Friday, June 17, 2011

Ha Jung-woo interview

Actor Ha Jung-woo could have gone the easy route. His father, Kim Yong-geon, is a well-known film and television actor who could have ushered him into the business. But Ha chose to make it on his own. He changed his name, studied theater in school and eventually entered film. Since then, he has become known for playing strong, unconventional characters, including a serial killer in the hit film “The Chaser” (2008), a male prostitute in “The Moonlight of Seoul” (2008) and a ski jumper who is an adoptee in the 2009 film “Take Off.”

He is also the only actor to be invited to the Cannes Film Festival four times. Only veteran Song Kang-ho has had more appearances at the prestigious French festival.

Aside from his acting, Ha is also an accomplished visual artist who has had four solo exhibitions in Seoul.

The JoongAng Ilbo recently sat down with Ha to talk with him about going to Cannes and his life as an actor and painter.

Q. This is the fourth time you’ve been invited to the Cannes Film Festival. What brought you there?

A. My first visit to Cannes was back in 2006. The 2005 film “The Unforgiven,” which deals with the absurdity of the Korean military, was part of Un Certain Regard. The film was directed by Yoon Jong-bin. He and I majored in theater together at ChungAng University. After that, a string of films that I was in, including “Breath” from 2007 and the 2008 film “The Chaser,” were invited to Cannes one after another. This year, I went to Cannes to promote “The Yellow Sea” (2010).

How do you feel about being invited to the festival?

I feel honored because it’s once-in-a-lifetime experience for some but I’ve been there four times.

What was your first visit to Cannes like?

I was a lesser known actor back then. I was staying at this cheap hotel, about 50 minutes from Nice by train. One time I took a taxi from the film festival venue to my hotel (after the train had stopped running) and it cost me about 100,000 won ($90). So instead of going back to the hotel, I stayed up all night watching films. I was also carrying my tuxedo around and I would change into it when I arrived at the venue. But I wasn’t discouraged because Yoon and I got to talk about our dreams in front of the Lumiere Theater.

Why do you think your films have been so popular at Cannes?

I know I’m far from the traditionally handsome type. But what I can do is just keep practicing. Back in college, I majored in theater but I didn’t want to be overshadowed by my father. It was my belief that I had to prove myself on stage with my own ability.

Do you think your father helped you become an actor?

Growing up, I thought I was going to become an actor because I always saw my father on TV. But I didn’t want people to see me as the son of Kim Yong-geon and that’s why I use a stage name. But my father did show me how to get into the business.

You’ve had four solo exhibitions as a visual artist. What made you start drawing?

Sometimes I need to vent even if I’ve poured myself into my acting. That’s what made me start drawing. That was around 2003.

Right after graduating from college, I went on a lot of auditions. I was jobless, so I had to do something. I signed up for English classes and learned how to play the piano. But I was still insecure about my future. That’s when I took an interest in drawing. It was a natural transition, I think. I never studied drawing but I feel alive whenever I draw.

Painter Kim Heung-soo has complimented you on your paintings. How did you learn to paint?

The only artist I knew was Picasso but after I started drawing I wanted to learn more about art. I asked for tips from friends with fine arts backgrounds. For example, I wanted to start using oil but it stiffened my brushes. My friends told me that I had to use a counteragent. I learned a lot of things like that.

I heard you fell on hard times in your early 20s. What happened?

My mother’s business failed. We had to move to a smaller house and I lost my room. My father was trying hard to support the family by doing multiple drama series at the same time and I joined the military earlier than other people my age. For Picasso, there were two periods, one was blue and the other one was rose. That was my blue period, but it made me realize that I had a passion for acting.

How’s your relationship with your girlfriend Goo Eun-ae, who is a professional model?

It’s good. (Laughs.)

Do you have any role models?

Robert De Niro. He could have chosen to have a comfortable life but he didn’t. And he still has a passion for acting at the age of 68.

By Kim Joon-sool []