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Bae Doo-na, on her own

Bae Doo-na. (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

Publication Date : 08-01-2013


Korean actress shares why her latest project 'Cloud Atlas' is special for her


Actress Bae Doo-na has been famously adored by some of the most celebrated filmmakers in Asia, such as Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, and Japan’s Hirokazu Koreeda.

“I always felt I was very lucky,” Bae said during an interview with The Korea Herald on Friday, January 4.

“Throughout my career, I often felt like it’s my luck (to star in the directors’ films) that brought me success, not my own ability as an actress. But with my latest movie, I feel like I achieved almost everything on my own (for the first time in my life).”

Her latest film, Cloud Atlas is Bae’s Hollywood debut. It is a US$102- million sci-fi by Lana and Andy Wachowski and director Tim Tykwer, which features Bae as part of its star-studded ensemble.

The 33-year-old actress, who plays a slave-clone in dystopian Seoul in 2144, went through a lot on her own ― starting when she received the movie’s script in May 2011.

Bae made a demo-tape of her playing Son-mi at home and mailed it to the Wachowskis, flew to Chicago alone to attend the audition for the role, and became a frequent dictionary user.

“I wrote all of the e-mails to the crew in the US on my own,” she said.

“I’d use the Korean-English dictionary to find the right words. My experience with this film made me feel content. I thought, maybe I am actually capable of achieving things. I got to work with some of the greatest people I’ve ever met.”

Cloud Atlas is an adaptation of English writer David Mitchell’s 2004 best-selling novel of the same title. It consists of six interrelated stories that take the audience from the remote South Pacific in the 19th century to dystopian Korea to a post-apocalyptic future.

Its cast, which includes Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant, plays multiple roles throughout, increasing the sense of deja vu and connectivity of the storylines. Actor Jim Sturgess, for example, went through heavy make-up sessions to play Chang Hae-joo, a Korean freedom fighter in 2144, on top of playing a 19th-century American attorney. Bae was no exception. She was asked to play a Mexican woman living in the US in the ’70s, as well as a young Caucasian wife in 19th-century America.

“Director Tykwer was worried at first,” Bae said.

“He wasn’t sure if I could pull off this hysterical, angry Mexican lady. He saw a lot of calmness and shyness in me, and this Mexican woman was everything the opposite. He gave me a number of video footage as an example of what he wanted, and I watched them for inspiration. And speaking in Spanish somehow changed the pitch of my voice; it became much higher. I’m especially happy when people tell me they didn’t know the Mexican lady was played by me and was surprised to find out about it later.”

It’s been 15 years since Bae broke into the country’s entertainment industry. The actress said she doesn’t want to star in too many films in the future, but rather find a balance between her work and life.

“I’m more afraid than I was 10 years ago,” she said. “I’m afraid that acting will dominate my entire life. I am most alive when I’m shooting films. But when I’m not acting, I often find myself being bored at home. So I’m trying to find things that keep me occupied when I’m not being an actress, including taking pictures and doing flower arrangements, to find a balance.”

Cloud Atlas opens in local theatres on Thursday.


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