Im Chang-jung draws on personal experience for role in ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’
When news hit that the movie-turned-musical “Mrs. Doubtfire” will arrive in Korea fresh off Broadway in August, casting for the show evidently became the talk of the town. Who will shadow comedy legend Robin Williams and take on the role of the jobless man dressed as a Scottish nanny?
Korea isn’t short of its middle-aged male musical theater actors, but what landed singer and actor Im Chang-jung, 48, the role of Daniel Hillard was his impeccable sense of humor and excellent comedic timing.
As an actor who has spent the past 30 years mostly starring in comedic roles, Im understood why he’d been offered the role, even though he hadn’t been on a musical stage in nearly a decade.
“Daniel is the type of character that I’m well-versed in from my previous works on screen, so I knew what the show’s creatives were expecting from me, and to some extent, was confident that I could deliver,” Im told the press during an interview on Sept. 22 at a cafe in Gangnam District, southern Seoul.
“Mrs. Doubtfire” is a family-oriented comedy musical about a middle-aged man named Daniel Hillard who loses his job and gets divorced. After he loses custody of his children, Daniel creates the alter ego of a Scottish nanny, Mrs. Doubtfire, to stay in his kids’ lives.
Im’s filmography includes several likable man-child characters like Daniel in “Mrs. Doubtfire,” such as his title roles in films “The Greatest Expectation” (2003) and “Miracle on First Street” (2007). He is also a nationally famous singer known for timeless karaoke-favorites like “A Cup of Soju” (2003) and “The Love I Committed” (2016).
“At first, I was so excited and couldn’t wait to tell people that I was going to play the same role that Robin Williams played,” Im said, “but when I saw the videotaped version of Broadway’s ‘Mrs. Doubtfire,’ I sincerely doubted if I would be able to pull off the role.”
Im’s main profession isn’t a musical theater actor and it had been five years since he had professionally acted on stage or in front of a camera. Im was also in the middle of running two restaurant chains and gearing up to launch his own girl group called mimiirose under a K-pop agency that he founded.
And Daniel in “Mrs. Doubtfire” is a grueling part to play. There are a total of 18 outfit changes that happen while the actor is on stage. He also needs to tap dance, play the loop pedal, break dance and use ventriloquism, in addition to singing and acting.
He said that he realized that he could do it after countless hours that he clocked in at the practice hall, but only barely.
“I may be making the audience laugh, but I’m not able to relish playing it because I am so busy the whole time,” he said. “There is so much to do on stage that if just one thing gets messed up, like a zipper malfunction or a misplaced prop, my mind goes blank.”
He reminisced on a time when he actually forgot his entire monologue during a real performance because of a blip that happened during a wardrobe change.
The stress and the physical toll of the role has made him lose some seven kilograms (15 pounds) since the show’s opening last month.
“I’m not a religious person, but I pray every chance I get when I am backstage, begging to dear God that I don’t make a mistake in my next scene.”
But for all Im’s self-deprecating talk, his performance is not only stable but also hilarious and heartfelt at the same time.
The fact that the show was a non-replica production also gave Im leeway to angle his jokes that would hit the right notes with local viewers.
But what really makes Im’s performance unique is the emotional resonance that comes from his personal life which mirrors Daniel’s.
Like Daniel, Im divorced his wife, in 2013. He currently has custody of two of his three sons. He remarried in 2017 and became a father to two more boys. The actor’s personal life and family affairs have been made public through SBS’s ongoing marriage reality show “Same Bed, Different Dreams 2: You Are My Destiny.”
“I cried a lot during rehearsals. I truly believe in the message of the show, that there are many different types of families out there and that it will be okay, as long as there is love,” he said, quoting a lyric from one of the numbers in the musical.
Im said that “Mrs. Doubtfire” will undoubtedly be the most memorable part of his 2022.
“I’ve been so busy being nervous that I didn’t realize that I’m through one-third of the performances already!” he exclaimed.
“‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ isn’t just another show to add to my list of works. Rather, I feel honored to have my name be part of the show. I am proud to be part of such a well-made musical. I feel truly lucky and privileged.”
“Mrs. Doubtfire” runs through Nov. 6 at Charlotte Theater in Songpa District, southern Seoul. Im, as well as musical theater actors Chung Sung-hwa and Yang Joon-mo alternate the role of Daniel.
BY LEE JIAN [firstname.lastname@example.org]