Mike Edwards talks to Byung-hun Lee about THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD and a little bit about G.I. JOE!
ME: Was The Good The Bad The Weird as fun to make as it was to watch? It was really...
ME: Was The Good The Bad The Weird as fun to make as it was to watch?
It was really fun because this was my first villain role. In fact I asked him to do this, I had two contracts starting at the same time but I chose this because it looked so great.
ME: What was the most fun thing you did when shooting THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD?
Some of the most fun bits are in the deleted scenes. I had two facial expressions I really liked because each time I was given a reaction shot we did several takes and I always suggested to him [Mr Kim] that I do the last one just however I wanted to and that was always my favourite and was the most fun because I could just put myself in the situation and react to how it felt. And what came out of it made myself and the director happy, which was great fun. Although, as I said, unfortunately some have been deleted.
ME: How about re-enacting some for me now?
(Laughs) I think that’d be pretty hard.
ME: It has been unusual for you to play such dark and unsympathetic roles…
Yeah, I’ve never done it before so it was a very new experience for me. I could realise that I had those expressions, those eyes and those emotions. It was surprising to find these aspects that I never knew. And Mr Kim was surprised too. We’d worked together previously and he saw a new side of me.
ME: Was there anything in particular that inspired your performance or that influenced the way you played the character?
No, actually. I just read the script and tried to emphasize the bad guy inside of me.
ME: So he took a chance casting you in that role then?
I don’t think so. He’s got confidence in me, he even gave me a choice between playing The Good and The Bad and I asked him ‘What do YOU want me to do?’. And he said ‘have the bad guy, you would be so cold.’ But I really wanted to have that role too, so it worked out well.
ME: Have you been surprised by the international reception of the film?
Of course. When I went to Cannes with the film I was so nervous. The actors hadn’t even seen it yet! It was our first screening and also we were wondering about the response of the audience. But after the screening they were talking for like ten minutes. They were clapping for a long time, it was a surprising experience.
ME: What do you think it is about the film that really appeals to people?
Ummm. First of all it’s a western that everybody can like, and secondly it’s an oriental western which is funny. There are a lot of comedy, a lot of twists and so on. A western western is harder, just two guys in the desert fighting. Bang! That’s it. Maybe some flies. Some staring. But this film is more active.
ME: What is it about Kim that attracts you to his films?
A lot of things, but he can make a story so interesting and defined. He never loses the details. He always cares about the set, props, wardrobe – everything! He must have a headache every time he films, there’s just so much there. That’s what actors like to work with.
ME: How did you find working with The Good and The Weird?
People, especially Asian journalists, are always wondering whether the guys are in competition with each other. And we’d also thought like that. But when we got into the desert in China we just didn’t have time to think about it. The environment was the worst, it was so hard. Not only because of the action but the place was terrible, we’re talking about huge amount of heat and sometimes we couldn’t breath because of the sandstorms. And it wasn’t just sandstorms, everything was just so awkward and uncomfortable so you have to gather. You can’t worry about those kind of things. We were so happy whenever we had free time, we’d just make a team and the stunt guys and the actors we play a game of soccer. There were no actresses, only guys. It was like the army!
ME: Having played romantic leads before were you disappointed by the lack of women?
(Laughs) Yeah! But still, although with guys only we can talk about anything, we could talk about girls, we can walk around naked. We can do anything!
ME: You’re about to make your Hollywood debut, how do you feel about that?
I’ve actually had two Hollywood experiences, the first was I COME WITH THE RAIN, with Josh Hartnett, and the second is GI JOE. It’s been quite a good experience, although everything was so different. I’ve been working in Korea and I don’t want to lose my place. If I have the chance to work with Hollywood people again then why not, but I’m always going to be working in Korea.
ME: Did you get to hang out much with Dennis Quaid and Brendan Fraser?
Dennis Quaid had to shoot earlier than me, so we only met for one day of shooting and a couple of rehearsals and I never met Brendan Fraser!
ME: That sucks. But you get your own action figure though right?
Yeah, it’s coming out. It was really strange, I had it in my hand and although it was so tiny I could tell it was me! They’re so detailed.
ME: Aside from getting your own action figure, what were the main differences between making a movie in Korea and the US?
American productions are more rational than the Korean ones, they think time is really important because they don’t want to waste the money. You always gather at 6am! But not in Korea. They just decide right after a day’s shooting that, like, we’ll meet at 12 O’clock or something! And it’s less like a family in America, but maybe because it’s all still so unfamiliar to me. It all feels too logical, for example I had a couple of days to visit places and the studio guys just said ‘why don’t you just look over the contract again’! It sometimes make me feel like I’m not a human and that’s pretty bad.
ME: OK, so last question. What Korean films or directors do you particularly admire?
Park Chan Wook is actually a really good friend of mine, and I have to say I like his movies. But there are lots of good directors in Korea, Joon-Hwan and Joon-ho Bong are great.
THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE WEIRD is out in UK cinemas on 6th February. Watch it, it’s awesome!