot that you can’t describe with words? Knowing that today, that this time doesn’t come again, I don’t want to spend even one day carelessly. In order to spend this youth more fruitfully, I think I have to live more intensely. The romance with Bok-joo in Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo completely showed youth’s fresh love and it was good, and that I was able to show that kind of love made me happy.
Joon-hyung and Bok-joo’s romance was particularly sweet and cute.
When I first received the script I felt a thrill for no reason (laughs). During all this time I’ve been acting I haven’t felt these racing feelings before but the romance with Bok-joo made my heart pound. It was to that point that I had fallen into character. ‘This is exactly what youth romance is!’ I said while being so immersed, so much so I hated that the drama was ending. While the ratings may have been low, it’s a drama that I have a lot of attachment for. I watched the last episode with the actors and the staff and had two glasses of beer when I usually couldn’t drink well.
What was the scene that thrilled you the most?
The amusement park scene! It was a staple dating course that I haven’t tried before, and it was fresh seeing the image of this couple trying so hard not to get caught by their friends that they liked each other. Apart from that there’s so many that I can’t count. Every time I receive a script I get surprised and say, “how can someone write a script like this?’ There were many times when I had the thought, ‘I also want to experience this kind of fresh love.’
Because of that sweetness your female fans increased.
Is that so? (laughs) Because I don’t usually wander around, I haven’t felt it. I see comments and go, ‘ah, I see.’ It feels good that I am adored and liked. However I think my cute image is too large that I am concerned. I want to be considered as a manly man. (laughs)
What is Nam Joo-hyuk’s dating style?
I’m not the bad boy type. I am very shy and I can’t express my feelings well, but once I fall in love I am the type to go all-in, to the point of being excessive. I am ready to fall in love anytime if it’s a girl who can be my source of strength as I continue as an actor. I wait for that kind of relationship where we can be each other’s comfort.
In that regard how is Lee Sung-kyung as a woman, as an actress?
A woman who’s older? (laughs) [Sung-kyung] Noona and I have the same agency and we’ve worked together many times for pictorials so there were no qualms even during filming. I felt a bit sorry to her because there were a number of scenes where I just acted and went with the flow without consulting her. In the beach date scene, I fooled around but it wasn’t part of the script. I conspired with the director and threw her into the water. Personally Bok-joo is my type. Not Sung-kyung Noona. (laughs)
Your chemistry with your same-age friend Ji Soo, who also appeared as a cameo, is also very good.
We were both active as models, we’re of the same age, and we also have similar interests so we get each other well. We even worry about the same things about acting. Ji Soo is the only man I watch movies with. I want to try acting a story filled with bromance. Lead actor to lead actor. (laughs)
It was your first lead role, you received a Rookie of the Year award, right?
It’s enshrined in a place where it can be seen well. (laughs) It was an award I really wanted to receive. It seems to mean I should act even more intensely from here on out, that I should show the motivation that I can act without being exhausted.
There were a lot of good comments about your acting.
To be honest I wanted to show that even Nam Joo-hyuk can perform this kind of acting. Throughout this time because there were a lot of assessments like ‘model turned actor’ or ‘average actor’ I also wanted to prove that I am capable of portraying emotions. So every day I worried, studied, practiced. On the 15th episode on the scene where I meet my biological mother I think I let everything out. I think I was able to show my potential to some extent, so I’m satisfied. As a result it seemed as if the criticisms became a very good stimulant for me.
Are you the competitive type?
It might be because I’ve been athletic since I was a kid so I hate losing. Whether it’s someone whose abilities are the same as mine or someone who’s better that I am, my genuine nature comes out in that I have to win against that person. ‘Let’s try seeing who wins,’ that kind of mindset. But now rather than thinking I should surpass someone, the thought of ‘let’s do well first’ is bigger.
You were a basketball player before?
