From Judas to Clyde to Ken: Han Ji-sang evolves

By Claire Lee

Popular stage actor shares his passion and joy for acting

  • Published : Jan 2, 2014 - 19:44
  • Updated : Jan 2, 2014 - 19:44

Actor Han Ji-sang (Seensee Company)

Those who have seen actor Han Ji-sang on stage, especially as Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar” or the wacky hero in “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” would be surprised to discover that Han calls himself an “extreme introvert.”

“One of the things that I hated the most while attending a theater school was having to give a speech about myself,” Han said in an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul, Friday. “I simply did not know what to say. It would be just really awkward. I find it very challenging to talk about myself.”

Introverts are considered to be not the most expressive of people, and therefore it is often assumed that they do not make good performers. But, in fact, it is the very essence of acting ― becoming someone else ― that liberates him and makes his career possible, Han said.

“The fact that you are not being yourself on stage gives you this ultimate freedom,” he said. “Once I know that I am being someone else, I’m not afraid of doing anything. I can do whatever I want. At the same time, I have never tried to overcome my introverted nature. As an actor, you have to be able to play any person of any personality, including an introvert.”

Han was one of the busiest actors in Korea’s performing arts scene in 2013, starring in a total of seven shows, including “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Bonnie & Clyde,” “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and “Next to Normal.” He is currently playing Ken, a fictional assistant of the late American painter Mark Rothko (1903-1970) in the ongoing Korean rendition of John Logan’s play “Red.”

“I don’t think I ever took a day off this year,” he said.

One of the reasons why he could not reject the offers ― through lack of rest he came down with a throat infection while performing “Bonnie & Clyde” in September ― was because he simply could not resist the characters he was given to play. “I just wanted to play them all,” he said.

In “Jesus Christ Superstar,” he played Judas, the one who betrays Jesus. In “Bonnie & Clyde,” he starred as Clyde Barrow (1909-1934), the infamous American criminal who traveled across the central U.S. with his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker, during the Great Depression. In “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” he played an elusive British hero who secretly tries to save the lives of aristocrats in France during the French Revolution.

Among these characters, Han said Clyde Barrow is the character who he thinks is the most similar to him.

“I hate being controlled by someone else, just like Clyde. I like it when I am just free,” he said.

“But I am willing to sacrifice certain things in order to be free. I mean, there are a lot of rules to follow when you are working in a group, when you are working with others to stage a show. You can’t really be ‘free’ when you are preparing for a musical or a play. But it all pays off when you are finally on stage, performing. That is when I feel the most free.”

Last year marked the 10th anniversary of Han’s debut. Though he is now one of the most wanted actors in the musical scene, Han only became interested in acting after failing to score well on the Suneung ― the Korean equivalent of the SAT ― for three consecutive years. Han said he found acting almost therapeutic in many ways, especially after his struggles with the competitive education system. He said he wants to think of acting as his destiny.

“One of the things that I think is important is to show your own interpretation of your characters, and show what only you can offer by using what only you have,” he said.

“For example, I would like to think that the Scarlet Pimpernel I played was the most manipulative and the wackiest Pimpernel of all time. I assumed that I had the highest pitched voice among all the actors who have played the role, and I tried to use this voice to create a distinctive personality (for the character).”

Han’s ongoing play, “Red,” runs until Jan. 26 at Seoul Arts Center in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul.

By Claire Lee (dyc@heraldcorp.com)