Shortly before the “Saimdang” (The Herstory) press conference and press day in South Korea, we had the opportunity to meet and speak with the Korean drama’s leading lady, Lee Young-Ae.
Not only will the beautiful 44-year-old South Korean actress take on dual roles in “Saimdang”, it will also mark her TV comeback in 12 whole years. She was last seen in 2003’s highly successful “Jewel in the Palace” (대장금), in a role that still resonates deeply with K-Drama fans around the world.
No stranger to the K-Drama scene, particularly the “sageuk” genre, Lee Young-Ae is poised to impress K-Drama fans once again with her dual roles in “Saimdang”. However, during the press conference, the question of her preparations for her comeback was raised, taking into consideration that a lot of things have probably changed in the past decade or so.
Hence, during the interview, she dwelved into the topic of her comeback a little deeper, elaborating on how being a working mother (of twins!) has helped her prepare for her role, amongst other things. She also dished the dirt on working with fellow “Hallyu” star, Seong Seung-Heon.
You’re making a comeback after 12 years of hiatus. When you first read the “Saimdang” script, how did you feel? Which aspect of this K-Drama attracted you the most?
In the past 10 years, I got married and I gave birth to twins so I became a mother as well. As a woman, I’ve gone through a lot of changes. Marriage and giving birth..these 2 things bring about major changes in a woman’s life in the East as well as the West so that is true for any woman anywhere in the world. Because of that, my perspective on life has changed too and that became my criteria in selecting the works that I want to participate in. Shin Saimdang is actually a person who is very revered in Korea. She used to live about 500 years ago and she represents the ideal type of wise mother and good wife. She’s a real person who used to exist. So using the name of Shin Saimdang, I’m going to express the feelings of working mothers. Working mothers in Korea, in China, in Taiwan, in Japan..they would all feel the same way. A lot of people in Asia would be able to relate to this sentiment. Which is why I decided to appear in this period drama.
It must be really tough raising twins! Tell us about the changes that you’ve gone through personally.
After I got married, gave birth, and began to raise children, I began to think about many things. My thoughts have actually become deeper and I have become a deeper person in terms of my ideas. Now, I have to think about not just me, but also my family and the people around me. I think that has really helped me grow up as an actress. Moving forward as actress Lee Young-Ae, I believe that I will continue to do good things together and share my ideas not just in Korea but across Asia.
Have your family members gotten used to your schedule now that you’re working again, having to go on set and leave your family behind?
I have twins, one boy and one girl, and they are 5 years old now. Of course they always want Mommy around because they’re young. Sometimes, when they want to see me, their Daddy brings them on set. Like for today’s event (the press conference and the press day), we’re all here together so we’re enjoying it together as well.
You have told us a lot about being a mother. Tell us about your life as a wife.
Before I got married, I only thought about myself. But after I got married, I began to think about my husband who protects me. I became more reliant on my husband after I got married. He actually helps me with the drama as well. He’s like a big tree which provides shade. He’s really trustworthy and he makes me feel so safe and secure.
In “Saimdang”, you’re playing dual roles. The modern-day working mother is Seo Ji-Yoon and the past/ancient-day working mother is Shin Saimdang. Tell us more about these 2 characters.
Well, 500 years ago, Shin Saimdang actually existed and she gave birth to the greatest Confucian scholar of Korea. But she died early, at the age of 48. She was born in 1500, was a very famous female painter, and had 6-7 children so as a mother, she also had to take care of domestic chores. She probably had her own difficulties as well because as Shin Saimdang, she had to play diverse roles. The modern-day character, Seo Ji-Yoon, she is a university lecturer who teaches Korean art history and she also aspires to be a wise mother and a good wife. So she works really hard and intends to achieve big success as well so she puts in a lot of effort to work hard. She discovers this “Portrait of a Beauty” and begins to unravel some secrets and mysteries. Through this portrait, she encounters Shin Saimdang. The K-Drama is basically a story about unravelling the secrets of this past female character. It goes back and forth between the past and present.
When you play dual roles, you may need to change your emotional tones and what not. What sort of difficulties did you face?
As an actress, playing dual roles, it’s not that uncomfortable on my part. Because one role, Shin Saimdang, she’s a historical figure who lived 500 years ago so when I play her, I have to wear the “hanbok” and speak in a certain manner because she’s from the Joseon era. The shooting environment is also different, as in the set itself is different, so it’s not that bad. Also, Seo Ji-Yoon is a really fun character. By playing dual roles, I can show the audience diverse aspects of me so it’s really fun. When the audience finally watch “Saimdang” next year, they will rediscover the beauty of the “hanbok”.
Shin Saimdang is a wise mother and a good wife, and she’s also a working mom. You are also a working mom. What would you say are the similarities between you and Shin Saimdang?
I can project Shin Saimdang through my own perspective but that’s not what I intend to do this time. What I really want to do is depict a woman, or rather a character, who is really proactive and who has this “can do” spirit living in the Joseon era. 10 years ago when I appeared in “Jewel in the Palace”, the character was kinda similar in terms of characteristics but that was a single (unmarried) character and this time I’m playing a married character who is also a mother. And that gives me more room to express myself. I don’t want to portray Shin Saimdang as someone who’s really shy, obedient, and committed. I want to paint her as someone who’s alive and who’s actually breathing – I want to bring her back to life.
Tell us about the atmopshere on the set of “Saimdang”.
It’s really fun! Song Seung-Heon is really popular in the Asian region so when he posts pictures from the set on his SNS and Instagram, he gets a lot of reactions from Asian fans. We actually went to Firenze (Florence) and Bologna in Italy to shoot parts of “Saimdang” and there were some Asian fans there who recognised us. That’s when we realised that people are actually expecting a lot from us.
This is your first time acting with Song Seung-Heon. What is it like?
Well, first of all, in this period drama, Song Seung-Heon looks so gorgeous in it! So I believe that Asian women aren’t expecting to see me – they’re expecting to see him. The romantic relationship between Shin Saimdang and Lee Gyeom is so full of love and so affectionate. Both of us always work together and do our research on how to make it better, so we practice together and we talk about it together, so that we can make Shin Saimdang and Lee Gyeom’s romantic relationship better.
You’re making a comeback after more than 10 years so what kind of changes have you noticed in this industry?
Of course, 10 years is a long time so I see some changes that..are good and also bad. Some things have gotten better while other things have gotten worse. In the case of “Saimdang”, we’re pre-filming it 100% and it will be aired simultaneously across Asia. Since we’re pre-filming it, we can put more effort into it and we have more leisure in producing it. That allows actors and actresses to focus better and to talk more about it. That is actually an advantage for actors and actresses. There are many factors that will contribute to the quality of this K-Drama but because this is “pre-made”, that gives us a lot of advantage.
Now that you’re back, will the audience be able to see you more often after “Saimdang”?
Right now I’m a mother of twins and I’m also a wife, so my first priority is my family. But now that I’ve begun filming “Saimdang”, I have to go meet the audiences in Taiwan, in China, in Japan, and in other Asian countries. So if I ever have the chance, I’d like to meet more audiences and get closer to my audiences. If I can do something good and share something good together under my name, I will do my best to do so.
We already can’t wait to watch “Saimdang” when it’s released! Special thanks to our friends from Oh!K channel for making this happen 🙂
“Saimdang” (The Herstory) is currently still in production and is expected to air sometime in the first half of next year.
For more information, hit up Oh!K’s website.