Chapter 288

The school was painted beige. Sungjae looked around the school before going inside the building. He planned to wait for the manager, but he couldn’t just awkwardly keep standing in the school field. He entered the door and saw that people were walking in the corridors. 

“Oh? Mr. Sungjae?”

A woman with short hair approached him. Sungjae knew her and quickly greeted her with a smile.

“Hello there.”

“You’re shooting in the afternoon. You’re quite early.”

“I didn’t have any schedule for the day, so I came early. I wanted to have a look at the set too.”

“Really?”

Wait a moment - she added before looking around. She was the woman Sungjae met when he met the casting director. She was one of the people that cooperated with the managers of the actors to manage their schedules.

“Would you like to come this way?”

He followed the lady into an empty classroom. He took a seat and waited for a while until the manager and the woman came back.

“You should’ve waited for me.”

“Sorry about that. I was in the school field, but people were staring at me, so I couldn’t just stand there.”

He smiled back at manager Dongwoon before looking at the woman.

“Please take this for now. It must have been tiring coming all the way here.”

The woman offered Sungjae and Dongwoon a canned drink each. They talked over the drink. They were looking forward to Sungjae’s acting performance, many people here are fans, you look much more handsome in person, and stuff like that. Just then, someone entered the classroom. He was a middle-aged man with a chubby belly, and Sungjae knew that that man was the director.

“Hello, director.”

“Aah, that’s right. Mr. Ahn Sungjae?”

“Yes. I’m Ahn Sungjae, a new actor.”

“Alright, alright. Your shoot was today?”

“Yes, it is, sir.”

“Then see you in the afternoon. I’ll be looking forward to it. But hey, you really do look good. You must be popular with the ladies.”

The director left after a handshake. Sungjae smiled at him, but was bitter inside. In contrast to the fact that the director came all the way here to see him and told him that he was looking forward to his actions, the director’s eyes looked uninterested. Sungjae knew that the president of his company invested a lot of money into this movie. Would he be able to greet the director like this without his title as TTO? Probably not. Normally, minor roles weren’t even remembered by name by directors, much less greeted.

“We’ll start shooting at 7. Until then, you’re free to move around. The actors are on the 2nd floor. If you find anything uncomfortable, then please call me. Well then, please excuse me.”

The woman stood up. Sungjae thanked her for guiding them before sitting back down again.

“Wow, it looks like they have high hopes for you, Sungjae. The director came here to see you in person.”

“No, I don’t think that’s right, hyung.”

“Really?”

He didn’t come here because he had high hopes for me, but to thank me for the investment - he inwardly swallowed those words. The manager, Dongwoon, was a good man, but he was bad at noticing other people’s emotions. The other members of TTO agreed with Sungjae that he was a little frustrating to talk to.

“You must be tired, hyung. There’s a blanket here so get some sleep.”

I’m fine. I’ll be back to normal once I drink some coffee.”

Despite saying that, though, he looked extremely tired. Sungjae laid out the blanket on the floor and forced Dongwoon down.

“No one would need sleep if coffee was all you needed after driving throughout the night. Get some sleep for now. I’ll wake you up if I need you.”

Dongwoon, who was saying that he was alright, fell asleep in less than a minute. Sungjae watched over him for a while before leaving the classroom. Although he had finally arrived at a movie film set, he wasn’t feeling as happy as he thought he would be.

‘I knew this was gonna happen, didn’t I?’

There were three types of reactions from people that looked at him. One, those that didn’t recognize him at all and just walked past; two, those who greeted him nicely after recognizing him; and three, those that gave him a strange glare even after recognizing who he was. The overwhelming majority belonged to the third group of people. The glares from the people were sharp enough for him to feel pricked. They smiled at him up front, but there were people who clicked their tongues as soon as they turned away. Hearing people say tsk, Sungjae had the urge to go pick a fight with them, but the only thing he could do was smile back at them.

He couldn’t just start shouting at them that they shouldn’t be so differentiating against him, and to not look at him with such eyes. He had no qualifications to. Although idols were becoming widespread in the drama industry, the evaluation was not good at all. With that being the case, Sungjae thought that telling them to respect him was being complacent and underhanded without proving himself first.

He wanted to be acknowledged by the people here for his skills, not as a popular idol. He wanted to break the bias that idols had horrible acting skills, and wanted to tell them that there are aspiring actors who became idols out of necessity.

‘Right now, the only thing they value about me is my face, but I’ll show them that that’s not the limit of my skills.’

After taking a deep breath, Sungjae clenched his fist once. This was like a ritual for him. He shook off his nervousness and made a comfortable smile. He couldn’t keep waiting forever. The first movers were the ones to create their image by themselves.

He immediately went up to the 2nd floor. He greeted everyone that he passed by. One of the iron rules he had in the television media was to greet anyone and everyone that he passed by. There was no need to be embarrassed about greeting his juniors as well. In fact, it would be a funny episode in itself, and he could give a good impression towards his juniors as well. That’s why too much greeting was never a bad thing.

He greeted back and accepted all requests for autographs as he climbed up to the 2nd floor. Unlike the busy 1st floor, the 2nd floor was definitely quiet. He could hear a voice from one of the classrooms. There was an agitated voice and a calm voice. Sungjae realized that the actors were doing a read-through in an instant.

He carefully opened the door to the classroom in which the read-through was happening. Inside were the actors that he saw during the get-together.

“Oh, you are…”

An elderly actor with a lot of white hair frowned as he spoke. Sungjae greeted the actors politely.

“I’m Ahn Sungjae, a new actor. I’m here to greet everyone.”

When he greeted, the classroom fell quiet. Sungjae made a smile, albeit barely. The air here was heavy.

