[INTERVIEW] Heartthrob Lee Jin-uk transforms into liquid monster in 'Sweet Home' season two

Actor Lee Jin-uk is Pyeon Sang-wook in season two of Netflix's ″Sweet Home″ [NETFLIX KOREA]

When naming heartthrob actors in Korea, Lee Jin-uk is one name that never fails to make the list.

Lee has captured the hearts of female fans following the success of romance drama series like SBS’s “Glass Castle” (2008-09), tvN’s “I Need Romance” (2012) and “Nine” (2013), as well as films like “The Beauty Inside” (2015).

But romance isn’t the only genre topping his filmography. His appearance in Netflix’s apocalyptic horror series “Sweet Home” (2020-) sees Lee as the former hitman Pyeon Sang-wook. And in season two, which premiered on Dec. 1, his character has taken a turn for the worse: Sang-wook’s body gets possessed by the evil liquid monster Jung Ui-myeong.

But Lee’s handsome, gentle-looking face didn't quite fit such a character, so he did what he had to do. He used tape.

“I was filming, and I noticed that my face looked too kind,” Lee told reporters during a press interview at a cafe in Jongno District, central Seoul, on Friday. “So I decided that I needed help transforming my appearance. I used transparent tape to pull back my hair on my temples, which lifted my eyes a bit, so I succeeded in giving myself a sharper impression.

“It did give me migraines, however,” he laughed.

Based on the popular Naver webtoon of the same name by Kim Carnby and Hwang Young-chan, the first season of “Sweet Home” stars actors Song Kang, Lee Si-young, Go Min-si and Lee. The series arguably shot all four actors to global stardom as it topped Netflix rankings in numerous nations and became the first Korean series to enter Netflix’s top 10 in the United States.

Season one was about a group of people who get trapped inside an apartment called Green Home and try to escape from the zombie-like monsters, and season two now sees them out on the streets. Season three is already slated for release next year.

“After the first season, the production crew felt that season two alone would not be enough to fit in the expanded universe of ‘Sweet Home,’ which is why they felt there needed to be a season three,” Lee said. “I’m thrilled that my character is featured in the plot for season two, and I think it was thanks to allowing the story to embark on a new journey, different from the original webtoon.”

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Actor Lee Jin-uk [NETFLIX KOREA]

Q. In season one you played Sang-wook, but now you play Ui-myeong inside Sang-wook’s body. What was it like transforming your character?

A. This is something that every actor constantly worries about. We all want to play a new character and make a huge impact with our acting, but it’s really hard to do. Sometimes if we try too hard it makes us look contrived. For me, even though Ui-myeong has inhabited Sang-wook’s body, I focused mainly on changing minor details, like my muscles or facial expression, because I felt the behavioral difference would matter more in distinguishing the two characters. I even tried to portray different expressions in my left and right face at the same time to really become that character.

Was it difficult to continue as Ui-myeong’s character since it was originally played by actor Kim Sung-cheol in the first season?

That’s why I got Kim to help me. I sent him a text message, asking him to read the early scripts of the second season. He accepted willingly, but we were unable to meet in person due to schedule conflicts, so he sent the recorded files to me. I practiced imitating Ui-myeong’s way of speaking as well as his facial expressions and behavior. Kim said I did Ui-myeong’s character very well.

A still from Netflix's ″Sweet Home″ season two [NETFLIX KOREA]

Much of your bare body is exposed in season two. Were you ever reluctant in showing too much skin?

Since I’m not a rookie actor, I’m already accustomed to doing stunts and acting with my body. That particular scene in which it shows my body wasn’t necessarily focused on me, but rather a way to show the rawness of the scene. Situation-wise, there was a lot of action, so it also made sense that I was naked, so I wasn’t too stressed about it because I was also focused on the scene itself. For me, acting is very cathartic, so after shooting I tend to feel relaxed and at ease, which helps me connect better to my character.

It’s already been 20 years since you started acting. How does it feel to be a veteran in the entertainment industry?

I feel like I know better now than when I was younger. Sometimes there would be scenes that I didn’t understand before, but then I realize it later on — like a lightbulb lights up. I also think that I’ve endured really well, which I am proud to say. Twenty years is not a short time. I remember a reporter telling me back during an interview for season one that my acting had really left an impression on them, and that comment alone moved me. I realized that maybe I am living a pretty good life.

What do you think helped you make it through all those years?

I tend to be objective whenever something happens — in my mind, I take a step back. One thing all actors have in common is that they are able to get immersed into their characters, but that sometimes affects their personal lives as well. It’s a pity, because it can cause a lot of mental distress. I think I’ve practiced maintaining a safe distance between negative situations and my thoughts about them. I never read hate comments, and whenever I felt stressed, I went places where I could run frantically. Running helps calm me down and gets rid of any negative emotions.

The poster for Netflix's ″Sweet Home″ season two, here showing Lee Jin-uk [NETFLIX KOREA]

What does “Sweet Home” mean to you?

It’s a huge turning point in my life. When I first read the script, I really wanted to join the cast because it was so intriguing, which is why I met up with director Lee Eung-bok beforehand. In the webtoon, Sang-wook is a bulky, scary-looking character, but director Lee told me that it was just a stereotype to think that the actor had to be that way as well. I’m just so thankful he chose me to play Sang-wook. It’s a character that most never thought I would play, so it was a new experience for me. And after getting positive feedback from season one, I feel really attached to this show. I’m always grateful for my roles, but I especially like this one so much.

To find out more about Lee Jin-uk, visit Celeb Confirmed!