'Masquerade' Star Byung-Hun Lee Discusses Going From 'G.I. Joe 2' to a Korean Costume Drama
Byung-hun Lee might be best known in the United States as Storm Shadow in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, but in his home country of Korea, he’s like Brad Pitt.
A good-looking, charismatic leading man, Lee has appeared in some of the most unique and interesting films the country has offered in recent years, including I Saw the Devil and The Good, the Bad and the Weird. But his turn in the new Korean film Masquerade, not to mention the Joe movie’s forthcoming sequel, Retaliation, positions the actor to become a true international star.
Celebuzz sat down with Lee at the recent Los Angeles press day for Masquerade, where he offered some insights about his creative process, and reflected on the differences between Korean and international moviemaking.
Celebuzz: How did you initially get involved in Masquerade, and what appealed to you about it?
Byung-Hun Lee: I read this script first when I was filming G.I. Joe 2 in New Orleans, and it had a serious message in this film – but they don’t make it serious. There’s a lot of comedy in the movie, so it was really easy to see, easy to watch, easy to read. And that’s one of the good sides of this movie, which is why I decided to do it.
CB: You play two roles. Which character was easier to play – the “actor” or the “king?”
BHL: The actor, because I could do whatever I wanted. So I did a lot of ad libs, I could bring a lot of ideas, and we could discuss those ideas with the director. So yeah, I think that worked – and I’m close to that character.
CB: How tough was it to balance the comedy of the actor character, and not undermine his integrity? You want people to take him seriously, but also to make fart jokes.
BHL: That was one of the hardest things. Actually, when I first got the script, I couldn’t answer whether I would do it or not – it took almost two months. That’s why I couldn’t decide easily, because the comic scenes could be really cheap in some ways. So I was worried about that but I decided to do it, and when I first met the director, I talked about the comedy and said we need to be so careful about that. Because we need to keep the line – if we do a little more, it would be really cheap comedy, so we need to [not cross] that line. That was the hardest part during filming, but I realized it worked.
CB: Does working in a period-set project affect the way you perform a role?
BHL: Normally, if they get a historical role, they worry about that, but I think I didn’t worry about those kinds of things. Even though it was my first try, it wasn’t a big concern for me because for an actor, the emotions and the character that I make is most important thing rather than the outfit or the style or something like that. It’s not that important for me.
CB: As an actor are you a movie lover? For example, when you made The Good, the Bad and the Weird, did you watch Sergio Leone movies for inspiration?
BHL: I normally don’t research and watch those things. I didn’t even watch G.I. Joe [before doing the film], actually. But I always ask the director, “do you want me to study that?” and most of them said “no, I want you to create something else.” Sometimes it’s easier, but sometimes it’s harder, because creating a different character is sometimes fun but sometimes hard. But anyways, the result is always not bad, so I’m satisfied.
CB: How important is it to make a distinction between different ethnicities of Asian actors? Does it matter to you if say, a Japanese actor plays a Korean character?
BHL: As an actor, it doesn’t matter, but historically, it’s a really delicate problem. So we need to figure out what does the character want to tell in the movie – that’s more important, I think. More important than the nationality of the actor. Ok, he’s Japanese, but what is he doing in that movie? That’s the point.
CB: Is there an essential difference for you between Korean and international or Hollywood filmmaking?
BHL: First of all, when I’m filming a Korean movie, it’s much easier and more comfortable and I can express myself as much as possible. But in Hollywood, I wasn’t born and raised there, so sometimes I cannot express the right thing because of the cultural. The cultural differences, I think, and also English, the language. So I’m trying to get used to it, but I’m having a hard time when I’m filming an American film. But that’s a really tough question. Your questions are tough [laughs].
Watch the trailer for G.I. Joe: Retaliation below.