ESQUIRE: I watched you in the original musical Let Me Fly. I was surprised. I had thought it would be a science fiction drama after reading the synopsis about a time-travelling female lead, who dreams of becoming a NASA scientist, and a male lead, who wanted to be a fashion designer. Other than that, I didn’t go in with a lot of expectations since I’m not a sci-fi fan. But 40 minutes in, I found myself sobbing.
PARK BO-GUM: (laughs) Thank you so much. I still remember the first time I watched this musical. I personally know Shin Jaebum, who was playing the same Namwon role as I am this season. We were classmates majoring in musical theatre at school. When this musical was playing for the first time last year, he invited me to come see the show. I did, and I was surprised because the production was great. I too wondered if it was a story about space, or about the fashion-designer-wannabe male lead. But it was actually a story about time and love. “It was our journey through time together. Even if I were to be reborn, I will not go back and will choose this path again.” Everything including this line, the numbers, each prop, and stage elements were perfect. On the day I watched it, everyone in the audience cried so much that their masks were wet from tears. I remember leaving the theatre with such happiness and emotions that exceeded whatever I expected before I went in.
ESQ: There were many people in the audience crying loudly on the day I watched it as well. I didn’t want to make a sound, so I clenched my fists like Zo Insung (in the drama Something Happened in Bali). They weren’t tears that emphasised sadness though. They were tears of intense happiness. I enjoyed the show.
PBG: That’s so true. You can hear Namwon’s voice as he sincerely expressed his love to Jungbun despite not remembering anything. This might be a spoiler, but the moment the word “cupcake” is mentioned, the audience realises Sunhee’s true identity.
ESQ: The audience actually knew it before that. But it didn’t matter, we just enjoyed it.
PBG: I’m glad. It makes me so happy to hear that.
ESQ: I’m also surprised that Let Me Fly is playing in such a small theatre with only 300 seats. It’s not every day that we get to see one of Korea’s top drama actors dancing and singing like that. I’m curious about what made you decide to accept this role.
PBG: Productions like this usually cast multiple actors for a role so that they can take turns. As I mentioned earlier, when Shin Jaebum invited me to watch the show last year, Oh Euishik and Kim Jihyun were also playing Namwon. When I met them backstage, they half-jokingly said, “Bo-gum, let’s do this show together next time and bring it to a bigger theatre!” I think that played a big part in my decision to accept the role. I told them at the time that I’d be waiting for the call. I heard that the producers had no intention of casting me, but Jaebum persuaded them to just try reaching out to me. My seniors and batchmates were cheering me on, so I had no reason to turn down the role.
ESQ: Your timing was great. I heard that original Korean musicals and theatre productions were badly hit during, and even after, the Covid shutdowns. At a time like this, staging Let Me Fly and having a superstar like Park Bo-gum in the lead role can bring life back to Daehakro.
PBG: That it’s an original Korean production was the main reason I took the role. I wanted to share the emotions I felt when I watched the show last year. If my being cast can help promote this production to not only Korean fans, but international fans as well, I’d be so thankful.
ESQ: When I watched the show, there were many fans who seemed like they were from North America or Southeast Asia. What’s interesting was that when I went to buy a programme at the merchandise booth, there was a foreigner in front of me who said “Give me one of everything you have.” They must have really liked the show since they wanted to buy everything.
PBG: Really? I had no idea. That makes me so happy!
ESQ: The show I watched had Lee Hyunghoon playing the older Namwon, Hong Jihee as Jungbun, and Bang Jinhee as Sunhee, and the chemistry between them on stage was just remarkable. I can’t imagine that it’s easy achieving the right chemistry, especially when all four characters are played by three different actors. Kudos to them. They made it look and feel so believable.
PBG: That is why I can confidently say that no matter which actors you watch, they all bring their own charm to each of the shows, and they are all great. I also feel a different excitement when I’m on stage with different actors. You are showering me with so much praise that I think I’ll do really well for tonight’s performance.
ESQ: You’re going to perform tonight after this interview?
PBG: Yes. It’s going to be with Kim Dobin, Choi Soojin and Na Hana tonight.
ESQ: When will Let Me Fly be staged in a large theatre?
PBG: Large theatre... I don’t think it’s time for that yet. The small theatre right now is great. It feels intimate. Expanding to a mid-sized theatre might work, but a large theatre... At the end of the day, that decision is not mine to make. It depends on the production company.
ESQ: That is true. There’s a charm to small theatres because we can see the stage from a closer proximity, and it does feel more intimate.
PBG: That’s right. That is also what I like about this production. I can see and feel the immediate reaction from the audience. Of course, I can’t see their faces or expressions from the stage, but I can feel how engaged the audience is. It truly feels like we’re communicating with the audience because I can feel it when they burst into tears. This is my debut on a theatrical stage, so it’s my first time experiencing this sort of energy.
