XO, Kitty Star Sang Heon Lee on Playing Min Ho, K-Dramas, and That Kitty Love Triangle

Spoilers ahead for XO, Kitty season 1.

XO, Kitty star Sang Heon Lee has some ideas on why Korean dramas have stolen so many hearts.

“They have a very different and unique way of showing romance. There are signature scenes that everyone knows. And I think what people love the most is because they’re very corny, yet funny,” he tells Teen Vogue during a recent Zoom call. “It’s something that people always think, ‘I wish that happened in my life.’”

And in a way, it does happen in Lee’s life, working as an actor portraying the genre’s best tropes such as love triangles and “enemies to lovers” in the new Netflix series. A spin-off of the megapopular To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before movie series, XO, Kitty finds Anna Cathcart’s titular character at boarding school in Seoul, navigating the highs and lows of young love in a series that pulls heavily from the world of K-dramas. Lee plays Min Ho, the glamorous student with flawless skin and a famous mom. Min Ho isn’t the most welcoming to Kitty at the beginning of the series, often annoyed by her misadventures and matchmaking hijinks.

Related: Netflix’s “XO, Kitty” Cast: Meet the Characters and Who Plays Them

The show marks Lee’s first big acting job. The Korea-born, Hong Kong-raised actor started chasing that dream back in high school after a school counselor started conferences with students asking about their future plans. A longtime lover of movies — his favorites range from The Dark Knight to Guy Ritchie comedies to Korean noir films like Friend — Lee thought a career in acting sounded appealing. He did two years of drama in high school and then continued his study of the performing arts during undergrad at the University of Northampton in England. Once he finished up two years of military service in Korea, he spent some time modeling. Then his sister Gia Kim (who plays Yuri in the show) sent him an Instagram post of an open casting call for XO, Kitty.

When Lee first read the character description for the popular student at KISS (Korean Independent School of Seoul, because, of course), he saw some overlap in similarities, but wished he had Min Ho’s confidence while back at school. After a couple of auditions and months of waiting, he was able to embody that confidence — he had received the good news that he nabbed the role of Min Ho.

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Lee first met co-star Cathcart in Seoul, breaking the ice before filming started. They went out for naengmyeon, introducing her to the cold noodle soup made with buckwheat, and he instantly clocked her positive energy and great smile. During filming, there were COVID-19 protocols that kept most of the cast and crew isolated from the outside world to reduce potential exposure. But there was one time when the cast asked to go to Lotte World, a beloved amusement park, which made for a special bonding experience between the young performers.

His first day on set, however, didn’t necessarily go quite as planned.

“I remember that day so clearly because I forgot my lines and I was just so nervous at the time because everything was new to me,” he says. “Hitting a mark, where to stand before the camera, I was not used to the whole set environment. So it was a very scary time for me. But although it was nerve-wracking, I had fun.”

In one episode about midway through the season, Min Ho saves the day on Chuseok by whipping up a flurry of delicious Korean classics. Lee also knows his way around a kitchen, but his specialties lean toward Western style since his culinary education happened largely during his university years living with flatmates in England, watching YouTube cooking videos to learn how to eat well at home while on a budget.

“I’m not trying to brag here, but I can make a really good steak with a side of asparagus and some caramelized onions,” he says. “Also, an original carbonara, no cream, just using eggs.”

Another central trait that becomes somewhat of a bit for Min Ho is his super intense skincare regimen. That’s where Lee strays from character: his routine is fairly simple. Washing with cold water, not soap in the morning, then finishing off with some toner essence, moisturizing cream, and sunscreen. No obsession with drinking collagen water, unlike Min Ho.

In his spare time, you can often find Lee rock climbing – he even has an entire Instagram account dedicated to his love for the sport. He fell for the activity after jumping onto the viral South Korean social media trend known as “body profile,” where people go through extremely intense physical training and dieting for a huge body transformation which is then documented in a photo shoot. Following that, he hated going to the gym. One day a friend invited him along to rock climbing. That was two years ago, and Lee now goes climbing four times a week.

Related: XO, Kitty’s Minyeong Choi Wants Kitty to Keep the Love for Dae

Beyond XO, Kitty, Lee will also appear in the forthcoming action flick Gran Turismo. While shooting the project in Budapest, he got to meet fellow Netflix actor Darren Barnet. The Never Have I Ever heartthrob was always down to answer Lee’s questions and share his tips on set. In return, restaurant lover Lee convinced Barnet to join for meals at buzzy, well-reviewed places where they ate well. The guys plan to hang out when they’re both in Los Angeles at the same time.

As for that cliffhanger at the end of the first season of XO, Kitty when Min Ho confesses feelings for Kitty just as they’re settling into seats on an international flight back to the States – Lee can’t commit to where he sees a possible next installment going.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. To be honest I have no idea how she’ll answer him,” he says. “It’s a very complicated situation. I have no idea, I can’t answer that.”

The two better fasten their seatbelts. It might be a bumpy ride.

Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue

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