Unlike his brooding, bursting-with-serious-manly-charisma character, 8th Prince Wang Uk, in highly anticipated Korean drama Scarlet Heart, Kang Ha Neul is pretty much a ray of warm sunshine in real life. During our group interview yesterday (August 27), the 26-year-old actor laughed – with a distinct, loud guffaw – almost as often as he spoke, showing off his famous smile.
Our question, on which male cast member playing royalty was most prince-like in real life, seemed to amuse Ha Neul, who offered a hearty chuckle before naming lead actor Lee Joon Ki, who plays 4th Prince Wang So. “He was already a big star before Scarlet Heart, and I used to watch his shows and admire him,” he said. “Thanks to Joon Ki’s fans, the rest of the cast got to enjoy a lot of sumptuous meals and other gifts, so yeah, I call him Prince Lee Joon Ki! (laughs)”
Another male cast member who was dubbed “prince-like” by Ha Neul was Nam Joo Hyuk, who plays Baek-ah, the 13th Prince. “He’s handsome and looks sophisticated, almost like royalty. For his role in the drama, he put in a lot of effort into learning how to play the gayageum (a traditional Korean stringed instrument), so I envied that and I would want to be given the chance to play it myself – I would give a great performance and I think my popularity would shoot up! (laughs)”
Ha Neul also had nothing but praises for Baek Hyun (of idol group EXO) and Ji Soo, 10th Prince Wang Eun and 14th Prince Wang Jung respectively, the brothers his character is closest with in the series. “Two of them are great actors in their own right and there was so much chemistry between us on set,” he gushed. “I can’t name any one particularly memorable moment between us, because every moment was a lot of fun; it was very enjoyable and there weren’t any major issues when it came to performing, and even off-set, there was a lot of laughter and fun going on.”
Since all the princes got on royally well with one another, did lead actress Lee Ji Eun (IU), whose character Go Ha Jin becomes known as Hae Soo when she’s transported from the present day to the ancient Goryeo dynasty, ever feel left out of the “boys’ club”? “I think there might have been some pressure on IU as the only female lead, but her personality is that she puts everyone around her at ease – even when she was surrounded by a bunch of guys, she was very comfortable with it.”
Kang Ha Neul and his 'Scarlet Heart' co-stars. Clockwise from top left: Lee Joon Ki, Lee Ji Eun (IU), Kang Ha Neul, Lee Joon Ki, Kang Ha Neul, EXO's Baek Hyun, Ji Soo, Hong Jong Hyun. (Photo: TPG)
With Ha Neul’s rising star set to shine even brighter upon the release of the highly-anticipated series, he is all too aware of the burden on celebrities, particularly those in Korean showbiz, to stay as scandal-free as possible, as he mentioned while musing over the pros and cons of being an actor.
“The biggest merit of being an actor, to me, is being able to immerse myself one hundred percent into a character and their thoughts and emotions,” he said. “The worst thing would be that, as a public figure, there’s always that pressure to leave a good impression on the public, because if you do anything negative, that would be imprinted in people’s minds forever.”
That’s certainly not something Ha Neul had to worry about yesterday evening: he received nothing but love from Singapore at his public meet-and-greet session, A Date with Kang Ha Neul, held at Waterway Point shortly after our interview ended. Some fans reportedly showed up as early as 7am for the event, and the crowd grew to over 3,000 by the time the star graced the mall with his presence.
Kang Ha Neul takes a big group wefie with his fans at the meet-and-greet. (Photo: ONE)
For about an hour, Ha Neul signed autographs, took group photos and played games with a few lucky folks on stage. He even fulfilled several K-drama fairytale-like requests, such as giving them a back hug or locking loving gazes with them, driving the rest of the attendees wild with envy and excitement.
Well, we all know which prince most of Singapore will be rooting for when Scarlet Heart hits televisions tomorrow.
The cast of 'Scarlet Heart'; Kang Ha Neul as 8th Prince Wang Uk (Photo: ONE, 2016 Universal Studios, Barami bunda. Inc., and YG Entertainment Inc)