I mentioned earlier that Jaebum was my classmate from the musical theatre department in college, but I was usually just working behind the scenes as the director or music director.
ESQ: That’s amazing! I was just thinking to myself that you must have had lots of practice since you majored in musical theatre in college. As I look again at your characters Choi Taek in Reply 1988 and Lee Yeong in Love in the Moonlight... those don’t seem like they could dance, and yet you just brought them into action. You were great. You were also great at aegyo (acting cute) with your “bbuing”.
PBG: Not at all! I was getting lots of help from the people around me for the dancing and the singing, so all I really had to do was follow their directions and suggestions. Actually, the aegyo scene came about because we were trying to figure out how to make the characters for young Namwon and older Namwon be more cohesive. Each of the cast members has different charms. So, when you watched Lee Hyunghoon’s older Namwon that day, I had to add more to my acting to match his bubblier version of the character.
ESQ: I didn’t know you had to think of that as well.
PBG: That’s what makes it fun. (laughs) I spoke with and practised a lot with the other actors playing the younger Namwon.
ESQ: What was the process like for you during practice? It must not have been easy planning your schedule.
PBG: This is the first musical production that I’m involved in, and one that I love as well. As I practised every day, my desire to put on the best performance grew. After filming for my drama, I would always head straight to the studio to practise late into the night with our choreographer. All the other actors in this show helped me a lot. They stayed late so that we could clean up specific scenes. But the interesting thing is that my footsteps felt light on the way to the studio, and I enjoyed it so much. I was the youngest in this production, so I was just a student to everyone else. Everyone there was my teacher. Especially Shin Jaebum and Na Hana, who taught me the best way to project my voice. I didn’t know how loud I should be, or what’s the best method to deliver my lines since it was my first time on stage. Ah! Especially in the scene with the mirrored choreography, where older Namwon and younger Namwon faced each other and danced as though looking into a mirror. We put in a lot of effort for that scene because all three of us felt that we needed to be as perfect as possible.
ESQ: I remember the scene because it seemed like a mime show. It was perfect!
PBG: Although we should also pay attention to the other scenes, we focused a lot on that particular scene, even right down to the timing of our eyes blinking. We paid so much attention to our breaths, our steps and each movement of our fingers while practising.
ESQ: You’ve mentioned in interviews that you had dreamt of being a singer when you were younger. As I watched you in this show, I didn’t think you meant that as being an idol singer.
PBG: That’s right. I wanted to be a singer-songwriter. I played piano as a kid, so I wanted to comfort others and spread joy through the songs I wrote. Back when I used to audition for entertainment companies, there were not many male contestants who sang while playing the keyboard.
ESQ: You’re right. There weren’t many who could play the keyboard. You were good enough to play one of Lee Seungcheol’s songs on the keyboard for a TV show. This musical plays from September to December, and by the time this interview is published, you would have played this character over 10 times. Is there anything that has changed for you since the first time?
PBG: I also thought that things might become routine as time went by, but every time I perform with a different actor, I experience a new chemistry between us, and I feel new emotions each time. That is why I think this is such a great production. Despite playing the same show, the same character with the same lines, and everything is repeated, it always feels new with every show. Even when I think, “The emotions won’t get to me today,” I end up getting absorbed into the performance and sometimes get overwhelmed by emotions. That’s what makes this so very interesting for me. I’m experiencing things I don’t feel when I do movies or dramas.
ESQ: From the sounds of it, it’s almost as though you’re a first-time jazz improvisation musician.
PBG: That’s exactly what it feels like. Jazz musicians might be looking at a music sheet with the same chords, but they create music by communicating with one another through their emotions. Taking turns to act with different actors fits into that definition of jamming, and there’s a unique joy to it. There’s a term for the delight that musicians feel when they click together during a session, but I suddenly can’t remember it. For example, when someone improvises on stage and I immediately pick up on it and make the scene work, I feel so happy because I knew I was focused on the scene.
ESQ: The image of musicians performing on stage at a jazz club for the first time comes to mind.
PBG: (laughs) You can say that.
ESQ: But why have you been hiding your singing talents all this while?
PBG: I don’t sing well at all. Oh dear, please don’t say that. It’s just that I enjoy it, and the other musical actors are teaching me a lot, so I’m improving slowly.
ESQ: What’s the drama you’re currently filming?
PBG: I’m filming a Netflix drama called You’ve Done Well. The screenplay was written by Lim Sangchun (who also wrote Fight for My Way and When the Camelia Blooms), and directed by Kim Wonseok who also directed Misaeng, Signal, and My Mister.
ESQ: There’s no information available online for this drama yet. Can you tell us more about the character you’re playing?
PBG: All I can tell you is that the character is strong as steel and unwavering like an old tree.
