It’s hard to imagine actor So Ji-sub empathizing with Seoul’s urban professionals, while living the life of a celebrity. His environment has been red carpets and film premieres, not an office where everyone wears suits and does long hours.
“Many think I wouldn’t understand what it is like,” So says in an interview with The Korea Herald. The actor recently starred as an exhausted white-collar worker in his film “A Company Man.”
“But being an actor in the local entertainment industry is actually very much like working for a big-scale corporation. There are a lot of rules and restrictions. You often run into the kind of people who are very much like that incompetent but controlling boss in the film.”
|Actor So Ji-sub (Younghwain)|
In the film, So plays Hyeong-do, a professional killer working for an organization that disguises itself as a metal manufacturing company. The man, who is the must trusted and capable killer in his group, suddenly tries to quit his job after running into a lively 20-year-old. The film shows the extremes of Korea’s office politics, and the mundane lives of urban professionals who have almost nothing outside their work.
So, who broke into the entertainment industry as a fashion model, says he’d never imagined the life he has now. He was training to be a professional swimmer before modeling. As a child, he was always quiet and nervous. “My voice would always quiver whenever the teacher made me read textbooks out loud in front of my classmates.”
As a teenager he was introverted and insecure.
“Apparently, I would complain about the way I looked every day after school,” So says. “I don’t remember doing it, but my mother tells me so.”
It was also during his teenage years that he formed his love for hip hop music. He loved listening to The Notorious B.I.G, Snoop Dog and the late Kim Sung-jae. He tried out modeling simply because he wanted to pose alongside Kim, who was the celebrity face for a clothing brand at the time.
“I was never really interested in becoming a celebrity,” he says. “My life was all about swimming and hip hop music. I did modeling because I wanted to see Kim and also because it was the best way to earn good easy money.”
In “A Company Man,” Hyeong-do has no family members to take care of, and no friends to socialize with outside of work. Many of So’s previous roles, including the has-been boxer in “Always,” and the Korean adoptee in “I’m Sorry, I Love You,” have been of someone isolated and alone.
“I’m not really sure,” the actor says, explaining his choice of roles. “I guess I’m drawn to those who are alone and have not much to lose, and end up risking everything for that one person they love. But I really don’t know why I get drawn to them.”
But listening to the actor makes it easy to understand why he falls for such characters. He openly says he has no friends, except actor Song Seung-hun and comedian Jeong Jun-ha, in the local entertainment scene. Song and So have been friends for more than 14 years, since they together broke into the industry as models.
“I’m not really interested in meeting new people,” So says. “I find it draining to explain and talk about myself. Of course, I am on good terms with a lot of people. But that doesn’t mean that we are ‘friends.’ I try to be genuine and devoted to those I call as my friends.”
So last year opened his own agency, called “51K.” The office is where he spends most of his time when he’s not shooting a film. He often cooks for his employees, he says.
“I hired my employees myself,” he says. “I didn’t want those who are overly obedient and would always say ‘yes.’ I wanted to work with who have opinions and are creative.”
While he loves acting, So says he can quit anytime.
“I’d like to act as long as I can,” he says. “But I think it’s important for everyone to have a second plan, whether or not you want to pursue it or not. It helps you dealing with pressure, and lets you enjoy your job per se.”
Though he now rarely swims, So says he learned the best life lessons from the practicing the sport.
“I learned how to be patient and persistent from swimming,” he says. “My competitive spirit also comes from playing the sport. I know how to wait and endure when things are rough.”
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)