It's well-known fact that actor Kim Myeong-min
doesn't smoke -- there's a famous story of him passing out after smoking cigarettes all day for a scene in the 2001 movie "Sorum
" (Goosebumps). And yet, to our surprise, during a recent interview he politely asked if he could light up, and he then proceeded to suck down several cigarettes one after the next. "I tried to be a surgeon, but that turned me into a smoker", he joked.
Kim was referring to the past five months that he spent playing Jang Joon-hyeok on MBC's hit drama "White Tower
". Jang Joon-hyeok is a brilliant and power-hungry surgeon who suffers a medical accident and eventually dies of cancer. Now that the show is finished, Kim has finally had a chance to return to himself. But the strain of the performance has taken its toll on the actor, for when the Chosun Ilbo met with him for the interview, he looked haggard.
-- You looked terribly pale during the last episode. Was that make-up?
"I imagined that I really was a sick person, and that made me really get sick towards the end. I felt like all these viruses were getting into my body. I felt so sorry for Jang Joon-hyeok, he was dying after all that stuff he had been through. It almost made me feel like I was going crazy. I lost so much weight that I'm just skin and bones now".
-- How did you feel when you watched the final scene?
"I watched it at home, and I felt like it was me who had actually died. I sat there empty-headed until late at night".
-- Do you feel better now?
"I still feel empty. I also had hard time with depression when I finished shooting the KBS drama 'Immortal Admiral Yi Sun-shin
'. I comforted myself by thinking, 'It's only because I've been shooting this drama for too long'. When I started shooting the latest show, I thought I wouldn't feel so empty because it was just 20 episodes, but it turned out devastating".
-- I heard that it took up to 20 hours to shoot a single operation scene. The delicate portrayal of the scene even became the talk of the town. What was the hardest part for you?
"It's not too difficult to imitate a surgeon if you watch surgery videos and do a little practice. What was most difficult for me was understanding the character. First of all, I couldn't understand being a surgeon as an occupation. Before shooting this, I thought that doctors were unkind and easily annoyed. So it wasn't easy for me to become one that I hardly sympathized with".
-- What do you think about Jang Joon-hyeok?
"I couldn't understand at first why he was so obsessed with power when he's already a genius as everybody recognizes. But I got to understand his passion and self-awareness that made him think that as the best surgeon, he could save more lives. He was a more realistic, humane and integral character than anybody else. And that's what made viewers identify with him. He may have been viewed as a villain, but many times I cried for him in my heart. That may be why I've found it so hard to forget about him".
-- You've mostly played characters who agonize over their identity and their sufferings in life. Jang Joon-hyeok, Yong-hyun in the film "Sorum
", and even Dalgun in the comic drama "Bad Family" are all similar in that respect. How do you choose your roles?
"I like the noir genre. I feel a catharsis by playing a character who struggles to make a better life from nothing and goes through heartbreaking or devastating experiences while doing that. My most favorite movie is 'The Fan' with Robert De Niro because it was chilling to see an ordinary man going crazy as he becomes more and more enthusiastic about a famous baseball player".
-- You lived in obscurity for quite a long time after your debut in 1996. And even after you started to become known as an actor, you had some breaks from time to time. How did you deal with those times?
"Things didn't go well as I thought they would after 'Sorum
'. It almost killed me then, and I thought seriously about immigrating to New Zealand. But looking back now, the hardships I suffered then have made me more patient and moderate".
-- You may feel strongly about all the characters you've played, but which of them do you think is most like you?
"Well, I think that's Jang Joon-hyeok. He's similar to me in that we both want to be the best. The difference, if anything, is that he's already the best but still has ambitions to go higher and higher, whereas I'm still struggling to be the best. I still have long way to go".