Scene from MBC TV series "Royal Family" [MBC]
"These days, I don't know if I'm really sitting down when I'm sitting down and I don't know if my eyes are really open when they're open," Ji-sung remarked jokingly although no listener dare thought of it as an actual joke. The pace at which MBC's "Royal Family" moves easily outruns the average pace at which Korean dramas we have seen so far have moved. An endless number of various incidents constantly arise within the inner circle of top Korean conglomerate JK Group, barely leaving enough time for one to breathe. Everyone's desires clash violently over the position for CEO of the holding company and both the conspiracies and incidents move at full speed. The show's cast, who have the task of understanding its story which does not allow for the viewer to make any predictions, looked tired from having to take a step ahead of its viewers and express it through their acting. However what keeps them going is the pride in creating a unprecedented show in Korean TV drama history. Below are excerpts from a press conference held at the set of "Royal Family" on Tuesday.
Actress Yum Jung-ah [MBC]
Yum Jung-ah: I've been discussing on that issue with the director as well but it's very tough. There's no time for the actors to chitchat because the plot develops so fast. We're too busy discussing the drama whenever we see each other.
Ji-sung: Unlike other dramas, it's extremely difficult to interpret each scene [in this drama]. And we can't be the only ones that understand how the story develops so we're worried whether all our viewers are aware of all that's going on. Our meetings are taking longer than our shoots.
CP Han Hee: Korean dramas usually show emotional scenes such as a wife crying over her dead husband's photograph. But we cut out such scenes in "Royal Family" and just move onto the next incident. I tried to tell the writers that there may be too little emotion portrayed but we've ended up going in the direction that they want to take it. I think I have finally gotten used to the pace at which this drama moves and the story is going to be told.
Q: There has been talk that the setup of Kim In-sook (Yum Jung-ah), the only different presence living in the Junggawon, being alienated from the 'royal family' by being called K instead of her actual name, reminds viewers of an actress who actually married into a conglomerate family.
CP Han Hee: That's why the writers said they took out some of the lines that could bring about misunderstandings because we're afraid that it'll remind people of someone when we have no intentions of doing so. It's not like we're not worried about that. But the drama isn't based on an actual person.
Q: JK Group, which bans its women from breast-feeding their children because it may ruin the shape of their breasts, by far exceeds people's stereotype of conglomerates. Did any of those people complained after watching your show?
CP Han Hee: As far as I know, there hasn't been any form of response or complains officially and unofficially. They too are watching dramas as dramas. (laugh) I'm sure we live in times where it's okay to make dramas out of these sort of stories now.
Q: It must be difficult for Yum Jung-ah and Ji-sung to maintain your tone of acting for Kim In-sook and Han Ji-hoon (Ji-sung) because they're not typical characters either.
Yum Jung-ah: I know all about Kim In-sook's past and the larger incidents that'll happen to her in the future. But I don't know how Kim In-sook would express herself. I'm so curious about it that I always ask the writers if I can't get the next script first. (laugh) Every episode is a task but I think that's what's fun about this show. We don't move toward a set direction... there's the fun in coming up with each episode as it comes along.
Ji-sung: This show moves so quickly that there are times I don't get the exact vibe certain scenes are supposed to give off when I look at the script alone. There are over 80 scenes for each episode. I have to figure out what the vibe is with my scene partner when we don't have enough time.
Ji-sung: The fact that she has been sponsoring Ji-hoon is not a big deal. It stood out at first because it's related to the characters' pasts but the story actually starts now. That's why I felt lighthearted for this week's shoots... because I was allowed to show the relationship between the two characters.
CP Han Hee: We're currently working with the third version of the script but the first version moved at an even faster pace. Incidents that haven't taken place in the fifth and sixth episode were happening in the first episode. MBC had actually alloted a time slot for this show after looking at that version of the script while I was thinking 'They'll let us make the drama move slower.' (laugh)
Actor Ji-sung [MBC]
Yum Jung-ah: It sort of has to do with that. I think I speak in a different way as well. But it's actually more because I'm a bit tired right now. (laugh) I'm definitely not as fit as I use to be before I gave birth. I've become old too. (laugh) But I'll be changing as of today. We're in the midst of shooting a scene where the environment that In-sook is placed in starts to change so she starts dressing differently as well, not as miserably as she did in the past.
Q: Has becoming an actual mother influenced acting your role as the In-sook who has a strong maternal instinct?