I started doing sports during 3rd grade of elementary school and I was an athlete even before I started high school. I was intense. (laughs) I don’t think there’s any difference with sports and acting. Just like the feeling of practicing so many shots to connect to the goal, it’s the same as having a lot of concerns over one scene. Personally I like UFC fighter Conor McGregor’s mindset. Back when he was an unknown martial artist he said, “I will soon become the UFC champion.” Three years later he truly became a champion. A lot of the people who mocked him and said ‘What kind of confidence is that?’ ended up becoming his fans. How much work did he have to go through in order to protect the words he said? That mindset was impressive so I looked up all his videos (laughs). I will become an actor who strives hard to achieve the goals I set for myself.
Have you achieved that goal?
To have a lead role within three years of debuting can be counted as achieving that goal. To be honest, as I started acting at the age of 22, I planned the next 10 years. In my 30s I set the goal of becoming an actor who will be remembered by many people, and in the middle of that to have and fulfill each detailed goal. I think my aim was achieved earlier than I thought so I’m baffled (laughs). Now I’m going to set new goals.
Now that you’ve tried being the hero, how is it?
I’ve gained a lot of concerns over parts that I never even thought of when I was a supporting actor. Because a hero is not a supporting role but one that has to lead the drama, I felt a lot of pressure. I got to know what the responsibility of a leading actor is that my seniors talked about. However being a hero is still better (laughs).
What do you think is the responsibility of a leading actor?
Showing the charming and loveable side of the character created by the director and the writer? Through that character, making the viewers happy even for just a short time, wouldn’t that be the responsibility held by a leading actor? In this drama from the very beginning of casting, I thought, ‘I have to make this character sparkle brilliantly,” and I had the confidence to make it happen.
The burden might have crept up.
Saying that I have confidence is not the same as saying I didn’t feel burdened. I always felt burdened in every drama. I start from ‘How should I do it so that I can receive a good evaluation?’ I think without that kind of burden there is no way things could have ended well. So I agonize over it, and good acting will come out, and as a result a deeply impressive scene is created. Through this work I learned that all works emerge from an actor’s worries.
With whom do you share your worries?
I mainly think about it alone. Maybe I should do it this way or that way, I would think, and then during rehearsals I’d decide. I’m the type who thinks about different versions [of a scene]. That’s why I lost a lot of weight. I have to act, and because it was a swimmer’s role I also had to swim, and I also had to think. (laughs) When I was filming Three Meals a Day it was the heaviest I had been in my life. My muscles were firm and my shoulders were like a gangster’s. At that time I felt like I became a manly man for no reason. (laughs)
Can we talk more about Three Meals a Day?
It may be because I played sports from a young age, but I felt more comfortable serving the hyungnims. I liked spending that time with Cha Seung-won and Yoo Hae-jin sunbaenim to the point that I can’t describe with words. They gave me the advice to do all the roles that I can at this age, and more importantly, that my drinking capacity would increase (laughs). The chicken gomtang that Cha Seung-won sunbaenim made was so delicious that I can still imagine it. All of my [positive] violent reactions were true (laughs).
Those reactions were suitable for a variety show (laughs).
To be honest I have a fear of variety shows. Because there was a fixed mentality that I had to be funny even though nobody said I should be funny, my heart raced even more than when I’d act in a drama. It was a relief that the Three Meals a Day production crew and sunbaenims made the mood free, but I have no confidence in talk shows where I have to take the lead.
It was the Fishing Village season, right? I think you have an unusual fate with water.
My birthday is February 22nd, it might be because I’m an Aquarius (laughs). I’m from Busan and in this drama I play a swimmer. It so happens that the work we’re talking about is also connected with water.
Now that I realized it, it’s not too long until your birthday.
I’m not the type to attach meaning to birthdays, so I have not even thought about it. I might make seaweed soup and then rest? These days I have been interested in going on solo trips. A while ago I went on a solo trip to Jeju Island. Eating alone, walking alone, listening to music alone was fun. I can listen to the sounds of the sea that I couldn’t do if I went with friends. For now I intend to keep all of my time to myself.
Nam Joo-hyuk said it like this: I will live while embracing today’s burning passion. Because he who is in the middle of youth shines brightly.