[Herald Interview] How Namgoong Min became the office eccentric in ‘Good Manager’

By Rumy Doo

The beloved, cheeky character was not created in a day, according to the actor

  • Published : Apr 12, 2017 - 16:15
  • Updated : Apr 12, 2017 - 16:59
The protagonist of “Good Manager,” the latest office satire to win Korean viewers’ avid approval, is by no means the quintessential good guy. A sassy accountant who speaks his mind and devises increasingly creative insults for his bosses, Kim Sung-ryong is an accidental hero portrayed by Namgoong Min.

“He’s the kind of person who laughs when someone falls down,” the actor said in an interview at a cafe in Nonhyeon-dong on Tuesday.

Unlike the fast-talking character whose face alternates between different shades of sarcasm, Namgoong spoke slowly and deliberately. He had visualized Kim upon reading the script -- a man sporting a garish yellow shirt that clashes violently with his orange hair.

“I imagined someone as unsophisticated and cheap-looking as possible. I chose a hair color that would least suit me. I thought his voice should be lighter and higher-pitched than mine, and that he should use all these hand gestures.”

In the show, which wrapped up on March 30 on KBS and held the top spot for dramas in the same time slot, Kim starts out as a clever, self-serving scammer. After a stint stealing money from thugs, Kim joins TQ Group, the show’s version of the archetypical Korean conglomerate, only to pilfer its funds.

Actor Namgoong Min poses for a photo before an interview at Cafe Laboom in Nonhyeon-dong, Seoul, Tuesday. (935 Entertainment)

In a twist, Kim’s self-interest, his almost uncontrollable penchant for honesty, and his essentially good heart lead him to stand up for his teammates and call out corruption at the company.

While the 39-year-old actor has been lauded for darker roles in films such as “Bad Guy” (2002) and “A Dirty Carnival” (2006), “Good Manager” has allowed him to explore his comedic side.

“I’ve preferred characters who are delicate. It’s easier to play the villain. What I mean is that you draw out the most evil aspects of yourself that you would never show to others and maximize that,” he said.

“For this character, there was nothing for me to draw from, because Kim is so eccentric. I had to fabricate an entirely new character. I didn’t sink into the role. I had to be conscious of it until the very end of shooting.” 

Confident enough to declare that he will return with “an even better performance next time,” Namgoong described himself as someone who is serious about his craft. Even during long holidays, he is “constantly researching and analyzing” the art of acting, he said.
Actor Namgoong Min poses for a photo before an interview at Cafe Laboom in Nonhyeon-dong, Seoul, Tuesday. (935 Entertainment)
“I won’t reveal the details of my methods. It’s my secret, I have to make a living, too,” he said jokingly. But the actor remarked that the end goal is to empathize with as many people as possible.

“If you want to move others, it has to feel real. There’s a difference between just shedding tears, even if it happens to look good onscreen due to lighting and sad music, and trying to understand someone’s pain and stressing over it (as your own),” he said.

“You can’t understand 100 percent, of course. But (the actor) has tried to get to the core of something artistic in the process. It’ll allow him to give a better performance the next time.”

In “Good Manager,” Kim inspires his teammates, who had long learned to cave into office injustices, to break out of their rut. He consoles a colleague on the brink of suicide and ultimately uncovers illegal activities among company executives, who are eventually brought to trial. 

Some viewers have described the show a “fantasy” in that the weak claim total victory. But the character portrayal stays truer to reality than many other TV shows, Namgoong pointed out -- Kim is very human, harboring both selfish and selfless compulsions. What makes the character a hero is his willingness to become a better person.

“Yes, people have said it feels too unrealistic,” Namgoong said. “But the difference between being able to dream and not being able to dream is everything. I think that sense of possibility was what led to the show’s popularity.”

The show is available to international viewers on streaming sites Viki and Dramafever under the title “Chief Kim.”

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)