Yum Jung-ah: There was a scene where I was talking to Ji-hoon but I couldn't seem to focus my emotions because there was too much going on around me. But the moment he mentioned Byung-joon (Dongho), the name of In-sook's son, I choked up with tears. I miss my baby very much because I actually haven't been able to go home though. (laugh) That's the emotion I'm filled with.
Q: The first scene in the first episode started with Ji-hoon's close-up. Your line, close to a monologue, was about three minutes long. How was it shooting that scene?
Ji-sung: I went to the producers like a man after looking at the script and asked them to make it the first scene for my first shoot. It was going to be a challenge but I regretted my decision a lot later. (laugh) I should've shot that scene after immersing myself more into my role so I wish I had done it better but at the same time, it's the scene that I feel was most rewarding and honored to have shot. There are actually a lot of close-ups in our show though.
Yum Jung-ah: Because we need that to show our emotions in more earnest. As long as the lights are right (laugh) I feel more comfortable with close-ups now.
Ji-sung: There's rumor that the reflector they use for her is made in Italy. (laugh)
Q: And how is it working with actress Kim Young-ae who's the head of JK Group?
Yum Jung-ah: She's actually someone I feel very comfortable around in private settings. That's why I receive energy from her when I'm acting, not get overwhelmed by it. So it helps to raise the level of energy between us. It's great.
Ji-sung: She's very cute. There are times when we have to stop shooting because she'll start laughing when she's sleepy. (laugh) She's always giving off great energy so it helps me to focus.
Yum Jung-ah: It's important that you know all your lines because there are a lot of scenes in this drama that we have to show our emotions. Particularly more so because there are times we have to cut off and butt into what the other person is saying. It can't be easy for to memorize her lines at her age but not once has she made a blooper because of her lines. She heeds even more attention to her own acting because she doesn't want to break her scene partner's focus.
Chief Producer Han Hee [MBC]
Ji-sung: There's really so much that needs to be done. Even in scenes that In-sook is walking, she needs to have a bodyguards since she's one of the ladies of the family. And even for that, we need to figure out how many of them there'll be, how big they should be, how they should shoot... We also work on a tighter schedule than other dramas so the first thing that everyone is always asking each other is "Have you slept? You should sleep."
Yum Jung-ah: It's not like we'll get to go on a break tomorrow if we end up pulling an all-nighter today... We just pull all-nighters everyday. We sleep when we're on the move. And it's actually upsetting because when you reach my age, you age a lot when you don't get a day's worth of sleep. (laugh) I want to show good acting by being in my best condition so not being able to do that is what's most upsetting.
Ji-sung: I'm sure the producers think a lot about the environment they make a drama in. And I don't think it'll change easily, it'll take some time, because it has to do with a lot of issues that are all intertwined, rather than being due to one particular problem. I heard that there was a problem with the broadcasting for SBS' "Sign" the other day which sad to hear about from an actor's point of view. It's very sad not being able to show everything you intended to because of an accident like that after working on something all night.
Q: Then aren't you disappointed that your ratings aren't as good as the great response your show is getting when you've put so much into making it?
Yum Jung-ah: Well it feels like the ratings are high (laugh) but what the numbers show is different so I can't really tell.
Ji-sung: When I was working on "New Heart," I got about 50 text messages after the first episode saying the show is good. I think I got about 70 this time. But the ratings turned out not to be as great as I expected them to be. (laugh) It's true that I had been looking forward to the ratings because we had worked so hard. But our team works great together and everyone is satisfied with the show.
CP Han Hee: There are things I wish were different. And I do think it would be nice to make the show appeal to the public more. But we haven't changed too much. We want to say the things the need to so this is the path we needed to take to tell of the stories that will unfold from now on. Making a show appeal to the general public doesn't always mean you'll be guaranteed the show will be a success anyway.
10: So are you saying you'll focus more on showing viewers a drama with a higher level of completion than wanting good ratings?
Yum Jung-ah: It's actually difficult to discern whether our drama is a good one from an objective stance. But it's true that people telling us that it's a great show helps a lot. The reason we can bear with all the hard work we have to do right now is also because of the people who are enjoying our show.
CP Han Hee: I think acting in line with one's conviction is the right thing to do. I think debating over whether to make the show more appealing to the public or not would shake its ground.
Ji-sung: Whether the show gets good ratings or not isn't important. We need to maintain the show's current tone all the way to episode 16. I've been told that a lot of people are enjoying the show but there actually isn't enough time for us to realize such remarks are actually true. I think it would be maintain what people like about our show and what we do well while trying to find what we lack in. We'll try to make this drama stay a masterpiece drama till the end.
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