2014 saw a lot of breakout performances by newly-minted leading men in drama land, with the likes of Im Siwan, Park Seo-joon, and Choi Jin-hyuk proving their worth with the winning opportunities they have been granted with. It’s heartening to see that success comes to those who wait (and work hard), even if a good eye for scripts and a dash of luck plays a huge role in their journey to leading men. Similarly, there are a handful of actors who have been steadily building up their resume with memorable supporting characters, and we hope that 2015 will be their year to take the lead in drama-land. Without further ado, let’s take a look at the six actors with the potential to be leading men.
1. Kim Woo-bin
Somehow, this bad boy with sky-high eyebrows has yet to headline a drama by himself. Having only made his debut in 2011, Kim has managed to build an impactful albeit short track record. Gaining attention with his alien-like features and strong charisma in White Christmas and Vampire Idol, he quickly followed up with a more prominent role in A Gentlemen’s Dignity. 2013 proved to be his breakout year, shooting to fame as Lee Jong-suk’s buddy in School 2013 and playing second fiddle to Lee Min-ho in Heirs.
With rather successful productions under his belt, it’s surprising that Kim hasn’t taken up an opportunity to be casted as the main lead. With his rather unique physical attributes and intense screen presence, Kim is more than capable of taking up the responsibility of being the lead actor, given the right script. Even as a bad boy extraordinaire, there’s definitely a lot that he would be able to offer a drama, especially with his popularity and acting skills. So far, it seems that Kim is focusing most of his attention on the big screen, seeing that it provides more meaty roles to test his versatility. But let’s hope that Kim graces dramaland with his presence again in 2015, and preferably, as the main lead, getting the girl.
2. Yoo Yeon-seok
Chilbongie, the sweet baseball player who walked into every girl’s heart and set up home there. Reply 1994 was the big break that Yoo waited ten years for, and he couldn’t have asked for a better role to cement his image with. Prior to his Chilbong character, Yoo was perhaps best known as the villain in the hugely popular Werewolf Boy, which gained him more recognition instead of popularity. His boyish good looks and chameleon-like acting skills should have easily gained him a ton of fans, but it took his role in Reply for the masses to see him for the gem he is. Yoo is the prime example how one lucky offer on a cable show can turn a whole career around.
He was indeed the breakout star of Reply, having received multiple film offers subsequently. Building his career on the silver screen is all good, but it’s a pity that we had to spend a whole year living on only Chilbongie screencaps. But when he returns to dramaland, he’d better get his happy ending, because my heart bled so hard for him when he lost the girl in Reply, and I’m not ready to go through the same heartbreak another time.
3. Song Jae-rim
The second model-turned-actor on the list, Song actually has his stint on We Got Marriedto thank for his current explosive level of popularity. Having amassed a few supporting roles in noteworthy productions such as Moon Embraces the Sun and Inspiring Generation, he worked his way up to the second lead role of Chef Kwon in Surplus Princess. Although he didn’t get the girl in the show, his charming disposition and sweet eye-smile won the hearts of fangirls all around, till the point that his OTP was possibly more popular than the actual OTP of the drama. Thus, it was literally a godsend that he was subsequently casted in WGM with Kim So-eun.
Known for his accelerated skinship and cheesy pickup lines in WGM, he managed to pick up Best Male Newcomer and Best Couple (with Kim So-eun) at the recent MBC Entertainment Awards. All this hype about this new up and coming variety gem allowed him to guest on Running Man and Saturday Night Live. A rare case indeed, as his variety skills have indeed raised his public visibility to the point that it paved the road for him to be casted in his first lead role in Unkind Words, opposite Lee Hana. Seeing how his goofy variety personality differs so greatly from his past brooding assassin roles, I’m no longer surprised at the wide variety of drama characters he has played. Hopefully, 2015 will be a good year for him, and that his first lead role will be a success!
4. Kim Young-kwang
Kim’s career as an actor started way back in 2008, with supporting roles here and there that unfortunately didn’t make much of an impact on the audience. The dramas he appeared in were fairly successful, but his characters were regrettably not noteworthy enough. Fortunately, his role as Kang Jin-gu in the recently concluded Plus Nine Boys was exactly the role he needed to prove his ability. The best-friends-turned-lovers storyline was a great choice for his affability to flourish, and he was quickly cast in his follow-up project. Currently playing the second lead in Pinocchio, Kim is still a little green around the edges to match the charisma and chemistry of “veterans” Lee Jong-suk and Park Shin-hye, but he has so far been able to make his seemingly strange character come across much more likable and relatable.
For someone of his size (1.87m!), Kim’s youthful features have somehow managed to tread the line between manly and boyish, and this will undoubtedly help him in portraying a wider variety of interesting characters. While he’s definitely going to need more work on honing his skills and screen presence, I have no doubts that he will eventually get there. His commitment to his characters and natural charm can be felt through his performances, and I definitely want to see more of him in bigger roles.
5. Lee Joon
One of the few actor-idols to draw compliments instead of criticisms, Lee Joon made headlines in the recent months for choosing to end his activities with MBLAQ in favour of focusing on his acting career. He has had a few iconic roles here and there, but his most notable role to date would have to be as the psychopath Ryu Tae-oh in Gap Dong. His ability to transform his innocent smiling face to that of a mad man was indeed terrifying and one of the best moments in Dramaland 2014. His talent to metamorphosize his expressions from that of a hero to a villain within seconds will certainly be a characteristic that will work to his advantage.
It’s encouraging that his skills have been recognized, as he was quickly cast as the second lead in the currently airing Mister Baek. He is impressively holding his own against long-time veterans Shin Ha-kyun and Jang Na-ra, with his nuanced portrayal of his character coming across very naturally. No doubt, his future as an actor looks bright for him, and he will prove his worth someday as a lead actor.
6. Choi Woo-shik
When I first saw Choi in Rooftop Prince, I was pretty sure he was destined to be a comic character stuck in the supporting cast world. But two years later, Choi picked up the Actor of the Year award at the Busan International Film Festival for his headlining role in coming-of-age film Set Me Free. A rather impressive feat for a relative no-namer. His impeccable comedic timing paired together with his adorable baby face allows most of his performances to be scene-stealers, and his characters always leave a lasting impression on me.
Unfortunately for him, his baby face is also something that hinders him from being offered bigger and more outstanding roles. Granted that Choi has still been more or less relegated to supporting cast in his recent productions Fated To Love You and Pride and Prejudice, there’s no doubt that his roles are coming more frequently and also increasing in terms of significance. Good news for him — he was recently cast as the main lead opposite Uee in upcoming cable drama Ho-gu’s Love, which gives me hope that his baby face and comic chops will eventually find its place as a leading man in the drama world.
7. Lee Soo-hyuk
The last model-actor to round up this list is another guy who’s also known for his alien-ness. Lee strikes me as a mini Kim Woo-bin, having also debuted in White Christmas and then Vampire Idol and garnering notice for his unique facial features.
2014 has been a pretty awesome year for him, snagging up second lead roles in two tvN dramas — High School King of Savvy, and Valid Love, which is still midway through its airing. Cable seems to be a pretty comfortable place for Lee, as his popularity is still concentrated amongst the younger generation, and it could be a while before he becomes more mainstream.
That said, I can easily see Lee taking up his first lead role in tvN again, since there’s where his career trajectory seems to be heading. With his one-of-a-kind image, I can see him doing pretty well with a quirky character. All we really need… is the right script to come along.
So there’s my list of potential leading men, but it’s by no means exhaustive. Now I’m interested to hear: what is your list?
(tvN, SBS, Allure, Harper’s Bazaar)