South Korean superstar Byung-hun Lee plays Billy Rocks in the western action flick The Magnificent Seven alongside Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt. The movie was the official opening film of the Toronto International Film Festival, where I had the opportunity to chat with him about this incredible new blockbuster.
What is the best thing about walking the red carpet at TIFF and meeting fans?
Walking on the red carpet is always, always fantastic as an actor. It’s like a huge party after a long journey. Especially as this movie was so difficult, mostly because of the weather. It was very hot and humid, it was almost 105 degrees and the humidity was like 90 percent. And we spent four months shooting the action scenes. So it was very hard but after that kind of journey, going on the red carpet and showing our film at the premiere at the film festival, it’s just for us, it’s like our party, and we always enjoy that. It’s very exciting.
The locale for the movie is so beautiful and much of it is shot outside. How did you enjoy that as opposed to filming indoors?
You know whenever I went to the set, it helped to make my character real because I feel like I’m in that period in the 1860s. It feels like that, so I’m in a different world, and I’m that character. It was very helpful and we actually filmed it for almost four months in Louisiana and one month in New Mexico. There were a lot of beautiful mountains that were added with CGI for the background [while we were in Louisiana]. So we only used the set, the buildings and roads, and there’s a lake, but the mountains are from New Mexico. It’s very beautiful.
Did you watch Westerns growing up and did you ever dream of being in a Western?
I watched movies since I was four. I think more than 80 percent were Western movies at the time, so I grew up with a lot of Westerns with my father. I don’t think anybody would refuse this amazing project. Especially at my age, guys, they wouldn’t.
Have you ever ridden a horse before?
Yeah, I filmed with some horses a few times, but it was a little bit different than when I learned riding horses in Korea. I thought I was kind of an expert in that, but when I was in New Orleans, it was kind of different, the way of riding here. So I had to learn from the beginning. Basically it’s the same, but there are some different things.
Did you get along with the horse you were given for the movie?
I tried hard. Because horses are very smart, and they are very emotional animals. So I had to make him relax, I had to say something always whenever I saw him, I needed to touch him. That’s very important for safety.
In addition to all the action, there’s actually quite a bit of humor. Was that in the script or was there a lot of ad-libbing going on?
Actually, most of them were ad-libs. Do you remember the scene where I trained the townspeople how to use knives? In the script, that scene was just one line. “Billy Rocks teaches knives to the townsfolk.” That’s it. And we made the choreography, and I did some ad-libs.
That was a great scene, it was so funny. Who was the funniest out of everybody on the set?
Of course Chris [Pratt]. He’s a really funny guy.
It says on IMDB your western name is Brian. Does anyone call you that?
No, actually they just call me B.H. because it’s really hard to pronounce my name. Some Americans call me Byung-hun but mostly they call me Byung or B.H.
How would you describe Billy Rocks?
I asked [director] Antoine [Fuqua] about the character of Billy, and he explained to me that he came to America for work. He was an indentured servant, and he wasn’t patient anymore so he killed two white people, and he ran away from there. He met Ethan [Hawke]’s character, Goodnight Robicheaux, and they stuck together to make money and they traveled to places. Basically he’s very quiet, and he’s really good at using his hands and his knives and he’s very loyal, and he thinks that pride is the most important to thing as a man. He explained that to me, and I agree with that.
What are your upcoming projects?
After Magnificent Seven, I finished two more Korean movies, and my next project will start in December and it’s also Korean, a period movie.
Do you like to do period pieces?
I like the story, but I don’t like to do the makeup and hair things, cause it takes so long and it’s itching all day because it’s a fake mustache.
Thank you so much for talking with me today!
Thank you very much.
The Magnificent Seven hits theaters this Friday, Sept. 23, 2016.
Article and photo of Byung-hun Lee by Alexandra Heilbron