Korean star Lee Seung-gi is known for his internationally successful TV dramas and films, but also for his participation in dozens of reality shows, a variety of unscripted television productions that underscore his naturally playful, upbeat personality. The charismatic singer-actor explained his attraction to reality shows while talking about his most recent show, Twogether, which he filmed with Taiwanese actor Jasper Liu.
“I debuted as a singer and appeared in many variety shows and drama series immediately after,” said Lee. “For me, all three are very meaningful and each gives me different joys. I think in variety shows, I can be my most honest self and can become really close with the people I work with, and also because it doesn’t have many rules or boundaries, it can be the most exciting out of the three.”
During the series, in which the star duo traveled to six Asian cities—Yogyakarta and Bali in Indonesia, Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand, and Pokhara and Kathmandu in Nepal—Lee naturally assumed the lead. It was Liu’s first reality show and Lee has appeared in dozens, including 1 Night 2 Days, Running Man, Sisters Over Flowers, Strong Heart and New Journey To The West. In Twogether the duo had to complete various missions for clues that would help them find their fans’ homes. Lee’s previous experience proved invaluable.
“I have a lot of experience in variety shows from the start of my career, and I pride myself in having learned from the best in the field,” said Lee. “Of course there were times when I wished for better communication skills or more time or money, but I think all of those restrictions are what made Twogether even richer in content.”
While facing challenging missions such as paragliding, harpoon fishing, axe throwing and exploring the depths of a vertical cave, the actors, who speak different languages, had to find a way to communicate. Their conversations mingled words and phrases from both languages and quite a bit of English.
“I was very lucky to be able to share the joy of travel with Jasper Liu, with whom I had difficulties communicating, but shared a lot in common,” said Lee.
When director Cho Hyo-jin first explored the idea for a show about two men from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds who travel together, he immediately thought of Lee.
“Out of all the stars I’ve worked with, through variety shows I’ve directed such as Running Man or Busted!, Seung-gi was the quickest to think on his feet and had the most intuitive understanding of reality shows,” said Cho. “Above all, I thought he had the personality to be able to get along with others despite language barriers. In that sense, I was confident that Seung-gi would be able to lead Twogether better than anyone.”
To set the show’s itinerary, fans sent in recommendations of the most impressive locations in their homeland. The diverse suggestions delivered an enticing mix of beautiful coastlines, mysterious caves, ancient temples and a floating market. In each setting the duo must accomplish a mission—whether it is scaling rocks, catching fish, diving off cliffs or playing games to earn a meal.
“Fans were going to invite the two stars of the show into the city or town that they grew up in, and we created missions that would be suitable for each destination,” said Cho. “Once the two stars complete a mission designed to fit the traits of a particular city and overcome unexpected challenges, they finally get to meet their fans waiting for them. The challenges the pair have gone through amplify the joy and emotions they feel when they get to see the fans.”
“Meeting with fans, for whom I have immense gratitude that isn’t always easy to express, was an amazing experience that wouldn’t have been possible if not for Twogether,” said Lee. “While I get to meet them at various events, visiting my fans in their homes is a special experience not many people get to have.”
Lee enjoys traveling and, ironically, has a long bucket list of places to visit in his own country. The Hallyu star is so well known for his hit songs and roles in the dramas Brilliant Legacy, My Girlfriend Is a Nine-Tailed Fox, The King 2 Hearts, Gu Family Book, You’re All Surrounded, Vagabond and A Korean Odyssey, that it’s hard for him to wander Korean streets anonymously. On trips to other countries he has often been content to walk quietly down busy streets and take public transportation.
“Before shooting Sisters Over Flowers, I actually didn’t have a lot of travel experience,” said Lee. “I would also tend to depend on others while traveling. But I really learned a lot from that show and since then, I try to take the initiative when traveling.”
Travel has definitely broadened his horizons.
“I think travel leads you to new experiences,” said Lee. “Whether that’s awe of nature, or sometimes just seeing how different people live in different ways outside of your country—that itself is a learning experience. For example, unique cultural etiquette, food culture, or language. Observing various cultures and people especially helps me in my acting, more so than any acting lesson.”
The fans’ personal recommendations made for a unique experience.
“It was only possible for us to enjoy nature and experience what locals would experience because the itinerary was based on our fans’ recommendations,” he said.
Since travel is currently restricted because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the series provides a welcome look at some stunning scenery, made all the more enjoyable by the entertaining camaraderie and the zeal with which the stars face their missions.
“We’re going through a difficult time when all of us around the world are prevented from traveling,” said Cho. “Twogether was filmed before the pandemic hit all of us, so it captures the free spirit of traveling around the world, and you’ll be able to vicariously satisfy your need to travel.”
Lee looks forward to filming a second season of Twogether. Meanwhile, he is a regular cast member on the variety show Master in the House, is also shooting yet another variety show, and getting ready for a new drama.
“I’ll also be playing a character quite different from my past roles in the drama series Mouse, which will launch in January of next year, so I’m preparing for that as we begin shooting in September. And as for my singing career, which has been weighing heavy on me since I finished my military service—I’m still working on it.”