Actor Lee Hae-woo: Soared to new heights with the Disney+ drama series Casino, shares his goal of being a "good actor" rather than a "actor who looks good to others."
The globally acclaimed Disney+ series Casino has become a must-watch for audiences worldwide. Centered around the captivating tale of 'Cha Moo-sik', portrayed by the renowned Choi Min-sik, a Filipino man entangled in a murder mystery, the show keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. With the exceptional acting prowess of top Korean actors and a compelling storyline, the series has successfully mesmerized both domestic and international viewers.
Directed and written by Kang Yoon-sung, the director of The Outlaws (2017), the series garnered high support and trust from fans even during its production stage, thanks to the casting of popular actors such as Choi Min-sik, Son Seok-koo, and Lee Dong-hwi. In addition to the main cast, the ensemble of talented actors including Heo Sung-tae, Lee Hye-young, Kim Joo-ryung, Kim Hong-pa, Im Hyeong-jun, Son Eun-seo, Lee Kyu-hyung, and Lee Hae-woo has also attracted attention.
Actor Lee Hae-woo is undoubtedly the biggest beneficiary of Casino. Portraying the character of Agent Philip in the series, he showcased a different charm each time he encountered various characters. The intertwining of embezzlement and the murder case involving "Philip" and "So-jung" changes the course of the story dramatically. Despite the conclusion of the character "Philip" in Season 1, the lingering impact of its intense ending has kept discussions about the character alive, especially with Season 2 well underway.
Actor Lee Hae-woo. ©Saram Entertainment
During a recent meeting with the interviewer, Lee Hae-woo shared how his recognition has changed since Casino saying, "I was surprised when someone recognized me at the gym not long ago! It's the first receiving so many calls in my acting career." After joining the audition for Casino through a friend's recommendation, he showcased his dedication by tattooing stripes on his arm when he felt his audition tape was inadequate and even preparing a separate English monologue.
In Casino, Lee Hae-woo plays the character named "Philip Torres," a Korean-Filipino immigrant. When the reporter expressed surprise at the stark contrast between the character "Philip" on the screen and Lee Hae-woo's fair complexion, he revealed, “This fair complexion is a distinct feature of mine. To achieve a darker skin tone, I tanned for three months and even during filming in the Philippines. However, despite my efforts, the tan didn't turn out as expected, so we relied on makeup to depict a darker skin tone."
"It fascinated me to consider how my portrayal of “Philip” would impact the central character, Cha Moo-sik. Especially through the death of Philip and the significance of that event would shape his journey. Interestingly, the first scene I filmed in the Philippines was the very moment of Philip’s death. Despite the unfamiliarity and the need to adapt, I fully immersed myself in capturing the depth of that crucial moment. These challenging circumstances and the palpable tension contributed to a truly immersive filming experience."
With his captivating charm and witty demeanor, Lee Hae-woo mesmerizes women in his role as the suave casino agent, Philip. Before becoming part of the production, he had no interest in casinos, so he started filming with limited knowledge about the role of a casino agent. He personally interviewed local agents in the Philippines, observing their distinct gestures, expressions, and ever-changing behaviors to construct his character.
©Walt Disney Company Korea
"In that realm, where power and wealth supersede age, a chilling and unsettling gaze occasionally emanates from the agents. Its haunting impression lingers within me. Fellow actor Hong Ki-joon's depiction of “Sang-goo” truly mirrored the essence of real agents. As “Philip,” my character's pursuit involves engaging others with allure, driven by the assigned missions within the team, compelling me to convey a tender and entrancing gaze."
The casting lineup for Casino initially evoked excitement and concerns about delivering a successful production. The director's desire for authenticity in character portrayal prompted deep contemplation. The fellow actors were encouraging as well.
In the series, “Kim So-jeong” (played by Son Eun-seo), a hotelier turned casino agent, successfully steals the money of “Go Ho-jae” (played by Lee Hye-young). Their prior dealings raise concerns for “Philip” who senses that something is off. “So-jeong” attempts to flee with the money but encounters a shocking attack. Lee Hae-woo's performance, showcasing complex emotional variations, garnered high praise.
"I had a close bond with Son Eun-seo and Hong Ki-joon, like three siblings. We coincidentally had neighboring rooms during our stay in the Philippines. Daily encounters fostered a comfortable filming environment and great chemistry."
YouTube Channel 'The Game Caterers'. ©tvN
In Season 2, the death of "Philip," the enigmatic casino agent, holds significant importance alongside "Cha Moo-sik," "Yang Jung-pal," and "Sang-goo." Despite a brief appearance, I aimed for a powerful portrayal. Notably, my journey as an actor began with a meeting with Choi Min-sik, the protagonist of Oldboy (2003).
Choi Min-sik continued to provide valuable insights on acting and life during our three-month encounter. This relationship transformed me as an actor on the scene.
Season 2 of Casino premiered after a twenty-day hiatus following the conclusion of Season 1. With compelling storytelling and outstanding performances, the series has garnered acclaim, achieving an IMDb rating of 8.5, the highest among Korean original series on global OTT platforms. This IMDb rating of 8.5 surpasses "Squid Game" and "Kingdom," making it the highest-rated domestic OTT series at the time of release, reflecting its global affirmation.
Lee Hae-woo expressed admiration for Choi Min-sik, who plays a central role in Casino. “There was a scene where Mr. Choi passed by a hotel. In a seemingly ordinary walking scene, the narrative unfolded through his footsteps, while the character's life revealed itself in his expressions. It left a lasting impression, making me appreciate why Choi Min-sik is revered as one great actor. I even practiced walking scenes while thinking about him. His mere presence evokes a cinematic experience.”
He debuted in the drama Eyes of Dawn (2007) and ventured into Southeast Asia with notable roles in Thai and Taiwanese productions. Despite facing setbacks and contemplating a serious career change, having even worked at an advertising agency along the way, he now shines on the global stage.
"Acting has been challenging. I felt lost and missed opportunities due to lack of preparation. The moments of unpreparedness proved detrimental. I want to encourage others as I've overcome difficult times."
Lee Hae-woo's strength as an actor lies in his 'perseverance.' Over the past 15 years, he has faced turbulent times and risen to his current position, becoming a resilient performer with a strong determination to work hard. He achieved his long-cherished dream of acting in a project with Choi Min-sik, which he had written in his notebook a long time ago. Choi Min-sik remains his role model, both in the past and present. His goal is to build solid personal qualities and experiences in his works, aiming to be a 'good actor' rather than one who merely impresses others.
He believes a 'good actor' earns respect from peers and captures the love of the public. He possesses a unique ambition for his characters and desires to portray real-life figures, blending research and imagination.
“Moreover, despite potential challenges ahead, my passion for the craft grows stronger. While I couldn't do much for my family before, this year I aspire to give them the best gifts. Filming Casino made me truly understand the phrase 'it feels like a dream.' It was a great honor. I will strive to deliver more enjoyable, fresh, and committed performances in the future. I am grateful to everyone from the bottom of my heart.”
Interview by Glenda Park, Editor-in-Chief at Avec G.
*This article is simultaneously published in Seoul Wire's 'Glenda Park's Blue Ocean'.
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