Actor Lee Je-hoon prepares to refill his 'acting capital' after 'Taxi Driver 2'
From a former special forces officer to a taxi driver, businessman, farmer, prisoner and even a shaman, actor Lee Je-hoon has done it all in the SBS drama “Taxi Driver 2”. But instead of settling for the impressive 21.8 percent viewership rating for the last episode of the season on April 15, Lee confessed that he now has much more to consider.
“I had to start thinking about how to fill up my capital — my acting capital, that is — which has run dry after using up all my skills and acting styles I had accumulated to play all these different roles in ‘Taxi Driver 2,'” Lee said in a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily.
“Taxi Driver” revolves around Lee's fixer Kim Do-gi, who works as a taxi driver at Rainbow Corporation, a group of fixers disguised as a taxi company. Lee’s character is a former special forces officer and the corporation’s elite fixer who helps “solve” problems and get revenge as per clients' request with appropriate disguises.
The second season of “Taxi Driver,” which started airing on Feb. 17, recently finished with a 21 percent viewership rating, which is 4 percentage-points higher than the first season. It is SBS’s first drama series to have garnered over a 20 percent viewing rate since “The Penthouse II: War in Life” in 2021, which received the highest rating of 30.6 percent.
Thanks to its popularity, the production of the third season of “Taxi Driver” has already been announced, a rare case in the Korean drama market where it's hard to find a drama series successful enough to produce any more than two seasons.
“Watching American TV dramas, I always hoped we could have a seasonal drama that can be loved for an extended period of time,” Lee said. “I was happy to see ‘Taxi Driver’ being produced as a seasonal drama, as many have waited and expected, instead of being killed after just the first season. This is why I craved higher quality in its production.”
Lee said that he had been involved in the post-synchronization, music editing and other final touches after the filming wrapped up in February, providing suggestions to the team to further improve the production quality.
He was also the one behind bringing actor Namkoong Min on board, who starred in SBS drama “One Dollar Lawyer” (2022), to star as a cameo in the second season of “Taxi Driver.” Namkoong’s appearance in the series as a witty lawyer was lauded due to the success of his character in “One Dollar Lawyer.”
“When I was asked to cameo in ‘One Dollar Lawyer,’ I all of a sudden thought it would be a great idea to have Namkoong Min feature in ‘Taxi Driver 2,’ and I instantly gave him a counter-proposal,” Lee said.
“The director and writer [of ‘Taxi Driver’] first thought of having Namkoong appear on one of the other episodes, but I thought it would be funnier if Namkoong appeared as lawyer Chun [Namkoong’s character in ‘One Dollar Lawyer'] giving advice on medical malpractice, and [the production team] accepted my suggestion,” Lee said.
In the second season of “Taxi Driver,” Lee had to play 11 different roles as part of the main character. He said it was important for him to portray each and every one of them very differently so that they would feel different and real to the viewers.
“I didn’t want to give the feeling to the viewers that I’m playing similar roles. There needed to be a distinct difference even though it’s the main character in the series who is disguising himself as these different characters,” Lee said.
Oh Sang-ho, the writer behind the drama, praised Lee’s acting for “making the characters come to life.”
“The hardest sub role that I played was the shaman," Lee said. "I watched a real ritual of a shaman calling the spirits and tried to do my own interpretation of it, very enthusiastically, for the drama. After shooting the scene, I ended up in bed with muscle aches all over my body for two whole days.”
“I was dedicated enough to dance on top of the blade of a straw cutter,” Lee added. “It was the hardest role I had to play, physically.”
Lee also shared that the drama was a time for him to think more about the social influence of cultural content, as “Taxi Driver” centers around different social issues such as overseas employment fraud, child abuse, illegal property middlemen — all real cases that continue to make headlines. The drama garnered particular interest from the viewers as some episodes that dealt with issues surrounding cults and nightclubs aired right around the time when similar cases were happening in reality.
“If you think about it, it’s like a cycle. These issues repeat themselves, and I realized that the work I do as an actor definitely has an impact on society,” said Lee.
“I was able to convey with a heavy mind a message — that there are certain things that we should not forget and try to remember. People should take interest in such issues all together and talk about it.”
Lee debuted in 2006 with the short film “Truth, Litmus” and rose to fame with films “Bleak Night” (2011), “The Front Line” (2011), “Architecture 101” (2012) and more. He played the police profiler Park Hae-young, on cable network tvN's 2016 drama “Signal,” which many call Lee’s role of a lifetime.
“I want to play a role that stays throughout my life, and that is my driving force as an actor,” Lee said, who is approaching the 17th year in his acting career.
“I value and enjoy the times when I watch dramas on TV or films in cinemas. Whenever I watch something, I strive to appear in stellar films and dramas,” he said.
“While I haven’t received an official offer to join Season 3 [of ‘Taxi Driver’], all the actors expect they will play in the next season. If I get to join Season 3, I think I should be improving in my acting even further.”
Lee will feature in the upcoming film “Escape,” planned to premiere this year, and in “Moral Hazzard” featuring actor Yoo Hae-jin, the production of which has recently started.
BY EO HWAN-HEE [email@example.com]