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Kim Woo Bin is Back With a New Outlook on Life and Success

By Renée Batchelor

 The actor Kim Woo Bin wears a Polo Ralph Lauren jacket, top and trousers.
 
The actor Kim Woo Bin wears a Polo Ralph Lauren jacket, top and trousers.

To see Kim Woo Bin on camera, it's almost impossible to imagine that the 31-year old model-turned-actor could ever have been uncomfortable in front of it. Tall well-built and with carved out cheekbones, his unconventional but masculine beauty seems tailor-made for the spotlight. But despite his obvious appeal, Kim describes his younger self as being somewhat apprehensive about standing out in a crowd. “My growth [as an actor] was not that special at all, nor was it that ordinary.

I think there was something in me that wanted to stand in front of people, but I was too timid to do so. I was very introverted, so I was very quiet,” he says. Kim’s mother loved both art and fashion, and hence he gravitated towards these fields. “I think because of my mum, I developed a taste for the arts as well and grew up under a lot of influence from her,” says Kim. Starting out his career in modelling while still in high school, the 1.88 metre-tall actor had moved on to runway work by 2009.

In our cover shoot for T Singapore, it is clear that this training has paid off, as Kim telegraphs total ease and confidence while donning menswear from the spring/summer ’21 collections. Kim agrees that modelling was not a disadvantage per se, though there were some habits he had to break out of. “Models act when we walk or do shoots as well, so initially when I started acting, I wanted to appear suave and would always be in a pose. It took me some time to get the modelling habits off of me,” he says.

Not content with just modelling, Kim began to transition into acting, studying under acting guru Moon Won-Joo to improve his skills. He started with smaller roles like a bit part in the television series “White Christmas”, and these opportunities led to a breakthrough supporting role in “School 2013” where he played a teenager, despite being in his 20s.

Bottega Veneta jacket, top, trousers and loafers.
Bottega Veneta jacket, top, trousers and loafers.

So convincing was his portrayal that Kim earned several awards, including an APAN Star Awards win for Best New Actor in 2013. His appearance in “The Heirs”— another teen drama that year that also enjoyed tremendous success both locally and abroad — cemented his status as an actor to watch.

Growing up, Kim was actually not influenced by Korean cinema, but rather by a Hollywood film, “The Pursuit of Happyness” (2006) starring Will Smith and his son Jaden Smith. Kim laughs at the fact, saying that he has brought this up in interviews numerous times.  

“It left a strong impression, and since I pursued acting, I have always wanted to be in that type of warm family movie,” he says. This genre is still one that he would like to appear in, even today. 

Bottega Veneta jacket, top, trousers and loafers.
Bottega Veneta jacket, top, trousers and loafers.

When navigating his career following his success, Kim was careful about the roles he picked but still went with his gut on some projects. “I think the character, director, staff as well as the script are all equally important and play a part, but if I had to choose, I would say the character, I guess,” he says.

However, sometimes decisions were based on a feeling rather than all these considerations. “But then again, I don’t select my next work just based off of one single factor. I think my heart warms up to a certain piece when I feel like everything is in place and feels right,” says Kim.

Polo Ralph Lauren shirt, vest and trousers.
Polo Ralph Lauren shirt, vest and trousers.

Kim is prepared to do whatever it takes, if necessary, when preparing for a role. But the bells and whistles, like working out or learning a dialect are not as crucial as developing his character. “If it is needed then yes, I do. But these come second to taking time to learn and understand the character more. It’s what every actor does. I interact with the director a lot and slowly conceptualise and form my character,” says Kim.

Compared to television series, which have a longer filming period and allows actors to communicate with the audience while the show is ongoing, Kim says that movies are filmed way beforehand so that’s not possible. However it allows him a longer time to develop his character, albeit in relative isolation. His latest role is a leading one in Choi Dong Hoon’s “Alien,” that is slated to be released later this year. He calls this his most challenging role yet but can’t go into details on the movie, which is a crime and sci-fi drama.

Emenegildo Zegna jacket, top, trousers and loafers.
Emenegildo Zegna jacket, top, trousers and loafers.

It seems that hitting 30 has somewhat mellowed Kim, in several ways. One of the most obvious ways is his attitude to style. He tells T Singapore that in his mid-20s he used to dress more flashily, needing to stand out as a model.

"Nowadays I just wear athleisure,"he says. And he doesn’t have any flashy hobbies either, preferring to find time to clear his head with walks. “I take a lot of walks now; in the past I felt like I had to do something when I was resting. If I didn’t do anything, I would be restless. But now there are days when I just do nothing, and I really want to rest during off days. That way I can recharge my body so that when I act, the thoughts come in quicker to my head,” he says.

Prada sweater, shirt, trousers and tie.
Prada sweater, shirt, trousers and tie.

He has also recently joined Instagram and has mostly positive thoughts about the platform. “It’s pretty difficult. I’ve never used social media prior. But it’s very fun too. I think my fans have been waiting for a long time, and being able to talk to them or update them about myself is so easy, unlike in the past where I would have to double check blog posts and even get it vetted before I uploaded it onto my fan café. Instagram lets everybody know what I’m doing and thinking with just one picture, so I love it,” he says.

A quick glance at his account reveals a fast growing 700,000 followers as well as more personal posts, including behind the scenes photos and videos of his shoot with T Singapore. The fans, commenting in various languages from Arabic to English to Korean, seem to appreciate the effort.

Hermès top, trousers and sandals.
Hermès top, trousers and sandals.

When asked to define success, Kim is thoughtful. “It’s a very difficult question... nowadays I usually think to myself that if we are able to be happy for the smallest things, isn’t that success? It could be as simple as: ‘Oh the weather is so good today, I’m so happy,’” he says. The absence of any real issues also constitutes a form of success for Kim. “If there were no major problems today, that would be a success too.

I’m trying to feel grateful for the most minute things; I look up at the sky at least twice a day, wondering about the things I like. If all of this is possible, then I had success that day,” he says.

Hermès top and trousers.
Hermès top and trousers.

When asked about the time spent away from the camera and the industry, Kim is reflective. “I learned to love myself. I never did in the past: I used to be harsh on myself, despite always being the one to comfort and show love to others. I could never comfort myself and now when I think about it, it’s really sad,” he says. Moving forward, Kim is focusing more on himself.

“These days, I try to learn to love myself more. I’m trying to understand myself as well. I’m trying to put myself first in my life. So, I’m still trying... I’m trying my best,” he says.

Kim Woo Bin fronts T's "Men's Fashion" February 2021 issue in a Bottega Veneta jacket, trousers and loafers.
Kim Woo Bin fronts T's "Men's Fashion" February 2021 issue in a Bottega Veneta jacket, trousers and loafers.

Photographs by Hong Jang Hyun
Styled by FIX Agency
Fashion Editor: Jenine Oh
Hair: Jeon Hoon
Make Up: Sung Hye
Set Design: Choi Seo Yun
Producer: Lee Kyung Kim at BL Creative House
Coordinators: Park Hee Young, Seo Kang On

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