ESQ: I’ve always seen you as a youthful star, which is a charm that’s emphasised in the dramas Boyfriend, Love in the Moonlight, and Record of Youth. But through this musical, it feels like you’ve expanded your range.
PBG: I could say that taking this role was a conscious decision to expand my career and roles. I do want to try new genres and characters that I’ve never done before.
ESQ: You’re also waiting for the release of your upcoming movie Wonderland, right? I’ve been telling people for three years now that I’m looking forward to it.
PBG: Wonderland is a thought-provoking movie. It’ll make you think about what is considered precious in value. I actually haven’t seen how they’re piecing the movie together, and we haven’t even done the preview for it yet. I’m also waiting for it to be released. It’ll be a fun watch. I felt it when we were filming.
ESQ: I personally want to see you play a serious character that doesn’t smile at all.
PBG: Ah! I know what you mean. Like my character in the movie Seo Bok right?
ESQ: Maybe something a little colder and more terrifying than that.
PBG: As I’ve mentioned earlier, I want to expand the types of characters I play through works that I want to recommend to others. While the characters are important, being able to confidently tell people “This is a really good story,” is more important to me. I want to build my career with projects that I’d even want to recommend to my future kids. I want to be an actor who people have faith in and can say, “Park Bo-gum’s work is great.”
ESQ: Wow! There aren’t many actors with such a filmography. Even if they had acted well, there will be times when the story itself isn’t all that great.
PBG: It’s just something I’m hoping for.
ESQ: I’m curious about Park Bo-gum as a person. You’ve always played characters who are polite, kind and considerate. Even people who’ve worked with you said the same about you. But what is your biggest desire in the depths of your heart?
ESQ: Really? That’s great! I was worried you’d say something like “My desire for acting.”
PBG: I adore good food. There are so many different cuisines in the world that I want to try, and I really enjoy having a good hearty meal. When filming schedules are gruelling, I often don’t have time to eat proper meals. When that happens, I get late night cravings once I get home. I know I shouldn’t eat late at night but I really can’t help it sometimes.
ESQ: Oh, I’m always craving for carbs after 10pm. Like chapaghetti (black bean paste instant noodles).
PBG: Exactly. I should resist those temptations, but there’s so much I want to eat in this world. People who work out can relate: I just crave proteins. It doesn’t matter if it’s pork or beef, I crave different proteins every day. My manager also works out, so we binge on proteins together. I recently had nurungji (scorched rice) ginseng chicken, and I loved it.
ESQ: Nurungji ginseng chicken is the perfect food. It’s interesting that you have this simple side to you as well.
PBG: I’m lucky to be able to enjoy so much delicious food lately, but that’s the first thing that came to mind. There are times when my face puffs up after eating something the night before filming. As an actor, I always regret when that happens.
ESQ: You don’t drink, right?
PBG: I don’t usually drink, but I do enjoy a couple of drinks with friends occasionally. I have never tried soju though.
ESQ: What? Not even once?
PBG: Unbelievable, but it’s true. I’ve never had soju before. I’ve tried sweeter alcohols, but never soju. People who can drink a few bottles of it at a time amaze me.
ESQ: Besides work, how do you usually spend your time? Do you devote it on a hobby, maybe?
PBG: Lately, it’s singing practice.
ESQ: But singing is part of your work. Doesn’t count.
PBG: That’s true, but I’ve honestly never thought of doing musicals, movies, dramas or business travels as work.
ESQ: Oh, stop being so impossibly perfect. (laughs)
PBG: I realised very early on that if I think of it as work, at some point, it becomes something I have to do and I’d start getting stressed about it. Being able to do what I love is happiness in itself and is a huge blessing to me. Even after getting on board this musical, I enjoyed the songs so much that I thought to myself, “Wow, I really should sing these amazing songs well,” and that stopped me from feeling like practice is work.
ESQ: Looking at you while you talk about this, I can feel your sincere happiness and joy. As a fellow professional, I’m envious.
PBG: Really? Even for music, I only listen to numbers from Let Me Fly these days.
ESQ: How was the photoshoot with Celine?
PBG: I’m excited to be able to show a side of me that I’ve never shown before through this shoot with Celine and Esquire. It was fun. To me, fashion photo shoots are like playing a character. My hairstyle, make-up, outfits, and even my expressions and poses come together to create a new character. I really enjoyed it. The pieces from the Winter season this time look great too.
ESQ: Is there an outfit that stood out to you?
PBG: I loved all the coats, especially the ones with Celine’s signature patterns.
Photography: Mok Jungwook
Styling: Kim E Joo
Fashion Editor: Yun Woonghee
Features Editor: Park Sehoi
Hair: Ji Kyoungmi
Make-up: Lee Young
Production: Jang Homin
Assistant: Song Chaeyeon
Art Design: Kim Daesup
Translation: Astrid Ja’afarino