Sang Heon Lee is «runnin' too hot, hot, hot, hot»
The SEVENTEEN's anthem is the theme song of the opening scene of Minho in the simple yet enjoyable "XO, Kitty". We spoke in an exclusive interview with the actor, born in 1996, and the revelation of the show
With "XO Kitty," the Netflix spin-off series from To All the Boys that I loved before the movies based on American author Jenny Han's best-selling Young Adult trilogy, the streaming platform has released a TV series that crosses cultural borders, fascinating viewers with its seamless combination of East and West. This Netflix original has become a global hit, captivating audiences with riveting stories, intriguing characters, and a dazzling combination of Korean and Western entertainment ideals. "XO Kitty" stands out among TV shows because it effectively blurs the barriers between fiction and reality. Even though it isn't one of them, the show draws inspiration from the captivating world of Korean dramas, paying homage to their clever narrative, deep emotions, and rich cultural background. It combines these components with a Western story structure and production quality, creating a captivating blend that appeals to a global audience.
A highlight of "XO Kitty" is its impressive lineup of renowned guest stars from the Korean entertainment industry. Throughout the series, well-known K-actors offer delightful performances for the audience, adding to the interest and realism of the production. The flamboyant Ok Taecyeon, whose entry on the show has already been included in the list of "the most remarkable entrances of 2023," the stunning Cherry Bullet's Chaerin, who plays the role of Lulu, an emerging K-Pop star that one of the protagonists likes, and Han Chae-young are just a few examples. Han Chae-young, famed for playing Lee Minho's older sister in Boys Over Flowers, is a recurring character in the plot even though we only get to see her once when his son faces calls her. These special guests provide their skills, forever enhancing the already compelling narrative.
One character, Minho, played by the incredibly gifted actor Sang Heon Lee, stands out among the cast of intriguing personalities in "XO Kitty" with his enigmatic charm, perfect accent, and captivating screen presence. Sang Heon Lee perfectly captures Minho with his smoldering look and effortless charisma, leaving spectators spellbound and craving more. Minho, a complex and multi-layered character, forms the very essence of the series, adding depth and intrigue to the captivating narrative. As a central figure in the storyline, Minho experiences great struggle, emotional upheaval, and unwavering resolve throughout the course of his journey. We can see Minho's transformation from a mysterious outsider to an essential component of the show's plot, captivating viewers with every move, thanks to Sang Heon Lee's flawless portrayal.
We spoke on an exclusive Zoom call with Sang Heon Lee (and yes, the accent is real).
I want to start by talking about Minho. I would like to know this character better, so... from your point of view: who is Minho?
Who's Minho? I think the character's description I would describe him as is this confident guy who thinks he's on top of the world sort of thing and is uber confident with girls, with school, with his friends, and his mother's an actress, a well-known actress, and he is fiercely loyal towards his friends... you know, he also has this solid British accent. That was also the character description back then when I read the script. Although, the way I would describe him, of course, is also that, in my opinion, that description is more like a mask he's wearing. He is a very lonely person inside. Minho wants to maintain that sort of group that he's in. So if he has a little pond for himself, he doesn't want it to be disrupted by a pebble or someone throwing something inside it. And I think he also has this very vulnerable side. Minho is like one of those people with many layers, like an onion, and you have to peel them to see what's truly inside him.
You auditioned, thanks to your sister. Do you share a strong bond with her?
Definitely, Gia and I are very close. There were times when we weren't together for reasons like university. And then I left for military service, and she couldn't be there for those reasons. But despite that, we have our childhood memories together, like watching so many films together, and in that sense, we got really close, and we're still really close.
Now you also share your work. How was working with her on the set?
While I was working with Gia on set, I didn't feel awkward at all. I didn't feel like that because, at the end of the day, we both knew that we were there to work. We were very professional about it, and we were most excited about what was going to happen. We get to see each other perform. We get to see each other become the real people on the set. So I think we were most excited about it and were very motivating towards each other. And we cheered each other on. The only awkward moment I had with her was during the scene where I was kissing Madison for the first time, and Gia was there. Off camera, but she was in the room. So obviously, as for a brother, I get awkward because I would never have imagined kissing someone in front of my sister. So, in that case, it was very awkward. But that was the only thing. It was fun.
Minho has a wonderful evolution during the show; let's start with the epic walk on Seventeen's Hot. How was it to film it?
The airport scene. Oh my Gosh. That scene was apparently very iconic, but only through the audience's eyes. Which I'm very grateful for because... I didn't exactly like my entrance. It was 5 in the morning when we actually filmed it. So I was really tired, and I could see that I was tired through the screen. So I was just worried that I was like, "Ohh, no, that is the entrance. What if people don't like it?" And I could have done better and looked better, but then you know what? It's fine. I love that the viewers enjoyed that scene where I looked so tired in my eyes. But people keep saying it was the most iconic moment and love to rewatch it. So I'm really grateful and appreciate the fact that they love it.
And in the end, the "obnoxious Minho" was the most sensitive boy of all… For Kitty, Minho flew coach to sit next to her; Are you a hopeless romantic like him?
