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I struggled to stay awake during 8days.sg’s interview with Lee Sun-Kyun. 

Okay, that didn’t come out right. 

I mean no disrespect to the esteemed 46-year-old Korean actor, best known for the drama My Mister and the Oscar-garlanded Parasite — as well as his deep, sonorous, almost hypnotic voice. Even though it was only 10 minutes, it was long enough to set off the ASMR alarms. Any longer, I’d have fallen into a trance and he'd get inside my head and retrieve my Netflix password and reveal my deepest darkest desire. 

And mind-hacking happens to be to the premise of Lee’s latest series — and Apple TV Plus’ maiden Korean production — Dr Brain. Based on a popular webtoon and directed by Kim Jee-Woon (A Bittersweet Life, I Saw the Devil), the six-part sci-fi thriller follows Koh Sweon (Lee), an emotionally insular neurologist who invented a technology (called ‘the sync’) that can access the memories of in the ultimate computer, the human brain. (Wait a sec, doesn’t this sound like the recent Hugh Jackman-starring Reminiscence?) When a tragedy befalls his family and he’s blamed for it, Sweon uses his creation to catch the real perpetrators. 

Speaking from Seoul via Zoom through an interpreter, Lee says has he high hopes for Dr Brain to do well, especially after the success of Parasite (or, for that matt, in post-Squid Game world). “I wanted it to live up to people’s expectations,” he adds, “But just the fact that this will be released to a global audience is a big joy and something I really look forward to.”

8 DAYS: I read that when Director Kim was looking for someone to play Sweon, who’s been described as “dry and emotionless”, the first actor he thought of is you. Do you think people see you that way, dry and emotionless?

LEE SUN-KYUN: Actually, I think Sewon is so unlike my actual self — he doesn’t resemble me in any way. I think in my previous drama series, My Mister, I played a very dry and gloomy person, so maybe Director Kim thought of me in that persona.  

Since you say he’s very different from you, how challenging was it to play a genius who’s emotionally stunted as Sewon?

It was very difficult in the beginning because it was very hard for me for not to portray him as emotionless. If he were 100 per cent emotionless, I think it would be very tough for him to drive the narrative. So I discussed a lot with Director Kim: We wanted to keep the tone and manner of the show in a way that Sewon has learnt to express his emotions to some extent through social contacts. We wanted Sweon to be this gloomy and serious guy who doesn’t have dopamine [the brain chemical that influences moods and feelings].

Are you a science fiction fan?

I’m not a big fan of the genre, but I am a big fan of Black Mirror.

In some ways, Dr Brain is like an episode of Black Mirror, it’s about the dark side of technology. In your research playing Sewon, did you learn anything new about the human brain? Dr Jeong Jaeseung, one of Korea’s pioneering neurologists, served as a consultant on the show.

Actually, I haven’t met the doctor in person; he met with the director to adapt the webtoon. He’s a very famous doctor who has appeared on TV. When I first heard about the concept of brain syncs, I thought it was so unrealistic and didn’t really make any sense. But when I heard that with the current technology, it’s possible to use brain zaps to transfer signals between brains in the future. I am curious if it can happen but I am also scared about it at the same time. 

When the technology is available, whose brain would you like to access?

I actually don’t want to look inside anyone’s memories! (laughs)

On the show, you have to wear this EEG cap. It doesn’t look very comfortable…

Actually, it was very uncomfortable. It was quite wobbly and we had to get the height and balance right because it the balance wasn’t right, I could look pretty silly with the cap. Also, I had to lie down with the cap, which made it even more uncomfortable. It wasn’t comfortable at all! 

dr brain brain cap
Brainstorm: Lee Sun-Kyun prepares to undergo a brain-sync. 

You have such a distinctive voice that many people have made impressions of you. There was a recurring gag in an episode of Vincenzo, starring Song Joong-Ki, featuring a character played by comedian Yang Seung-Won, who did an amazing mimicry of your voice. Have you seen that?

A lot of people like to do impressions of me. I heard that someone in Vincenzo also did an impression of me. I think he’s famous actually for doing impressions. I didn’t see that episode but I’ve seen him doing my impressions and other people’s in other shows.

Dr Brain is now streaming on Apple TV+.

Photos: Apple TV+

 

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