There’s something about him that’s… captivating. Maybe it’s his mysterious smirk, those eyes, or the fact that he can kick some butts over at Queen Seonduk – the early days, before he becomes the “hwarang” Bidam. Here’s a little something to read about the actor.
Kim Nam-gil has gone through an unpredictable career — from TV series “Be Strong Geum Soon” to film “No Regrets”, and then to drama “Goodbye Solo” and hopping back to films including “Portrait of Beauty” and “No Regrets”. He is now revealing his true colors as Bi-dam in hit MBC TV series “Queen Seon-deok”. 10Asia met with Kim to talk about his journey as the historical character.
[INTERVIEW] Actor Kim Nam Gil “Bidam” from Queen Seonduk (Part I)
10: What situation were you in when you were first asked to appear in “Queen Seon-deok”
Kim Nam-gil: The producers said they thought of me after seeing film “Portrait of a Beauty”. But I actually had been thinking of not taking on a historical drama for some time. I usually try to avoid taking on the same genre or similar characters from my previous works. And it’s also one of the easier ways to avoid facing controversy over my acting. (laugh) So I mulled over whether I should take on “Seon-deok” because it was a historical drama.
10: And how did you decide to go for it?
Kim: First, I met with the producers and heard about my character. I thought it was interesting how although Bi-dam actually existed, he had never properly been portrayed in drama or history itself. His character seemed to be quite spectacular, different from other characters and I would be able to make people imagine that he really did live his life the way he did, depending on how I acted his role. The directors explained that he would have a warrior-like feel from film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. And Bi-dam hasn’t carried any weapons in particular till now but he will start carrying around a spear with the motive from “Red Cliff”.
10: Are there any parts you discussed with scriptwriters Kim Young-hyun and Park Sang-yeon?
Kim: They said they wanted to meet to talk so I met with them after receiving the script. They said that Bi-dam, unlike other characters who would be fully explained from the beginning of the story, would suddenly appear and make himself understood in just two episodes. So they told me a lot about how he lived his life, how he grew up and everything in general, but I increasingly thought he was like a character from comics. I had been wondering what sort of image he had but “Slam Dunk” came across my mind because I had read it sometime around then.
10: From the start of “Seon-deok”, it had been said that Bi-dam, played by Kim Nam-gil, will be the secret weapon to the drama and that Chun-chu, played by Yoo Seung-ho would be the ultimate weapon. Weren’t you under a lot of pressure because the public knew very little about your character and yourself as an actor?
Kim: Ah… I’ve kept wondering why people keep mentioning ’secret weapon’. (laugh) The writers had said we should keep information about Bi-dam as low-key as possible so they decided to cut the part where I appear as a child too. So before I went into shoot, I watched the drama at home too, laughing and crying over the scenes when they told me one day that I would go into shoot the following week. I was completely surprised. And I wanted to look for a hole to hide in after people started talking about me being the secret weapon again… (laugh) I was pressured a lot by those things but I feel more responsibility now and it helps to think that I cannot get by with doing just an okay job.
10: You made a very strong entrance to the drama.
Kim: The writers had written a strong scene for it but it was up to me and the producers to come up with how we could show it to the viewers. I wondered how I could leave a strong impression while not breaking the flow of the story despite my sudden appearance. That was when I was the most stressed and worried because I wouldn’t be able to catch onto the flow of the story if I couldn’t explain my character well enough in episodes 21 and 22.
10: Bi-dam is a character we have never seen in historical dramas and even in “Seon-deok”, his speech is quite modern compared to other characters.
Kim: That’s why in the beginning, I asked our writers if they hadn’t looked at comments the viewers had left on our website. I asked them if I was supposed to take the blame for it. (laugh) But after I heard that Bi-dam lived freely in the mountains and was not used to language they use in the palace, I thought it would be okay if I express myself well enough. And the story had been so serious till then so I didn’t want to make it even more serious than it already is. So although I knew I was taking a risk, I added some parts to liven up the drama when I could. I owe it to the producers for allowing me to act so comfortably. Producer Kim Keun-hong did too but producer Park Hong-kyun in particular has trust in the actors and leaves up a lot to them. They are the best!
10: Bi-dam is also a character who is complex on the inside. How did you approach this?
Kim: I decided that Bi-dam is a very innocent character. That’s how he doesn’t get swayed, he is happy to have a friend like Duk-man and will get excited over his own thoughts when everyone else is serious. Everyone will say something about that to him but for Bi-dam, the excitement of doing something with a friend for the first time is greater. However, from that point on, Bi-dam, who had been on a blank page, will gradually start to express that he wants something. Naturally, he inherited his nature and disposition from Mi-shil and Kin Jin-ji so it may seem like he inherited the bad side from Mi-shil, but he was actually a prince and wanted to achieve something great which was suppressed while being raised under Munno.
[INTERVIEW] Actor Kim Nam Gil “Bidam” from Queen Seonduk (Part II)
10: It’s quite shocking how Bi-dam killed dozens of people by poisoning them when he was young.
Kim: He only did it on Moon-no’s order to conceal an important publication but the way he did it was wrong. All he wanted was to be approved and praised by his master but to Moon-no, it seemed an act too evil to be done by a child. But it’s actually because Moon-no hasn’t raised kids before. (laugh)
10: Both good and evil coexist with your character but since Bi-dam has shown more of his good side, he will have to start changing soon.
Kim: Bi-dam is only human so he starts wondering who his parents were, why they deserted him and gets upset over it. So if the Bi-dam till now was someone who is a good guy but has a side to him where he can occasionally kill people cruelly, I think he will gradually become someone who hides the evil growing inside him and deceive people by pretending to be good.
10: I think the closest similarity between Bi-dam and Mi-shil will be that they stay true to their desires.
