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[Herald Interview] Kim Nam-gil returns in perfectly tailored role

Actor plays a down-to-earth bandit in comedy-adventure flick ‘The Pirates’

When people think of Kim Nam-gil ― a 33-year-old actor with a lean, masculine physique ― they often describe him as coldhearted and intense with sad, mysterious eyes, thanks to the revenge-seeking characters he played in 2010 TV drama “Bad Guys” and recent show “Shark.”

But little has been shown of what lies beneath his dark and weighty roles: a hilarious, talkative, laid-back man who at times “has some screws loose,” he said at the press premiere of his new movie. It seems as though the actor found a role that perfectly matches his personality.

Kim plays Jang Sa-jung, a simple, witty man, who leads a group of bandits in the flick “The Pirates.”
Actor Kim Nam-gil poses for a photo during an interview with The Korea Herald in Samcheong-dong, Seoul, Monday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Actor Kim Nam-gil poses for a photo during an interview with The Korea Herald in Samcheong-dong, Seoul, Monday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

His costar Son Ye-jin, who he has acted with twice now, even admitted at the premiere that “in the film, Kim has found clothes that fit him.”

“The director told me to be myself and to act casually,” said Kim during an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday. He added that he was instructed to forget Johnny Depp and his iconic role of Captain Jack Sparrow from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” film series.

“Although Jack Sparrow and Jang are very different characters, with ‘The Pirates’ being the first major film on pirates in Korea, I watched it a number of times to get an idea of how pirates are portrayed in the film,” he said.

Kim joked that he had considered donning smoky eye makeup and several pieces of jewelry for Jang. But the director told him while Jack’s cheerfulness was good to incorporate, the two pirates are very different.

Instead, Kim said he referred to Jack Sparrow, but more importantly attempted to find ways that would give his pirate more Asian and Korean color. He explained that Jang is humorous and optimistic, but also chivalrous and loyal to the point he would lay his life on the line for country and friends.

“After all, I was not a pirate in the film; I was a bandit, a bandit going to the ocean in search of a whale.”

“The Pirates,” directed by Lee Seok-hoon, takes place on a pirate ship, and tells the story of a royal seal that went missing early in the Joseon era (1392-1910). Based on the true story of a missing seal, the movie fuses history and imagination in recounting the search for the artifact.

In the film, searches are conducted by a group of bandits headed by Jang, and a group of pirates headed by Yeo-wol, played by Son Ye-jin, both of whom are desperately hunting for a whale that swallowed the seal.

“It was an easy choice for me when I read the script,” the actor said. “When I heard about a character in the film, a pirate who gets seasick and can’t stand the smell of fish, I thought that was really funny.”

He added that it was not easy to film, mentioning especially scenes with ships, the ocean and the whale. However, he said it was an adventure and he thought it had great potential.

Kim was drawn to the film because he wanted something lighter and more comfortable in a role.

“I was discontent with my previous work, in which I saw shortcomings with my acting. My personal dilemma looming over ‘The Pirates’ was that I was afraid of acting. I needed a breakthrough, where I could act more naturally and loosen up a bit,” he said.

Kim was surprised at how much he enjoyed making the film, especially with hilarious and thoughtful veteran actors as his costars.

“I was able to somewhat overcome my concerns and enjoy filmmaking as it is.”

Kim hopes that the film will give audiences as much laughter as he experienced while acting in it.

“The Pirates” opens in theaters on Aug. 6.

By Ahn Sung-mi (