Back To Top

[Herald Interview] Kim Woo-bin and his scented characters

Model-turned-actor lauded for seemingly effortless performances, stars in upcoming thriller “Master”

Kim Woo-bin is known for putting a lot of thought into his roles.

In the past, he would make a list of 100 questions he wanted to ask his characters, imagining their stories. More recently, he’s taken to picking out fragrances that best suit his character, the 27-year-old actor told The Korea Herald at a cafe in northern Seoul on Monday.

“When filming ‘Master,’ director Jo Eui-seok said he would know when I walked past him because of a distinctive scent,” said Kim, who was wearing a comfortable dark sweater. Stretching out his arm, he offered, “Do you want to try smelling it? This is the scent I put on for that role.”

Actor Kim Woo-bin poses for a photo before a press interview in Samcheong-dong, Seoul on Monday. (Sidus HQ)
Actor Kim Woo-bin poses for a photo before a press interview in Samcheong-dong, Seoul on Monday. (Sidus HQ)

A towering figure at 188 centimeters, Kim started modeling at 19, much to the astonishment of his teachers. “I was a quiet student,” he said. “Until middle school, I was so shy that I couldn’t even look people in the eye to say hello.”

Since then, Kim has come out of his shell, both socially and career-wise. He became enthralled by acting while being coached for commercial films and went on to star in hit TV dramas such as “A Gentleman’s Dignity” (2012). He rose to stardom playing a winsome millionaire high-schooler in “The Heirs.”

In the political thriller film “Master,” which opened in local theaters Wednesday, Kim plays the tech-savvy genius Park Jang-goon, acting alongside Korean cinema heavyweights Lee Byung-hun and Gang Dong-won.

“I chose a lime scent for Jang-goon,” said Kim, explaining that he’s partial to sweet, citrusy perfumes. “I think the scent helps me melt into the role. I really wanted him to come alive. There was a vibrant quality to the character.”

Kim’s character Jang-goon invents a computer system for a fraudulent corporation that rakes in investments from unsuspecting clients. But he’s also a fun-loving youth who’s been put in a dangerous situation, and Jang-goon wavers between the police and his callous employer Chairman Jin, played by Lee.

“I observed some of my really smart friends,” Kim said on preparing for the role. “I noticed that their smartness didn’t come through in everyday life. They joked around. But when they began working, they would completely change, and you could tell there was something different about them.”

When Kim debuted in 2009, both the fashion and entertainment worlds heralded him as a unique face.

“I don’t have delicate features, like a lot of models and actors did at that time,” said Kim, citing stars like fellow model-turned-actor and longtime friend Lee Jong-seok. “Modeling coaches and directors always see me and say, ‘What do we make of him?’”

Looking back, Kim commented that his fresh appearance was an advantage. “I was able to book a lot of jobs, thankfully,” he recalled. Nowadays, there is a flood of strong, distinct faces in the Korean entertainment scene, Kim said.

With eight years of acting behind him, Kim said it’s still “painful” to watch himself onscreen, but that he’s enjoying his craft more and more. “If being on set was unfamiliar before, it’s comfortable now,” he said. “I love the feeling of communicating with people and creating something.”

Kim said he picked up significant tips -- on both work and life -- while working alongside cinema veterans Lee and Gang. Asked what he would like to pass onto younger performers 20 years later, Kim smiled.

“That question makes me very happy,” he said. “That means I’ll still be acting at that age.”

By Rumy Doo (