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No Min Woo No Min Woo Photo courtesy of No Min Woo

A Musical and Movie ICON

No Min-Woo, also known as ICON, has produced an expansive portfolio in both the film and music industries. He has produced his own music as well as music for the dramas and movies he acted in, such as Like Full House Take 2 and The Greatest Marriage. He even won the New Star Award in 2010 for his performance in My Girlfriend is a Nine-Tailed Fox. Seoul Journal Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie spoke with No Min Woo about his transition from Japan to Korea and how he got into music and acting.

SJ: How old were you when you moved from Japan to Korea?

NO :When I started going to school, I ended up going back and forth between Japan and Korea. My mother was an enka singer in Japan.

SJ: Did you learn how to speak Japanese during that time?

NO: During kindergarten, my mother lived in Japan so I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. I naturally became a little more accustomed to Japanese through videos and manga. When I started living there for longer time periods during middle and high school, my Japanese improved. .

SJ: You have a lot of fans in Japan. Do you plan on recording any songs in Japanese?

NO: Actually, last night I was recording a song!

SJ: What’s the name of it?

NO: “For My Precious.” About four years ago when there was the big earthquake in Japan, I created and performed the song for the victims.

SJ: When did you actually get started in your career?

NO: I was seven when I first started playing the piano. When I was in elementary school, I was often told that I wasn’t very good at focusing on academics, so I didn’t have much of an interest in studying. But weirdly, I could focus really well whenever I was playing the piano, so my parents thought that maybe I was at an age to start music, and so I did. When I was a teenager, they showed me videos of X Japan and Led Zeppelin, and I began playing rock music.

SJ: How did you get the stage name, ICON?

NO: I needed another name that had a common meaning. The types of performances I wanted to do were ones like Prince, KISS, and X Japan because I thought the epicene style was cool for a rocker. But, using the acting name “No Min Woo” as a rocker would be hard to explain to audiences or directors in Korea. So, just like how Johnny Depp plays characters that make you unsure if this person is the same person, I thought about it and felt that the name “ICON” was simple and easy to remember.

SJ: What do you enjoy the most about creating music?

NO:The most enjoyable part is that I am personally creating a song and putting my feelings and thoughts into a melody. I’m happiest when I’m performing the songs live and the fans sing along with me.

SJ: What can you play?

NO : The piano, guitar, drums, and saxophone.

SJ: Which one are you most comfortable playing?

LEE:The hardest one is the piano but I think it is also the one I like best.

SJ: Where did you get your original inspiration of playing music?

NO: The person who set the path for me was my mother, and she is currently the head of our company. I was also inspired by X Japan’s Yoshiki because he was in a band he was directly involved with producing, so at that time I had many ideas and goals.

SJ: Can you tell us how you went from your music career to acting career?

NO: When I was 18, I ended up staying in Japan for about two to two and a half years. I ended up getting into the habit of watching movies during my free time. I watched Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands, and afterwards, I watched another movie he starred in. I didn’t even think that the person in that movie was the same person from Edward Scissorhands, and because it was so amazing, I watched all his movies and saw that his roles were all so different. I looked into what kind of person Johnny Depp was and found that he started as a guitarist in a rock band. Seeing that he’s a Hollywood actor and still plays the guitar, I thought to myself, “I wanted to do that too,” and started my acting career.

SJ: Which is more challenging, acting or music?

NO: Perhaps acting is harder since, compared to my music career, it hasn’t been long since I started acting. For now, when I’m working with music, I enjoy it and feel like I’m playing, but when I’m acting it feels like I’m moving forward while learning something new.

SJ: What acting role have you enjoyed the most?

NO:The role I had in Full House Take 2 was extremely fun because the role was very different from my personality, but I think my personality changed into the character’s personality during the time I played the role. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing.

SJ: What kind of character would you like to play?

NO: One day – like Johnny Depp because my dream is to be like him – a role in a fantasy movie or perhaps a vampire. I really want to try those characters and also have confidence [in playing those roles].

SJ: Do you have any director or actor you would like to work with?

NO:Johnny Depp would be great and I’d also like to work with Tim Burton.

SJ: What’s your favorite genre of music?

NO: I like rock, but even within the rock genre, I really like music that combines EDM and rock. These days, I really enjoy traditional Chinese music. The music that uses the instrument erhu has a very sad melody and is emotional, so lately I’ve been listening to that.

SJ: you think Korean dramas are so popular all around the world these days?

NO: Based on what people from abroad say, they think all the people who act in Korean dramas are handsome and beautiful. But when I hear things like that, I feel burdened and self-conscious about what I can do to appear cooler. It’s not visible, but on set, there are a lot of staff members who get even less sleep than the actors. They’re shooting the scenes, worrying about how to make the actors look better. There are many people who are not visible [to the audience members] who are working extremely hard.

SJ: I understand your hobby is drawing. What kinds of things do you like to draw?

NO: Let’s say I went abroad for a live performance and afterwards, I’m in my hotel room. While listening to music, I draw my feelings at that moment. Rather than thinking, “Oh I should draw something,” I often get inspired by listening to music and expressing my feelings through drawing.


SJ: What are your goals for the future?

NO: I hope to see the day when I’m the main character in a great movie or drama, and my name, “No Min Woo,” also shows up in the credits as the music director. So, I’m working hard for that. Afterwards, when the movie or drama is over, I want to go to Japan, China, and other parts of Asia, Europe, and the U.S. in a rock band and become an artist who acts and plays music.

SJ: Have you performed in the States many times?

NO: I’ve never performed there, but when I was 18, I stayed at Yoshiki’s studio in L.A. for one and a half months. As I went to a lot of live houses and performances, I ended up having the dream to hold a live concert there one day.

SJ: What kind of advice would you want to give someone who wants to start a music or acting career?

NO: When I was 20 and lived in Japan watching Johnny Depp’s movie, I thought to myself that I wanted to go to Korea and pursue both music and acting. When I returned to Korea, people told me that doing both was an impossible task. When I asked them why, they said if someone could do that, there should be someone doing that right now, but there isn’t. So trying to do both was a lonely path and I was also very scared. However, by waiting and enduring, I now create songs for the dramas I’m in. I believe that if you are able to win over pain and loneliness, the day will arrive when your dreams come true.

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Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal and Seoul Journal as Editor-in-Chief.

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