When I think of Minho and our similar traits, I always say: I love cooking. He loves cooking. I think how he plans out his romantic things for his relationship and dates is how I do it. And also like being loyal to his friends. That's also me. A romantic sense... I think I do have that because I saw a lot of films while I was growing up, especially romantic comedies, so in that sense, I always had this way of doing things. So yes, I think I can totally say that I share a romantic sense with Minho.
You filmed scenes with a prominent name of the K-entertainment: 2 PM's Taecyeon. Did you get some behind the scene to tell us?
I talked with and saw him through TV and films when I was young. So it was weird to see him on set. It was like a fan moment as well. It was just really weird and surprising to see him on set, to see him in person. And I didn't really expect his English to be that great. I was like, "Oh wow, like you're quite fluent aren't you" and I didn't really know his background, so... (he laughs)
What was the funniest moment on set?
The funniest moment on set was when the whole cast was together; there weren't many days when the whole cast was together. And if there was, we were generally having fun off the camera, dancing to Hillary Duff's movements, like Anthony was teaching us these moves, and he was doing it constantly. We were doing that and joke games. And also... (he laughs recalling the moment) Every time Min Young, who plays Dae, does this thing before the camera rolls, he vocalizes himself like, I'm nowhere. And because of that, it was so funny. So I started doing that as well for the fun of it. And it actually kind of helps. Those moments were funny little things that we had fun with.
"XO Kitty" was a game changer for you. How's your life right now?
Well, I'm not going to lie; I haven't experienced this at home (in South Korea, ed.) because ever since "XO Kitty" was released, I was in LA. So when it was released, I felt the presence of fans because that's when I bumped into many of them while grocery shopping or going into the play. Even in Disneyland, we got recognized as well, especially Anna. I think that's when I felt "Oh wow, like this is getting real" and "Oh wow, people loved the show". And that's because I can see it through their eyes. When I met the fan, their eyes always glow, and I became conscious that they genuinely enjoyed the show. And I'm so touched. That's why I don't mind taking photos, honestly. Everyone's like, "Do you mind" and I'm, "Yeah, mate, don't worry about it, just come like, let's take a photo, let's go, let's do this". I'm definitely grateful for that. But I'm also kind of curious to know how it will affect me in Korea. It may be because, you know, it's like Emily in Paris: I heard that French people didn't really love Emily in Paris, but the world did. And Korea has XO Kitty", which is fine. Nothing is perfect, and you can't please everyone, so I think I'll be really grateful and more surprised if people approach me or tell me, "We love your show".
You gained millions of followers on Instagram in a short time (now we are at 3.1 million). Do you feel the pressure of having so many people looking at you?
I reached 1,000,000 on my birthday on the 21st of May. And that was the 4th day since "XO Kitty" was released. And yes, it was very overwhelming. If I post something on my story and I was going to edit it and then post it again, but then once I posted it, I realized that 10 seconds later, already 5000 people saw it. I was like, "What? I just posted this 10 seconds ago. How do people see this so quickly?" And in that sense, I got overwhelmed, which was very nerve-wracking. But I'm used to it now, and I'm more in a phase where I'm grateful for the people who follow me and are interested in my life. In that sense, I try not to disappoint them. At the same time, I'm having fun. I'm like posting photos or stories, and I'm interacting with the fans as much as they can. Also, I might go live soon to show appreciation toward the fans...
You shared on your channel that you are a foodie. Which is your favorite food, the one you are constantly craving for?
Well, I'll always love Korean food. You always love Korean food. Korean food can always go right for me. I can't really pick out a Korean dish. I love food in general. Really. I love food.
You have to try Italian food.
I do love Italian food, but then I definitely need to go to Italy and really try it all.
You are going to star in Gran Turismo. Can you tell us something more about your role?
Gran Turismo is a racing movie where gamers become actual races and compete against each other, and then one of them goes to this tournament and competes against real-life racers. I love those sorts of films. It's definitely going to be exciting. Some amazing actors like David Harbour and Orlando Bloom are on it, and Archie, the main character, is a phenomenal guy. He's a great actor. And also, for me, it's a very small role. I don't have lines there. So you know what? I was more in a position where I was appreciating the movie set and being able to experience all that. It was amazing what I saw like. And also I'm, I was so thankful for the casting team because the cast, every one of them, was great. Like, somehow, I got lucky twice. For the first time, I was lucky with "XO Kitty," where we got along all together. The second time I got lucky with Grand Turismo. Everyone got along together, and it was so much fun. We had like a moment in Budapest where we had dinner together. We went race karting and drank together; we were always having fun. So it was great.
What's next for you?
At the moment, I don't have any upcoming projects. I'm living life, and I have more time to experience, research, and explore myself and others, and obviously, I always use that life experience in acting.
And I always think of that as the greatest source for any actor. It's like the best textbook you can ask for. So yeah, I'm just living life, and I'm looking forward to going back to Korea, and if people are wondering what I'll be doing, stay connected on my social to find out more.
If you had to define yourself right now, which word would you use?
Define me right now... This is a deep and hard one. Innovation or creative or creation or not. You know what? Do you know what I'm going to say? Beginning. Ok, as my word: beginning. Because I think it really describes everything I'm going through now. Everything's a new thing. Everything's a beginning for me. And I'm really excited to see how my life will turn out.