I shook Kim Seon-ho’s hand.
His right hand dwarfed mine during the handshake, while his left hand supported his right wrist in a very polite Korean gesture. His hand was warm, his grip firm, and he looked at me in the eyes. I reacted by bringing my hands to my chest, gave him a big smile, and an appreciative “awwww” came out of me unconsciously.
This made the other people in the room giggle at my reaction. It was as if they knew the handshake would fluster me. I found it endearing that Kim extends this courtesy to the press he meets. He was waiting for me by the door of the small interview room at Grand Hyatt Manila on July 22. This caught me by surprise. There was absolutely no need for him to do so.
It felt different and I found it very nice of him. The actor is the latest addition to the pool of global endorsers of the lifestyle brand Bench. He has starred in several hit dramas including “100 Days My Prince,” “Start-Up” and “Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha.” He was also the lead of the recent action thriller “The Childe,” wherein he showed a different side to his acting persona.
In the press conference held before “Love to meet our Good Boy” fan meet, Kim wore a black-and-white checkered Bench shirt that was stylishly buttoned at the collar. A white T-shirt was peeking out underneath. He finished the look with a pair of black Bench pants. All the pieces were Kim’s choice. He even picked out a piece that will bring so much pride to his Filipino fans: his airport outfit look included a T-shirt that says “Manila’’ on it.
The tee sold out online within an hour of his arrival. Seonhohadas (the name of his fandom) call this the Kim Seon-ho effect, wherein anything he touches is patronized by fans. Bench said they will restock the shirt online and in stores.
I had eight minutes with him and I started it off by showing him an Inquirer Lifestyle article about his January fan meet in Manila. The issue was sold out—his fans bought copies by the bulk and distributed among themselves. Some brought their copies overseas—Doha, Thailand, Korea and the United States.
I told him this before adding that his fans love him very much. He gave himself a hug when he heard this. But he leaned forward, his eyes widening as he looked at the pages of the Inquirer. He ran his fingers on the paper, opening the newspaper and browsing through the pages. I was told that he continued reading it after I left the room.
Lifestyle told him that I wrote another piece about him for his performance for “The Childe” and he looked at me expectantly, as if he was waiting for me to pull out another newspaper from my bag. Alas, I didn’t have a copy with me. But I told him that I would send him a PDF copy.
He laughed when I said that I should stop talking about how much he’s loved and start asking questions. By then, he was visibly more relaxed. That was actually the goal because at the press conference, he confessed to being nervous (even though it didn’t show at all).
We asked him to name three songs included in his playlist. “It might sound bland, but the first song in my playlist is ‘Reason’ (Kim sang the vocals for Epitone Project’s song). The second one is Paul Kim’s ‘Every Day, Every Moment’ and the third one is the ending song in ‘The Childe,’ which is ‘Mystery Guy’ by Axs Music,” he said.
The last one became part of his playlist after hearing it several times in press conferences and movie theaters during the promotion of the film, he explained. I told him how good he was in “The Childe” and that it was very different from his other projects. I emphasized the words “good” and “different” and the translator relayed my impassioned statement exactly.
Kim gave an appreciative laugh at this, humbly accepting the praises and nodding his head. He told Lifestyle that he appreciates the passion that the fans feel towards him.
“Every time I visit a country, I feel so scared. I get scared easily, but I feel excited. But the moment I arrive at the airport, I receive a kind of welcome that is more than what I initially expected,” he said. “All the worries go away and because of that, I feel like a star (laughs). I feel very happy and blessed because of the love of the fans in the Philippines.”
Lifestyle asked him if he’s seen his Bench billboards on Edsa.
“I feel very happy, I feel like I could fly. I heard that this is one of the biggest billboards in the Philippines and I feel very blessed. It doesn’t happen so often in my life to have a billboard as big as that,” he said. The following day, he posted on Instagram a photo of himself in front of the billboard.
Humble and grounded
Despite all of his success and popularity, Kim remains grounded.
“The best advice came from my parents. They told me to always be humble, to look only at the present and not be bothered by anything else,” he said. “I received some good advice from a theater producer. It might sound like I am bragging a bit, but he did tell me that ‘a person that looks like me could not possibly be good at acting.’”
We laughed at this and checked if he was joking. He was not. He said that the producer is very famous in Korea. “It was good advice because it drove me to work on my acting,” he said.
This is possibly why his fans love him so. He hears something negative and turns it around and makes it something positive. That positivity rubs off on people.
It was a very short interview but the kind of environment that Kim fostered in those few minutes made everyone comfortable. The interpreter even got cheeky and teased me that showing the newspaper took minutes off my interview time.
We all laughed at this, including Kim. It was worth it. I will do it again if it means that I would see once more the pleasure in his eyes when he first looked at the Inquirer, seeing a big photo of him there. He looked really proud to see it.
When it was time to take photos together, he held the Inquirer copy up and motioned for me to sit next to him. He moved closer, his right hand hovering over my shoulder. This is the “manner hands” or Korean celebrities’ way of showing respect to the person they are taking pictures with. It was my first time to experience it and it felt amazing.
As I stood up, I bowed my head and bid my farewell. He followed me all the way to the door before he held out his hand. We shook hands again, but this time friendlier. There are many adjectives to describe Kim Seon-ho—handsome, funny, witty, even chatty, because he likes to expound on his answers. But I will add one more: gentleman. He is a real-life good boy.