"Descendants of the Sun" has come to an end, and so has Song Joong-ki's time as the dashing Army Capt. Yoo Shi-jin. But this may only mark another beginning for the 31-year-old actor, whose celebrity status has rocketed to a whole new level since his appearance in the military-themed TV drama. For the first time since the show's wrap, Song met with reporters in a group interview Friday at Grand Hyatt Seoul to discuss the frenzy of his newfound fame, his future plans and more.
Q: You were recently in Hong Kong for a promotional tour of "Descendants."
A: I had read about the show's popularity overseas. It was the first time I was able to actually see for myself how many fans were there. After the promotion, I was at a photo shoot for a magazine, and when the photographer and I were shooting on the streets, that's when I really felt that so many people had seen the show. It was so surprising and such a joy.
Q: "Descendants" has had a huge impact, not just on TV but in other areas as well. Estimates say it generated some 3 trillion won ($2.6 billion) worth of profits to the Korean economy.
A: I've read in news reports that (the TV drama) has been important for other sectors of the society as well. I've simply done my part as an actor, but I feel a sense of responsibility, too. I feel like I need to stay up to date on all these issues.
Q: The show's huge success must have changed your life quite a bit. You've become more popular than ever, not just locally, but also overseas. How do you deal with this? Do people say you've changed?
A: That's a question that I ask myself a lot these days. I don't know yet. I try to stay the same but I also think that change is inevitable. What I mean is, if you stay the same as in your rookie days, you can't deal with all the new responsibilities you are faced with. Of course, my most important values should stay the same. My appearance has also changed a lot since my early acting days. Our company's profits have soared; our managers are so happy these days. All things aside, though, I try to stay true to myself. People say I'm a hallyu celebrity now, but I don't really feel that way. I learn a lot from people like Song Hye-kyo (who played Song Joong-ki's love interest in "Descendants") and Lee Kwang-soo (cast member of variety show "Running Man"), (they) are the ones that are really hallyu stars. (Kwang-soo) is the "Prince of Asia," he's the real star.
Q: How crazy has the level of fame gotten?
A: To be honest, I'm a little upset these days. My family has been exposed to the media. Some people break into our house. My ex-girlfriend's photos are circulating online. To say that these are things I need to endure for the sake of celebrity ... that's sad. I want to respectfully request that my private life remain private.
'I learned a lot from my character'
Q: A lot of the "Descendants" filming crew say that you're a "man's man" and very masculine on set.
A: A lot of my costars say that. I'm not sure what the standard for being masculine is. I don't really know what they're referring to. Maybe it's because I pick up the tab for our after-work meals a lot.
Q: What are you like when you are dating someone? Is your romance style similar to that of the character Yoo Shi-jin?
A: I learned a lot from my character. I thought to myself, "So this is what you have to do to make your girlfriend happy." Our scriptwriter Kim Eun-sook made the character, and I understand why so many female viewers fell in love with him. He says things that women want to hear. If I were like him, I would have been much more popular. But do you think men like him really exist? As writer Kim said, it seems like a fantasy.
Q: A lot of people love the drama, but some say that it focuses too much on the romantic aspect and not enough on forming a logical plot. What do you think?
A: I know that there are a lot of opinions out there, some good and some bad. But I'm glad that the show has been talked about a lot. I'm grateful for all kinds of feedback and I respect them all. The show belongs to the viewers once it's made. I've made plans to grab soju with writer Kim sometime soon, so I'll talk about it with her then. I don't want to overstep my part in assessing the show.
Q: There are a lot of embarrassing romantic lines that the character Yoo Shi-jin has to deliver in the drama. But you made it believable as an actor.
A: Some say that the script was cringeworthy, and I respect those opinions as well. I didn't feel that way. I felt confident that I could process the script and deliver the lines in my own style.
Q: Were there some scenes that you didn't understand?
A: I felt that the kissing scene between Shi-jin and Mo-yeon (the love interest played by Song Hye-kyo) happened too soon. I thought viewers wouldn't be able to relate to a relationship that moved that quickly. But I was wrong. Viewers loved it.
Q: The character Yoo Shi-jin jokes around a lot. How about you?
A: I do get nervous from time to time. Especially when I'm talking to reporters. But I like interviews. I normally like doing them one-on-one. I like having conversations, you learn a lot about how other people think. If I'm myself and confident, I don't get nervous easily. I try not to make other people uncomfortable -- I think that's a very arrogant thing to do.
'Song in real life'
Q: What are you like on set?
A: When I work with other people, I try to make up for their shortcomings with my strengths, and I let others make up for my flaws with their strengths. I try to co-operate with people around me when working in a group. I like to enhance team spirit on set. I try to get everyone involved in the action.
Q: What is your personality like in real life?
A: I tend to be conservative. I'm not very sophisticated. There are parts of me that are "classic." I sometimes wonder if this industry is a good fit for me. At times like that, I just try not to lose my colour and live according to it.
Q: It's been nine years since your 2008 debut in the film "A Frozen Flower." What were your goals back then? Do you think you've achieved them?
A: When I was starting as an actor, my goal was to experience as many roles as I could. It wasn't my goal be cast for a lead role quickly. I didn't want to land a lead and not give a good performance. I thought it was better to learn from diverse roles in many movies. In that sense, I feel like I've achieved my goals, and I'm still in that process. I'm very excited about my upcoming film, "Battleship Island," which is about independence activists during the Japanese colonial occupation.
Q: Actor Jin Goo, who costarred on "Descendants," said he drank soju with you often. He said you could outdrink him.
A: He said that? There were a lot of men on set as extras for soldier roles. We drank together a lot. A lot of the time, I had a shoot the next morning, so I tried hard not to get drunk. But nobody can outdrink Jin Goo. I could never beat him.
Q: Where did you watch "Descendants"?
A: I sometimes watched it at Kwang-soo's house (referring to Lee Kwang-soo, cast member of variety show "Running Man"). I watched it often at the houses of my friends from middle school, who are very frank with me and give me their honest opinions on the show. I wanted to hear what ordinary viewers really thought of the show, so I liked hearing their very candid responses. I've watched it alone at home, too. But these days, I normally see it on sets when I'm shooting ads.