The last time we heard about Song Seung-Heon (송승헌), it was when news of his relationship with Chinese actress Liu Yifei surfaced. Before that, he was last seen in K-Drama “When a Man Falls in Love” and the film “The Third Way of Love” in 2013 and 2015 respectively. But his true stardom actually came a long, long time ago.
In late 2000, Song Seung-Heon was one of the lead cast members of the immensely popular K-Drama, “Autumn in My Heart”. The series was exported all over Asia, making superstars of both him and co-stars Song Hye-kyo and Won Bin, and making him partially responsible for the “Hallyu” wave. Since then he has been actively recruited for film roles and advertisements in Japan, Hong Kong and other Asian countries.
Until today, his breakthrough role in “Autumn in My Heart” is unshakeable. But perhaps that’s about to change with his new K-Drama project, “Saimdang”, where he plays Lee Young-Ae’s onscreen love.
During the press conference, he openly sung high praises for his leading lady, expressing his immense respect and adoration for “Lee Young-Ae sunbaenim”. But it was only via an interview with select media that he revealed more about working with Lee Young-Ae as well as indulging us with more information on Lee Gyeom, his character in “Saimdang”.
This is your first Korean drama series in 3 years. Why did you decide to appear in “Saimdang” and how did you feel when you first read the script? Do you have any criterias when selecting dramas and films that you want to work on?
First of all, “Saimdang” is a Korean drama that was chosen by actress Lee Young-Ae sunbaenim. She’s making a comeback after 10 years of hiatus and I heard that she was going to appear in this drama. I actually didn’t expect to take on this project but by chance, I read through the script and I had the opportunity to participate. To me, it’s such an honour to be part of it. Just the fact that I am working together with Lee Young-Ae sunbaenim, that in itself is such an honour. The character that I’m playing in “Saimdang”, Lee Gyeom, is a guy who expresses a very pure love. Lee Gyeom falls in love with Shin Saimdang after their fateful encounter when they were young. After that, for more than 20 years, he still loves only Shin Saimdang so he’s very committed and very faithful. Another characteristic of Lee Gyeom is that he never compromises with injustice and tries to change the corrupt nature of aristocrats of the Joseon dynasty. He has this image of an artist and also a painter but at the same time, a heroic image of someone who is very passionate about social issues as well. So this is a character that I want to challenge myself into acting.
Why is actually going to happen between Lee Gyeom and Shin Saimdang in the drama? Tell us more about their relationship in the drama.
Lee Gyeom was already in love with her when they had a fateful encounter when they were young and even after they became adults, he continues to support her. But Shin Saimdang had to marry aother man for reasons that they couldn’t help. And she had kids with that other man. But despite the fact that she had to marry another man, he continues to love her and support her. This is a character that is portrayed as a genius painter who’s very passionate inside. I’ve never appeared in authentic period dramas before, it’s my first time so it’s not easy because I have to act as a character who lived in an age that I’ve never experienced. So that’s the difficult part. But I do hope that “Saimdang” will air as soon as possible.
How different is it to act in period dramas? Do you think you’re similar to Lee Gyeom? How can you relate to him personally?
I always get this question! People always ask, “Do you think that you’re similar to the character or not?” But there are no characters that are identical to me because most of the characters that I’ve played..they’re fictitious characters that were made up so we can never be the same. These characters, they’re made to look cooler and better than the real Song Seung-Heon. As for my role as Lee Gyeom, once he falls in love with somebody, he goes blind. He would do everything and anything for the love of his life. He’s very pure and very committed, but at the same time kind of simple. Maybe in that sense, we’re similar. Lee Gyeom never compromises with injustice so he never sits idly by when he sees corruption amongst the aristocratic society. Those things are the characteristics that any man would be able to relate to.
Even after Shin Saimdang has to marry and start a family with another man, Lee Gyeom continues to love her. Why is he so attracted to her? Any reasons?
When somebody likes or loves somebody else, there are no reasons. I think it’s just fate. In the case of Lee Gyeom, although it’s not written in the screenplay, I believe that he already knew from the start that Shin Saimdang was his love of his life. He already knew that she was meant to be his fate.
This drama made headlines because Lee Young-Ae and Song Seung-Heon are acting in it together. Now that the production for “Saimdang” is well underway, what is it like to work with her?
When Lee Young-Ae sunbaenim chose this drama for the first time in 10 years, there must be a reason for that. She’s married, she has kids, but still she decided to appear in this drama, then there must be a clear reason. I’ve always respected Lee Young-Ae sunbaenim and I was wondering if I would ever had the chance to work with her because she hasn’t worked at all in the past 10 years. To me, this is actually a very fateful drama so this is my fate. Just like her public image, Lee Young-Ae sunbaenim is very kind and very beautiful. On day one of shooting, I was actually really nervous because there was so much pressure on my part so I messed up!
Tell us about the atmosphere on the set of “Saimdang”.
This drama will be pre-filmed 100% so if you compare it to other drama productions which are basically produced and aired simultaneously, they don’t have a lot of time or resources, which is why the staff members are constantly under a lot of stress and not very kind to each other. They are working under really dire conditions. But in the case of “Saimdang”, we’re pre-filming it so because of that, we will be able to showcase a more complete work to our audiences. Every time we shoot a scene, we always discuss it with the director and always consult with each other to figure out ways to make it better. I believe that because of those discussions, we will be able to produce a more quality drama moving forward. As for the scene on set, it’s actually really pleasant. Everybody’s always ready to work and always full of energy.
We know that you’re still in the middle of production but do you have any memorable scenes so far?
It’s my first time in an authentic period drama so I have to attach the moustache every day. Everything is very new to me, I find everything so curious, and when our audience watch our drama later on, they will find it refreshing and new as well. We also went to Italy to shoot some scenes for “Saimdang” so the audience will be able to see a different aspect of Song Seung-Heon in a different space.
