|Kim Ha-neul [Chae Ki-won/10Asia]|
The first time we saw her face was through a catalog for "STORM," one of the most popular clothing brands during the 90s. She was pretty although her young features had yet to mature and just when we were starting to forget about her, while actors Song Seung-heon and So Ji-sub also from the catalog rose to stardom through MBC sitcom "Three Men Three Women," she re-appeared with more defined features in Jo Sung-mo's music video for his smash hit song "To Heaven."
As is the case for most new actors, she was consumed for her image. But that may have been enough for her since she was pretty and thanks to that, has always played the main female character starting with her debut film "Bye June." And when she starred as a college student from the 70s who communicates to an acquaintance (played by Yoo Ji-tae) from the 21st century through a walkie-talkie and cheerfully tells her college senior that the world will not come to an end in 1999 in hit film "Ditto," is seemed she had found her place and could forever maintain that image. But then she selected 2003 film "My Tutor Friend," which showed she would make her choices more independently as an actress. In other words, Kim started to converge the process of how she shows her identity as an adult, how she is aging as a woman, and how she is developing as an actress. For example, the beginning to movie "Lovers of Six Years" was like romantic comedies "My Tutor Friend" or "Too Beautiful to Lie" yet also she signaled that she had entered her thirties by expressing realistic concerns such as love, marriage and sex.
That is why her role as Soo-yeon in current MBC TV series "Road No. 1" is important, although she does not have much weight in the story revolving around comradeship. In the series based on the Korean War and pre-produced 100 percent on a mega budget of 13 billion won, she plays Soo-yeon, an aspiring doctor studying to enter medical school who starts treating wounded soldiers with the breakout of the war. Her concern was as she says, "Whether I would be able to pull off the role of someone who is like my mother and my hometown unlike my previous roles which I thought I would be pull off if I just went for it." Yet it isn't the complexity of her character which is the cause of her concern -- Soo-yeon is rather simple and humble, forever understanding and benevolent. It is why Kim had to show Soo-yeon's emotions tucked deeply inside her in a way viewers would be able to sympathize with her and that is when she evaluated herself as having "breaking down." But what is important here is that Kim fully understood what is most important in acting the role of Soo-yeon and that it is the very reason she took on the challenge. It shows the 32-year-old actress knows exactly what to expand on in order to make it as an actress.
The single-digit ratings for "Road No. 1" are showing that one of the year's most anticipated dramas is not doing as well as expected but not once was it mentioned during 10Asia's interview with Kim. It was not avoided on purpose but the interview was packed with remarks by Kim who spoke about the significance of "Road No. 1," playing the role of Soo-yeon, and the confidence she has gained as an actress through the role.
10: At the last press conference for "Road No. 1," you had said you don't know whether you'd be able to pull off the role of your character Soo-yeon but once the drama started, it felt as if I was watching an angel.
Kim Ha-neul: She's full of love. And she knows how to love.
Kim: I don't know. I myself fully understand and sympathize with her. The situation has been expressed in a slightly dramatic way but wouldn't anyone in her situation do what she is doing? And don't you feel sorry for Soo-hyuk? In how he is trapped inside an ideology. And she's a doctor so she'll want to save soldiers who are dying and want to look after a child she finds in the midst of all the chaos. It's the same with how she got tortured instead of the nurse. I don't think I'd stay put if someone was getting beaten up like that in front of my eyes. I may want to run away and become selfish over something small but I think I'd rather become altruistic when put in an extreme situation. For example, it's the same reason that the soldiers in our drama take part in the war, even though they know they might easily die from a gunshot. I think that and what Soo-yeon does are similar.
10: Are you normally the compassionate type? Or is that your understanding of Soo-yeon's situation from her point of view?
Kim: I think it's both. There's a bit of compassion and a lot of what I've come to accept while playing the role of Soo-yeon. It's fully understandable from Soo-yeon's perspective.
10: Then if you were able to sympathize with her in such ways, why were you worried about being able to pull off the role?
Kim: Sympathizing with her and being able to express her are two different things -- understanding her based on the situation that I perceive her as being in versus trying to express what she is feeling from my own heart. For example, there will be a scene later on where Soo-yeon discloses her emotions fully. It's the scene where she dramatically meets Jang-woo (played by So Ji-sub) after not having known whether he was alive or not, and it was hard shooting that scene. He doesn't recognize anyone and has almost gone crazy because he is in a state of panic from being in the war yet Soo-yeon hugs him out of love and sympathy. It was different sympathizing with her in that situation and actually trying to feel it myself from within.
10: She seems like a strong person in how she protects her heart and even Jang-woo while the war is going on.
Kim: She's strong. Even more than Jang-woo.
10: Well I think that's because she's a maternal person but I think that too must've been difficult for you [to portray].
Kim: It was really hard. I don't know if that's the difference between being married and single but although all women have maternal love and I understood and sympathized with Soo-yeon, it was really difficult to express all of that.
10: Were there times when you wanted to just give up?
Kim: I did with the scene I just told you about. And I still don't like the take I got the 'okay' sign for. I was not satisfied with it at all. Viewers may not be able to tell though because it could still work if you can sympathize with the acting emotionally and situation-wise. But as an actor, I really just couldn't feel it. It didn't ooze out from within me... having to embrace Jang-woo like a baby with my heart although he is much bigger than me. That's why this is also what I've thought. How it would've been like if I had gotten to shoot that scene towards the end. I think it would've been a bit different.
10: Then are you saying that you accepted her towards the end?
Kim: I didn't accept her, I just was her.
10: You had said before that you decided to tak on the drama because the script was fun. What had the largest influence on your decision to take on the role -- the script, your character Soo-yeon, or fact that the drama would be pre-produced?
Kim: I was just honored to even be taking part in it. I had never run across a production like this during my acting career and I wondered whether it would ever happen again. It's difficult to make a drama based on the war in Korea. So that's what I liked about it and I liked the fact that I would get to do acting you can't do in contemporary productions. Characters in contemporary work are quite made up -- they are very dramatic and go with various situations that come up along the way. But our production was based on the actual Korean War so we were able to tell a story from that time as if it actually happened. I mean, what's the chance that you'll experience a war during your lifetime? Even though it was just a bit, I liked the fact that I could experience, feel and express the sad and tragic incident which happened only in Korea.
10: Did you feel more reverent?
Kim: That's right. That's why I felt an a great ringing deep down in my heart after reading the synopsis and scenario. I also became greatly with the characters and situation from those times.
10: Then it must have been difficult for you to play around with the character, try different things. For example, with your character Oh Seung-ah from "On Air," it seemed that you were adding more of your real self to your character but that doesn't seem to be the case with Soo-yeon.
Kim: With Seung-ah, rather than trying to feel out who she is by looking at the script, I added more to her by injecting a lot of my actual self into her. A definite character and situation had been set but you could say that I made her into more of me. But with "Road No. 1," I really wanted to become Soo-yeon. I really wanted to become immersed with the role. Should I say that I had great admiration for her? I really did. There is still so much more to show you than you have seen so far but the Soo-yeon I have experienced through acting is really great. That's why I wanted to become her.