Someone made a discontent coughing noise. Sungjae tensed his lips as he tried to control his facial expression. They were much more direct compared to the staff members. He thought that he wouldn’t become nervous since he had experienced such things already, but he was clearly wrong. He was shaking as though he was at the audition. He was afraid that the actors would look at him with hostility and looked down at the floor.

Sungjae shot three drama series. He started off as a nameless extra and eventually ended up taking the role of a side character with quite a lot of appearances. In dramas, numerous idols were being cast and their evaluation wasn't that bad either. To be exact, it wasn’t good, but no one expressed it so openly. A symbiotic relationship had clearly formed. Ever since the viewing rates of dramas with idols in it rose by around 5%, the producers cast idols like it was the norm. In morning dramas loved by many housewives, they created meaningless roles for idols just so that they could cast idols.

‘It’s different here.’

Dramas and movies. They were the same in regards to the fact that a piece of work was being created through the acting of actors, but there was something akin to an invisible wall between the two. Top class actors did not do dramas - that was one of the popular sayings in this industry. It represented the pride of movie actors.

This felt different from the disdain he received in dramas. He was too complacent. The movie industry was like a sanctuary untainted by idols. An idol had appeared in such a place, so what would the actors think?

Moreover, this movie was receiving a lot of attention and support, but it was closer to an independent movie that did not belong to the mainstream media. It was funny how this movie, with its immense investment, was comparable to an independent movie, but it was indeed somewhat hard to package this movie as a commercial movie since it portrayed only the dark sides of society.

Yet, there was an idol here wanting a piece of the pie, so it was not surprising that they didn’t like it. Sungjae felt his face become hot. He had long since forgotten about his fantasies about the public after being disappointed in them, but he did not lose his respect for the actors in the industry.

The people sitting here were those that pursued acting alone without taking the easy route out. He had resolved himself that he would accept whatever criticisms they had of him.

“Are you coming here from Seoul?”

 Although the voice sounded old and hoarse, it had power. Moonjoong, who he had greeted alongside with the president of his company, had a kind smile on his face.

“Y-yes.”

“You must be tired. Hm, should we rest a bit as well?”

Moonjoong slowly stood and spoke. The other actors all nodded.

“You were Sungjae, yes?”

“Yes. I’m Ahn Sungjae.”

“How are you? Let’s take a walk outside.”

Moonjoong crossed his hands behind his back and left the classroom with slow steps. Sungjae bowed towards the remaining actors in the classroom before following Moonjoong out. When the two came down to the first floor, many of the staff members greeted Moonjoong. What was surprising was that Moonjoong called each of them by name. 

Wasn’t it cold last night? Have you had your meal? What happened to your son’s fever?

He remembered each detail of those people and Sungjae felt touched. The ideal actor was right in front of him.

Sungjae followed Moonjoong out to the field with a cup of coffee that the staff gave him.

“This was originally an elementary school for the residents, but it’s closed now since there aren’t any children anymore.”

Sungjae nodded as he followed Moonjoong. The scenery of the field, the mountain behind the school, as well as the quiet village. Moonjoong talked about those things with a quiet voice. Sungjae did not know why he was saying such a thing, but he soon started listening without caring about the reason.

After following him for a while, Sungjae raised his head. In front of him was a large tree. Moonjoong sat down under the shade.

“Take a seat.”

“Yes.”

He sat next to Moonjoong feeling nervous. The wind blew. The empty field gave him a feeling of loneliness, but Sungjae didn’t have the luxury to feel that way. There was a superstar right next to him, so he did not dare turn his eyes away.

“Don’t you feel tired smiling like that all the time?”

“Wh-what?”

“I mean this,” Moonjoong pointed at his own lips as he spoke. Sungjae only then thought of the shallow smile on his face. A smile was engraved into his face just like how his hands became riddled with calluses. The smile that he subconsciously put on his face was practically a mask now. He didn’t have to consciously smile for there to be a smile on his face. That was what being an idol was about.

“You know, actors don’t smile falsely. If they smile, they are really happy, and if they cry, they are really sad. So don’t smile anymore if you don’t feel happy. It’s pitiful to look at it.”

Those words hit Sungjae hard. His lips twitched. It was awkward and difficult to remove the smile from his face forcefully. He made an awkward ‘expressionless’ face. He didn’t even remember the last time he made such an expression.

“Now you look more like a person. I was really uncomfortable with your expression from the first time we met. You’re supposed to act realistically, yet lies are written all over your face.”

“...I’m sorry.”

“Is it hard?”

“Being an idol, or whatever it was. Is it hard being one?”

“No, it’s not hard at all.”

“Be honest with me. You know? I find it really hard being an actor. Sometimes I want to run away because it’s so hard. I felt that yesterday as well. I had to break a sweat. I’m not some crazy person, but I had to cry, then smile, then become angry. I can’t say that I don’t find that hard.”

Moonjoong’s eyes were calm. Sungjae could not lie when he saw those eyes.

“I… became used to it. The hard things, the painful things, all of it. It is hard, but I’m okay since I’m loved just as much.”

“There you go again.”

“Eh?”

He looked back at Moonjoong absent-mindedly.

“I mean this. It’s appearing out of habit again,” Moonjoong once again pointed at his lips. Sungjae subconsciously put his hand against his lips. There was indeed a smile on his face. He felt like he had sinned. Even though he thought that he was honest, it had already passed through a filter without him knowing it. Perhaps watching his words became a force of habit. Sungjae lowered his head. He felt apologetic.

At that moment, a rough hand touched the back of his neck.

“Why don’t you take a hike with me?”

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KTLChamber's Thoughts

Ooh, it looks like taking a detour (becoming idol first) is actually having a negative impact on acting career...