Kim: I agree. I think Bi-dam is similar to Mi-shil in that he is so greedy that he will want to have what he wants no matter what and that he’ll try to remove all obstacles that are laid in front of him. People say Bi-dam looks more like Moon-no though. (laugh)
10: What is the largest desire you have as actor Kim Nam-gil?
Kim: For actors, it’s all about acting. I wish my acting would become recognized in my country, that people would laugh and cry while watching it and I also hope to be able to express the sentimentality that people can sympathize in Korea throughout Asia too. My ultimate hope is to become someone who won’t be ashamed of being an actor.
10: You once said you won’t pretend you don’t idolize stars. But despite the fact that you haven’t tried to become one, you actually are a star right now.
Kim: Nah, I’m not a star. You have to be at least like Lee Min-ho to be considered a star. I should have tried harder to become friends with him. (laugh)
10: Then despite all that, what’s the good thing about becoming known to the public?
Kim: I’ve met a lot of great seniors while doing movies and they don’t do it to become popular. Not that they don’t think of it at all. (laugh) I think money and popularity come with the acting if you do a good job of it. And what I’ve come to realize is that there are a lot of good scenarios out there which could bring the development of our culture even with a small budget. But sometimes the investment will come depending on the actor. So if I become known to the public, I’ve thought that I hope to become an actor who can create an environment where the producer, director and staff can all be more abundant. If I have gained recognition, I think that will be the good thing about it.
10: You’ve gone from playing a minor role, to supporting role and now to an actor with star qualities. But you recently wrote “I am doing what I like so I am so lonely the moment I do what I like” which was impressive. What is it like living as an actor?
Kim: There aren’t many people who can live life doing what they want. So people often say to me that I should consider myself lucky because I live my life doing what I want, but I answer that that’s why I’m lonely. In the beginning, I was happy being able to do what I want as my job but you gradually have to compromise more and my identity starts to shake as I am confronted with the duality of the world or financial issues. I’ve stood my ground so far and I think I probably won’t make a different choice. But ironically, I’m really happy when I’m acting. And that’s also how lonely I am.
[INTERVIEW] Actor Kim Nam Gil “Bidam” from Queen Seonduk (Part III)
10: Bi-dam’s teeth in “Queen Seon-deok” seem really white? How come?
Kim Nam-gil: It’s because I put on make-up to make me look darker. Some people if I got my teeth whitened but I actually don’t even go to the dentist that well. (laugh) I don’t eat a lot of junk food though and rarely drink coffee. I just eat a lot when I have my meals. And like I said, my teeth look whiter because my make-up makes me look darker, but it applies to everyone. The light shines off it when it’s dark so my teeth will seem even brighter when we shoot at night.
10: Is there any data or props you used to create your character?
Kim: Kang Baek-ho from comic “Slam Dunk”. And I had read “Vagabond” by the same author a couple of years ago but I was reminded of it while reading the script for “Seon-deok” so I read it again. On top of those characters, I also added the character from “Yul Hyol Kang-ho” to create my own character. Since Bi-dam is a mix of characters from comic books, he is the most unrealistic and a character most unlikely to appear in a historical drama but I think some people actually enjoy it because it’s refreshing.
10: You occasionally display acting which I presume is ad-lib. Out of the ad-libs you did, which do you think worked the best?
Kim: The producer allows us to do a lot of ad-libs. We discuss a lot about what might be funny, what would seem Bi-dam-ish, and he sets the line for them. For example, if we’re shooting a scene where everyone is serious but I start picking my nose and he doesn’t cut it, it means it’s okay.
10: Bi-dam seems to like chicken. Do you really like chicken?
Kim: I do. I also like broiled chicken but it’s not something you get to eat too often. I often order friend chicken though when I’m at home. But I don’t have beer with it. (laugh)
10: Your character Bi-dam has earned the nickname of ‘Silla’s Anakin Skywalker’ from “Star Wars”. Have you ever thought you would want to be a certain someone’s son?
Kim: That’s a great nickname. I like those things. (laugh) Hmm, as a guy and a father, I respect my own father the most. But if I could leave out the ‘fatherly’ feeling, I would pick singer Seotaeji. I think you could call it deference rather than respect, but I love his musical talent and my acting has been influenced a lot by the way he feels his emotions. I want to follow his example of how he stirred pop culture and changed the flow of things, and be able to the same through acting.
10: You call yourself ‘dad’ and your fans ‘daughters’ when writing on your online fan cafe. Is there a particular reason for this?
Kim: One of my seniors who once saw me log-in to my fan page said I look really happy when I go onto the website no matter how tired I said I was. My mind will be at peace when I’m working when my family is happy and my fan page is where people who enjoy my acting or the dramas or films I worked on gather. So if I think of my fan page as my house, I’m the head of the household. That’s why I call myself ‘dad’, my female fans ‘daughters’ and male fans ’sons’ but I’ve recently gained more sons with “Seon-deok”. My own dad came up to me and said, “If they’re your sons, am I your son too?” (laugh)
10: You must be extremely busy with your drama but you put up a posting on your fan page very recently too.
Kim: Well, I actually had been just reading what my fans wrote but the people in charge of the website kept asking me to write something. And once, my fans came to see me on set but they compared me to actor Lee Seung-hyo, saying that he treats his fans wells and puts up postings often. So I blurted that they should join his fan club then, but I put up a posting right after that. And all the times I have been good to them! Is the public always like that? Moving on and liking someone else when a new actor appears?(laugh)
Reporter : Choi Ji-Eun firstname.lastname@example.org, Wee Geun-woo email@example.com
Photographer : Chae ki-won firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor : Jessica Kim email@example.com, Jang Kyung-Jin firstname.lastname@example.org