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[Herald Interview] Kang Gil-woo stays true to indie roots while thriving in new large-scale projects

By Kim Da-sol

Published : April 5, 2023 - 13:58

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Kang Gil-woo in “The Layover” (Indie Story) Kang Gil-woo in “The Layover” (Indie Story)

Kang Gil-woo, an established actor in the South Korean independent film scene who has played notable roles in award-winning indie films, recently starred in a number of supporting, yet indispensable, roles in large-scale productions such as Netflix series “The Glory,” JTBC drama “Reborn Rich” and Hirokazu Kore-eda’s “Broker.”

The 37-year-old actor has never been so active as he is now, going back and forth between indie films and commercial projects.

“I promised myself I would build my career first in the indie scene for the first seven or eight years. And in 2021, I met my current management agency and decided to venture into commercial works as well,” Kang told The Korea Herald in an exclusive interview held in Seoul on March 30.

“To be honest, for me, what differentiates indie films and commercial works is not the size of the budget or the project scale. For me, they are just two different genres. So I really enjoy doing both – I insisted my boss at the management agency allow me to continue to do indie films. Thankfully, he welcomed my decision,” Kang said.

The actor with 11 years of acting career said he finds fascinating the various opportunities coming his way now that he is part of the larger world.

“Through the agency, I’m given more opportunities at various styles of roles and projects. I really appreciate that. All I have to do is to just act well,” he said with a smile.

Kang Gil-woo (Indie Story) Kang Gil-woo (Indie Story)

As an established indie film actor with over dozens of films including “To My River” (2019), “The Boy From Nowhere” (2019) and “A Distance Place” (2021), he said he still feels strongly attached to the indie scene.

“To me, indie film projects are like my home,” he said.

What does he like so much about indie films?

Kang said the industry’s informal vibe, flexible shooting style and reality-based storyline attract him to indie films.

In director Choi Chang-hwan’s latest indie film, “The Layover,” Kang plays Gyu-hyung, an architect who stays at a hotel in Busan with his fiancee, Ji-won, after their flight to New York is canceled due to an engine glitch. The couple breaks up after that night and Gyu-hyung takes the flight alone.

Reunited with director Choi after “The Boy From Nowhere” (2019), Kang said he feels comfortable acting in Choi’s works, based on the deep trust between the two.

“Director Choi is someone who allows actors to freely act and even do whatever they want, telling them that there is no (right) answer in acting. His style (of direction) led me to take more responsibility in what I do. I felt that it was his way of respecting actors,” Kang said.

The night of their fight in "The Layover" was shot in a long take, realistically depicting how a couple can get angry with each other for not honestly revealing their emotions. Gyu-hyung, who wants to move permanently to the US to continue his career, upsets Ji-won by not telling her about his plan. But for Gyu-hyung, it is Ji-won who has made him burst into anger because he believes he had always made compromises to meet Ji-won’s needs over the past years.

“I tried my best to become Gyu-hyung. After several rehearsals, I felt that I was acting in front of a camera. So the director let the camera director to shoot and move angles on his own and then I could act more realistically,” he said.

Kang also played a gay man settled on a sheep ranch in “A Distant Place” (2021) and also did voice acting in the 2022 stop-motion animation, “Motherland.”

“I do not intend to expand my acting spectrum by appearing in different types of projects every time. I just seek to do fun stuff. I hope my work can be enjoyable. A privilege of an actor is that you can live different lives through characters all the time. After discovering who the character is, I also find who I am – I'm just thankful,” Kang said.

“The Layover” opened in local theaters on March 29.

Kang Gil-woo in “The Layover” (Indie Story) Kang Gil-woo in “The Layover” (Indie Story)