Oh Ji-ho: “I’m extremely satisfied with this masculine role”
At 33, Oh Ji-ho has acted in a number of movies and dramas, like Super Rookie, Fantasy Couple, Single Dad in Love, and My Wife Is a Gangster 3, but he’s only now coming into hot popularity. Even when his projects have been successful, like last year’s trendy drama Queen of Housewives or 2006’s Fantasy Couple, the attention has mostly focused on his castmates. But he’s shed his prior image (nice, mild-mannered) for a fierce one in Chuno, and it — as well as he — is currently all the rage.
This is your first sageuk. How is it?
“To be honest, I felt some pressure. The general preconception about me was that I wasn’t a good fit for sageuks. I had history with director Kwak Jung-hwan through my previous dramas Single Dad in Love and Drama City, and he was able to find what was inside me and draw it out. Before filming began on Chuno, the director ordered me to empty myself and grow serious. He also told me I’d have to shoot fire from my eyes. [Laughs] It was difficult at first, but now I’ve gained confidence. I think sageuks have a subtler pleasure than modern dramas. Chuno has diverse film locations, such as mountains and fields all over the country and the field of reeds, varied costumes and makeup, martial arts and weapons. It has a lot of elements that excite me.”
Oh Ji-ho has frequently appeared in romantic comedies over the years. In dramas like KBS’s Second Proposal (2004), MBC’s Fantasy Couple (2006), SBS’s Get Karl, Oh Su Jung (2007), and MBC’s Queen of Housewives (2009), he has played characters devoted to the women leads. He said, “After doing romantic comedies, I wanted to do a masculine role such as a noir film, and Chuno fulfilled that wish.”
Could the opinion that you weren’t suited for sageuks be because of your Western looks?
“My looks did limit the characters I could play. For instance, if I played a playboy, I’d come off really sleazy, wouldn’t I? For the five years after I debuted in 2000’s La Belle, I heard that I looked sleazy, and in the four years after Second Proposal that I’ve acted in the comedy genre, those comments have gone away. [Laughs] I don’t think I’ll have to hear that anymore, thanks to Chuno.”
There’s a lot of action in Chuno. Another of the drama’s leads is the slave hunter Lee Dae-gil, played by Jang Hyuk, who has mastered the art of fighting in the streets, while Oh Ji-ho’s Tae-ha character has a fighting background and shows technical proficiency. There are frequent scenes involving fights between them. It’s inevitable that they weather injuries, big and small. On the back of his hand are numerous scars from coming into contact with the end of a sword.
Is acting in all the action scenes difficult?
“Yes, it’s difficult. When I was acting in Single Dad, I did some boxing but this is the first time doing this kind of martial arts. It’s not easy wielding a sword that weighs nearly 5 kg. I had to learn how to ride a horse, too. I started special training before filming began, and these days on days when I’m not filming, I’m constantly at action school. However, my hurting back has improved. It must be from all the stretching.”
You must be pretty competitive with Jang Hyuk.
“Naturally. Hyuk has practiced julkwondo for a long time, and his martial arts skills and body are one step above mine. After I was cast, I spent one or two months trying to catch up to Hyuk and went through some suffering. [Laughs] But Hyuk and I have a really good acting chemistry. We’ve become friends who have a lot of personal conversations, too. This is the first time I’ve realized I could get along so well with another actor.”
You’ve received a lot of praise for your musclular body, and this has been called a drama of “animalistic men.”
“Phew, I tried dieting for the first time ever. In Queen of Housewives my character was unemployed, so I deliberately didn’t exercise and my stomach was slightly flabby, which I had to get rid of in a short time. I worked out and ate only twice a day, going without food at night, and I lost almost all my fat.”
Oh is actually a sports nut. He excells at ball sports, excepting golf. The reason he appeared on the variety program Invincible Baseball Team is because of his love of baseball. He said, “I want to try playing an athlete or a terrible villain.”
But you may not get any villain offers because of your good-natured image.
“In MBC’s Super Rookie, the role of Lee Bong-sam was originally a villain. However, as the drama progressed, things went in another direction, which is entirely my resposibility. He should have become a hateful jerk, but viewers said that watching me made them laugh. [Laughs] If I get the opportunity, I want to try a role of a really bad guy, like Ha Jung-woo played in The Chaser.”
The man who calls himself “someone who puts emphasis on loyalty” also says, “When Chuno‘s filming ends in March, I plan on going on a long trip on my own.”