Lee Jun-ho plays hotel executive Gu Won in the romantic comedy King The Land. It’s a drama that has gained considerable attention for the romantic scenes between Lee and his co-star Im Yoona. Lee, known simply as Junho, plays the classic male k-rom-com lead—perfect, aloof and yet no stranger to trauma. Yoona plays Sa-rang, a brightly optimistic employee at the King Hotel, which is run by Gu Won’s family. Despite their obvious differences, they fall in love, but have to hide their affection from his potentially disapproving family as well as her curious co-workers and friends.
It’s an upbeat comedy that’s quite different from his previous drama The Red Sleeve where he played the real-life King Jeongjo. The Red Sleeve was a popular and critical success, winning Lee multiple awards.
“I think The Red Sleeve was a masterpiece that lingers in people’s minds,” said Junho. “When it came to choosing my next work, I examined scripts with the hopes of having a different genre or atmosphere from my previous work. In that sense, I found King the Land a very easy-to-watch drama. It seemed like anyone could catch up on it even watching it from the middle of an episode. I decided to participate in this drama because I felt that it was like a small kind of healing that anyone could, at any time, turn on while eating or going somewhere and still enjoy it comfortably. Shooting The Red Sleeve gave me hope that a good atmosphere on the set creates good work. Maybe that’s why I thought that if I took responsibility and worked together with the staff and actors on the set, we could produce an enjoyable drama, and, while shooting, I hoped viewers also could feel the atmosphere.”
To play King Jeonjo in The Red Sleeve, the left-handed actor practiced right-handed chopsticks and learned calligraphy and horseback riding. He also lost 16 kilos (35 pounds) to make his character look more sensitive.
“For King the Land, on the contrary, I tried to bulk up,” he said. “Gu-won is a figure who despises smiles due to his wounds in the past and he has a cynical attitude. I wanted to express Gu-won’s cynical side or overwhelming impression even when he says nothing.”
He worked out with the aim of looking physically imposing even when his character wasn’t wearing a suit.
“I tried to portray Gu-won as an unemotional and lifeless character, to show how he gradually finds his lost smile through Sa-rang,” said Junho. “I aimed to depict Gu-won’s gradual change as the story develops.”
“Since long before we hosted MBC Gayo Daejejeon together, as a singer and an actor, we go back a long way, more than 15 years,” he said. “It also applies in my younger days, but at this point in my career, if I meet someone, we become comfortable colleagues and friends wherever we meet. Since we both have careers as singers, we felt comfortable as colleagues and friends. But it was a different feeling to work together as an actor on the set. We approached the work professionally with each other’s role and had fun shooting with good chemistry.”
Their chemistry is noteworthy, but the romcom also features some hilarious buddy chemistry with actor Ahn Se-ha, who plays Gu Won’s sassy assistant No Sang-ik. Junho notes that the actors had a great time helping and encouraging each other just like their characters.
“It was my first time working with Ahn Se-ha, and I remember that every shoot was fun and games,” said Junho. “We did our first shoot together and did a great tiki-taka from the very beginning. Gu-won and Sang-sik are very different, however, at the same time, hit it off with each other.”
As well as being a popular actor, Junho is a singer, songwriter, dancer, composer and member of the k-pop band 2PM. He debuted as an actor in the film Cold Eyes and after that appeared in the dramas Good Manager, Rain or Shine, Wok of Love and The Red Sleeve. Idols are sometimes criticized when they attempt to transition to acting, but Lee’s performances silenced criticism. He was the first idol actor to win Best Actor at Korea’s PD Awards and also took home awards for Most Popular Actor and Best Actor – Television at the 58th Baeksang Arts Awards.
Although Junho is now an in-demand leading man, he still performs with 2PM, which also includes singer-actors Ok Taecyeon, Nichkhun and Hwang Chansung. JYP Entertainment announced earlier this year that the band would do a Seoul concert in September to celebrate their 15th debut anniversary. While Lee may have debuted as a singer, acting always appealed to him.
“From the beginning, I had a dream of becoming an actor too,” said Junho. “There was also the dream of becoming a singer. I think where I started my career doesn’t matter. I just want to always act in all sincerity and become a versatile actor who can play different roles.”
He’s fond of romantic comedies. Comedy adds touches of realism to romance.
“I think many people like romcoms in that they can put their worries behind them while watching a drama,” said Junho. “And it makes their hearts flutter and gives them pleasure. As I wanted to do work that makes people enjoy and relax, I happened to meet this drama.”
The story was originally published on forbes.com.