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[Herald Interview] Song Sae-byeok’s career enjoys late dawn

Actor talks about recent film ‘Five Eagle Brothers'

Actor Song Sae-byeok is not the most well-known actor in Korea, but he has infused his characters with an intensity and unique likability that makes people remember him.

Following a brief appearance in Bong Joon-ho’s “Mother” (2009), his supporting role as the perverted, corrupt official Byeon Hak-do in the period film “The Servant” (2010) drew laughter on account of his nonchalant, comic poise and earned him a best new actor award. Recently, he played the part of a violent stepfather in “A Girl at My Door” (2014), which was screened at this year’s Cannes International Film Festival in May.

The 34-year-old is not afraid of trying new roles. Instead, he is capable of putting his own stamp on all the roles he plays ― even the smaller ones.

This time, Song stepped in front of the camera to play another unconventional role, the second of five siblings in the comedy-thriller “Five Eagle Brothers.” He plays Dong-soo, who has tattoos all over his body and curses every second, but also has a hidden soft side. 
Actor Song Sae-byeok poses during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Monday. (Yoon Byung-chan/The Korea Herald)
Actor Song Sae-byeok poses during an interview with The Korea Herald in Seoul on Monday. (Yoon Byung-chan/The Korea Herald)

“Dong-soo’s character has charm,” Song said during an interview with The Korea Herald at a cafe in Seoul on Monday. “He is very outspoken, a fist-over-words type.”

“But he also wants to open a nail shop,” said the actor. “I thought that was hilarious.”

Song admitted that cursing continuously in the film was very difficult, citing his reserved personality: “For some reason, people think I am very funny, but I am actually very quiet.”

He just has the natural ability to make people laugh.

“If you approach the audience with the strong intention of making them laugh, it can’t be funny,” said the actor. “You just have to fully immerse yourself in the situation.”

Maybe that is the reason why people think Song is funny, because he approaches comedy with seriousness and nonchalance.

“Dong-soo is a serious character as well, he is very serious about opening the nail shop,” said Song, who got his nails done for the first time in his life for the film.

His name, Sae-byeok (Dawn), had an influence on the actor’s childhood, causing him to become more introverted.

“Think about it, my name is Sae-byeok, a very peculiar name,” he said.

“I didn’t want to be noticed, so I acted very conscientiously, and refrained from doing anything that made me stand out from the crowd, including raising my hand in class or studying too hard.

But ironically, he chose a career which requires him to be noticed and stand out. He explained that he is still nervous in front of a camera or on stage. “I still have nightmares like forgetting my lines on stage,” he said.

But there is a certain unexplained palpitation and tension he enjoys.

The film “Five Eagle Brothers,” directed by Jeon Hyung-joon, is the story of five half-siblings who always bicker and fight in a village named Deoksuri. One day, their parents all of a sudden disappear from the village and the quibbling siblings are given a mission to search for their parents.

The film is about family, says Song, who has always wanted to do a film about family.

“When I was growing up, I envied large families who had many siblings,” said Song, who has a younger sister. “The hustling bustling scene of the siblings, even when they all had to share a single bathroom, was something I wanted.

“So acting in this film was a lot of fun, with four other siblings.”

Before Song made his name in the film industry, he was involved in theater acting, starting in 1998, when he was in his early 20s. He is a well-established theater actor, having played the role of Dong-sik in the play “Haemoo.” The play was adapted into the film “Sea Fog” this year and singer-turned actor Park Yoo-chun played his role in the film.

“(Acting in a) play is like (being in) my hometown,” said Song. “There is something very fascinating about being in the play, something very basic and rough, but it is a different experience.”

He would like to continue acting on stage if a good opportunity comes up.

“When I was doing plays, I was used to the time pace of practicing for two months and performing for two months ― relatively slower than (for) films.”

So when Song started to act in films, he had a hard time catching up with the fast pace, having to arrive at the set the night before and shoot scenes the very next morning. “I couldn’t sleep,” he said.

“It is getting better for me, but it is still hard. I really admire actors who are on TV dramas, because I can’t imagine myself receiving the script the day before and immediately filming it the next day.

“I am scared.”

But if given an opportunity, he would like to try out TV dramas in the future.

Song admitted that he is less of an organizer or a planner.

“I don’t really make plans, but I just do whatever comes to me. Maybe I should start planning, starting next year?”

“Five Eagle Brothers” opens in theaters in Korea on Dec. 4.

By Ahn Sung-mi (
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