The life of an ‘ugly third-rate minor actor’ : Park Jung-min tells the tales of a rising star in witty book of essays
It all started out rather simply. When Park starred in the film “Bleak Night” in 2010, he uploaded several behind-the-scenes stories on the film’s promotional blog, which were met with great interest. Around three years later, Park started writing a monthly column for Topclass magazine and established a following of devoted readers. His column is called “Eonhee,” which means “to make others happy through words.”
“Usable Human” depicts the constant battles Park has with himself as a rising star. He is unafraid to humiliate himself or tell jokes in his essays, which adds to the fun and sincerity of his book. Through his amusing writing style and humorous stories, Park was able to capture the hearts of many readers.
Park entered Korea University College of Liberal Arts in 2005, but left school to focus on acting. He then got into film school at Korea National University of Arts, but then changed his major to acting and graduated.
The actor’s recent works include his role in the film “DongJu; The Portrait of A Poet” (2016) as Song Mong-gyu, who is a cousin, an old friend and also a rival of the famous poet Yoon Dong-ju.
The film unfolds around the life of Yoon and Song during times of the Japanese colonial era.
To look deeper into the life of actor and writer Park Jung-min, the JoongAng Ilbo sat down with Park for an interview.
A. I’d say I came to continue writing the columns because I’m not good at saying no to things. But it’s not only that, but I feel that for the past three and a half years I spent writing columns, I went through a lot of changes as an actor. Those changes can be seen in my writings, so I have a strong attachment to my columns.
Many readers find your stories amusing. Do you have any ideas why they find them fun to read?
Maybe it’s because they’re easy to read (laughter). I tried to write stories that I would want to read. I don’t like sentences that require readers to read twice to fully understand what is going on. I use everyday language so that readers may read and understand each sentence in one breath.
I recently ran into a review that said, “I was so mesmerized by the book that I kept reading it while walking down the street.” It made me really happy. When I was preparing myself to get into Korea National University of Arts, I read novels written by Haruki Murakami, Kim Young-ha, Park Min-kyu, Jeong You-jeong, and others. That’s when I grew interested in writing.
Now that I’ve met you, you seem to be more of a serious person compared to how you appear in the essays. Can you tell us a bit about your personality?
I feel that it’s easier to describe myself through writing than through talking. I have a rather careful personality, so I carefully ponder how my words will be received by others. When I write, I like the fact that I can change or erase things if I want to. But despite my serious personality, I want to look a bit light and silly when I act or write.
You call yourself “an ugly third-rate minor actor” in the essays. Why is that?
I’m a pessimist. I think of myself as an untalented person, so I believe that pride will lead me to nothing. I’ve always felt inferior to people with natural acting abilities, and this worked as my driving force in my 20s. My book talks about the dark and tough process I went through to achieve my goals. It’s just that it’s written in a funny way. If I put that into one sentence, I’d say, “I’m an untalented person, but I would like to go as far as I can.”
“Usable Human” is the fruit of Park Jung-min in his 20s. How would you describe the days in your 20s?
I strived to bite off more than I can chew. I tried too hard to achieve my goals. I cried a lot, and I got mad a lot, but now that I think of it, I wish that I had lived a happier life. In my early 20s, I wanted to be called an actor, not a student in film school.
Hence I changed my major to acting at age 24, and when I reached the goal of becoming an actor, I wanted more and more. As time went on, everyone seemed to become something, while I felt like nothing. I was very conscious of what others might think of me.
Your self-consciousness was apparent in your writings as well. What do you think?
Self-consciousness was also the reason why I failed to enter acting school in the beginning. I was afraid that people might ridicule me for wanting to become an actor when everyone took me as a student with good grades.
So I made a plan to enter film school, then change my major to acting after I finished my military service. This always kept myself behind others. But now it works as a force to settle myself. Whenever I feel like I’m attempting too much, I think to myself, “I need to go slow, or else I might fall.”
Did you have any competitors that have made you feel inferior?
Yes, it was Cho Hyun-chul, who I went to high school and Korea National University of Arts together. He can direct gracefully, and also is a talented actor. But he always stood by my side. I even checked whether Cho got into film school, before checking my own results.
It felt like I would go crazy if Cho got in and I didn’t. Fortunately, we both got in. When we were sophomores, Cho made a short film called “Love In The Time Of Allergy.” I watched the film, and it seemed almost impossible to win over him in directing films. This was one of the reasons why I decided to change my major to acting.
Do you have any plans to challenge yourself and direct a film?
For now, I don’t. It would be interesting to film like people do in amateur clubs. Directing films helps in improving acting skills as well. These days, I’m thinking of a project in which one receives voices of people from all corners of the world about one certain subject.
If you think about it, it’s very amusing that people think in diverse ways even after watching the exact same thing.
Did appearing in the film “DongJu; The Portrait of A Poet” bring you any changes in your acting career?
I learned a lot through the film. There’s a scene in which Song Mong-gyu sobs in front of the Japanese policeman, and acting in the scene made me picture his grave. The thought “He couldn’t have died like this,” struck me, and it made me feel so tense that I shuddered. Ever since then, I’ve put as much effort into my acting as possible.
You have acted out various complex sentiments. Your role in the tvN drama series “Reply 1988” could be one. You only appeared for three minutes, playing a mean boyfriend of Seong Bo-ra, but the character’s personality was shown very clearly. Could you tell us a bit about that?
I wanted to depict the character’s various sides in the short amount of time. He tells mean things to Bo-ra, but feels somewhat sorry for doing that. However, he doesn’t show that he’s sorry because his pride won’t let him. I try to analyze the characters’ inner feelings before acting them out.
What do you want to achieve in your 30s as an actor?
Before, I hadn’t really thought about the earning my keep. All I wanted to do was act. But in my 30s, I would like to take responsibility for both my family and acting. This means that I need to concentrate more on acting.
Does that mean that you’re thinking of getting married a bit later than others usually do?
In my 20s, I worked hard on everything, including acting, dating and playing. I’m the type of person who easily gets hurt when meeting someone. Some friends even told me to get married soon so that I don’t get hurt by love so much. I have always been sincere to my past loves, thinking that this is the one each time, and got hurt every time the relationship ended. After several failures in marriage, I came to think, “Maybe I’ll just get married late.”
BY KIM NA-HYEON [email@example.com]
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