Fans know Lee Kwang Soo as the resident funnyman on popular South Korean variety game show Running Man. With his rubbery face and wacky antics up his sleeve, he is hardly the image of a po-faced runway model.
But that was exactly what Lee, who is 1.9m tall, was, early in his career from 2005 to 2008.
In an e-mail interview with Life!, Lee, 28, says he "loved" being a model, but has no plans to return to it. "Modelling was a very meaningful time for me. I have very fond memories of when I was a model, but I don't miss it, as I am satisfied with my life right now," he adds. "I want to be known as a familiar friend who is easily approachable."
The entertainer will be in town next month for a fan meet at the Festive Grand Theatre at Resorts World Sentosa.
He confesses that he is as surprised as anyone else that he has a strong fanbase outside of his native country. "I was shocked to receive so many supportive messages from Singaporean fans," he says. "But I am always very thankful."
He shot to fame with Running Man, which made its debut in 2010. In the show, cast regulars compete against celebrity guests to complete various missions in a race. Lee is the youngest in the regular cast, which includes Yoo Jae Suk, 40, Kim Jong Kook, 37, and Haha, 33.
While Yoo and Kim are often the main powers in the race, Lee's popularity has led to him winning the Variety Show New Star Award at the SBS Entertainment Awards two years in a row, in 2010 and 2011.
Despite the comic animosity on the show, where the cast members jokingly backstab and betray one another to get ahead in the race, he says that there is camaraderie between them.
"I have gained a lot through joining Running Man, but I am most thankful for meeting the Running Man members and staff," he says.
"To me, they are like one big family. We contact one another regularly outside of filming. It helps to improve our teamwork on the show."
One of his favourite guests on the show was veteran actor Choi Min Soo. Choi, 51, has acted in South Korean TV dramas Sandglass (1995) and Han River Ballad (2004), and Hong Kong film director Stanley Tong's The Myth (2005) alongside Jackie Chan and Tony Leung Ka Fai.
Says Lee: "I think Choi Min Soo sunbae (a Korean honorific term for senior) was the most memorable for me. I will never be able to forget his tough charisma and eyes that are burning with passion."
From model, he now has his sights set on being a model star. He has been in the movies Wonderful Radio (2012) and The Scent (2012), in the respective roles of a goofy artist manager and a clownish detective's assistant. His turn as an innocent, but capable, businessman on TV drama The Innocent Man (2012) had him nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the KBS Drama Awards last year - only to lose to Kim Sang Ho (My Husband Got A Family) and Park Ki Woong (Bridal Mask), who shared the prize.
While he played mostly goofy or silly characters in the past, he recently took a stab at a serious role: as the villainous and bad-tempered Prince Im Hae in the historical TV series Goddess Of Fire, now airing on Korean TV.
Says the bachelor: "I want to try both comedic roles as well as serious roles. Instead of being good at a certain type of character, I would like to become an actor that progresses through playing many different characters and roles."
And when the time comes, he will be ready to play serious, romantic leading men in dramas. "If given the chance, I would really like to try it out," he says, in classic, perfect, role model earnestness, you imagine.
Running Man airs on Channel U every Sunday at 7pm and on One (StarHub Channel 823, mioTV Channel 513) every Friday at 11.45pm.
Book it: Lee Kwang Soo fan meeting in Singapore
Where: Festive Grand Theatre, Resorts World Sentosa
When: Aug 17, 7pm
Admission: $148, $198 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
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