"Masquerade," in which Lee Byung-hun plays a double role, will open on Sept. 19. The film revolves around Gwanghaegun, the 15th king of the Chosun Dynasty who was deposed in a coup. In the film, Lee plays the bizarre king, known for his mischievous behavior, as well as his double, a humble acrobat and bawdy joker who stands in for the monarch when the latter faces the threat of being poisoned.
Although the role hardly fits Lee's action-man image, he said he was keen to avoid being pigeonholed. "If I had other talents, like performing as a singer or hosting a show, I'd be able to show many different sides of myself," he said. "But I have to focus on playing to my skills, and doing what I can through my acting. As I don't want to be get stereotyped, I prefer to play more versatile roles."
Lee will leave the country in the middle of this month to shoot his new film, "Red 2," starring Bruce Willis and Helen Mirren.
He made his Hollywood debut in 2009 with the hugely successful action flick "G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," a project he said was made more difficult by his nascent grasp of the language.
"At first, it took me an hour to read just three pages of the script. Even using a dictionary, there were still many lines and directions that I couldn't figure out the meaning of," he said. "I'd previously focused on action movies, but the plot for 'G.I. Joe' was inspired by a comic book, with the character flying around, brandishing swords and wearing a mask. So initially I was going to turn the role down.
"But as I'm still a newcomer in Hollywood, where not that many people know my name, I need to bide my time and accept the roles I'm offered, at least until I get to that level where I can pick the movies I want to do."
Asked how hard it was to make it in Hollywood, he said, "Many people think I must have tried hard. But I didn't plan it, actually. I'd never imagined these things would happen to me, so I think I was just lucky."
Asked about why he seldom appears in public, Lee said, "When I started acting, more experienced actors told me that an actor shouldn't show too much of his real self to the public. I think that's why [I shy away from the public eye]. I want people to be absorbed in the characters I play, rather than thinking about the real me, when they watch my movies."
Recently, his romantic relationship with actress Lee Min-jung has become the talk of the town.
"I think there is a huge gap between the image of myself as an actor and the real me, in terms of how I'm perceived. When I read stories about me and the comments people make, I feel like they're talking about someone else. I try not to let it get under my skin, but, to be honest, all the gossip about my relationship bothers me."