Did you have a hard time shooting “Saimdang” because you have to attach the moustache and everything?
Of course I’m having a hard time – every single day. Everything is so new. I have to do the Joseon era hairstyle which is a top knot on top of my head and also attach the moustache. When you do a modern-day drama, the make-up takes only 10 minutes but when you work on a period drama, it takes at least one to one-and-a-half hours. At first I found the moustache really uncomfortable but at the same time, I told myself that I will be able to show a different side of me to the audience in the future so that made me feel better.
What is the difference between acting in period drama and modern-day drama?
People have these vague ideas about period dramas because they never lived in those eras. We don’t have first-hand experiences, we only have ideas. The most difficult part is that I have to act or play these roles, imagining what it would’ve been like because I didn’t live during the Joseon dynasty. Because of that, I don’t know anything about the daily lives of the people in the Joseon era or how people talked, or what kind of clothes they wore. When you watch the existing period movies or dramas that aired before, we have all these ideas of how they talked as in they say certain lines and the men all wore the same moustache, but that’s what we were told about the Joseon era. But I question it. Is it really true? Was that what people looked like? Was that how they talked? We’re trying to express those things based on projections, in a modern-day manner, so that’s why it may not be accurate. I asked the director if we’re going to follow the existing speech, lines, and costumes that were used in previous period dramas. That was my first question to the director. It’s kinda too boring, too cliché. But the director gave us leeway to try new things that were different from the existing period dramas.
Is “Saimdang” going to be more difficult?
Because we have more time to film this drama, that gives us more leisure in terms of time. We’re not trying to make it more difficult intentionally, because everything is actually really challenging when you produce a drama. When you try to create a quality drama and make it more complete, it’s always difficult and challenging. This time, what we’re really focused on is not just producing a quality drama but rather, we’re trying to depict the life of Shin Saimdang. So we’re taking a different perspective.
So tell us more about these 3 characters: Shin Saimdang, Lee Gyeom, and Seo Ji-Yoon.
Lee Gyeom will be played by me and Shin Saimdang will be played by Lee Young-Ae sunbaenim. Shin Saimdang is a person who actually existed in real life and the mother of a really famous Confucian scholar and she’s such a historical figure. She represents the wise mother and good wife. That is why Lee Young-Ae sunbaenim would probably have more difficulty portraying her role – because she’s an actual person. Whereas my character Lee Gyeom is a fictitious character that didn’t exist in real life. People have stereotypes or preconceived ideas about Shin Saimdang so if Lee Young-Ae sunbaenim tries something new or something creative, people might question, “Really? Was Shin Saimdang really like that?” So in that sense, Lee Young-Ae sunbaenim would have a more difficult time as compared to me. How Lee Gyeom was created was..the director and the screenplay writer actually chanced upon a famous painting where there were a lot of Western people and among the crowd of people there was an Asian guy wearing the traditional Korean costume. So they questioned, “Why is there an Asian guy standing in the middle of the crowd of Western guys?” And that’s where they got the first inspiration to create Lee Gyeom. They added some imagination and now I can play the character more freely because it’s a made up character.
Lee Gyeom goes through a lot of changes after he encounters Shin Saimdang. What kind of changes will occur in the drama and do you have a personal experience whereby someone really precious to you changed you?
Of course we are always influenced by the people that we meet. The influence could be good or bad, but that happens, yes. In “Saimdang”, Lee Gyeom is so pure at heart and expresses lofty love, and he commits himself to Shin Saimdang for more than 20 years after his first encounter with her. But he also gets hurt by this same person as well and at some point, he loses the purity of mind that he used to have when he was young. Eventually he will recover his former self. I remember that I was also influenced by someone who was really nice in a good way so I can tell you that I’ve had a similar personal experience.
Can you give us more specifics, like, what happened?
In my 20s as an actor, I thought that acting was just my career and it was something that I did just for my self satisfaction. But when I was in my early 30s actually received a handwritten letter from a fan from a different country. It said, “Mr. Song Seung-Heon. Thanks to you I got to know about Korea and the Korean culture. And because of you, I came to like the Korean culture and Korea, and that’s why I came to Korea. Your work touched my deeply and you changed my life.” It’s the same, standard fan letter that I would often receive but this one made me realise that my acting had a lot more influence that I thought so I began to reconsider those aspects. It made me become more responsible, and I began to think about the job more seriously. I had been too complacent about my acting career until that point.
This drama reminds us of the importance of striking the right balance between family, work, life, and talent. Tell us about your personal priorities.
Everything is important – family, work, and talent. Maybe I’m not answering the question right but these days, I’m really focused on how to make my life happy and how to make me happy. That is my first priority these days. A lot of people live in the modern-day and it’s just so hectic, everyone is so busy. We always question happiness and people’s futures are normally really uncertain. Even tomorrow is uncertain for most people. So they’re just busy living without really enjoying happiness. Everyone has this grand kind of goal for themselves, like envisioning themselves 10 years later. Everyone has this grand vision for their future so they’re living very dilligently. That’s why they cannot appreciate the current moment, the present moment, or the reality. Thus, I believe that people overlook the importance of family, friends, and peers because they’re too busy working and living their lives, and cannot feel happiness. I think that it’s all because of our greed, that’s why we can’t be happy. Letting go of greed is really important. All human beings are in one way or another greedy, we can’t help it. But reduce your greed, your level of happiness will go up.
Special thanks to our friends from Oh!K channel for making this happen :)
“Saimdang” (The Herstory) is currently still in production and is expected to air sometime in the first half of next year.
For more information, hit up Oh!K’s website.