Cover ‘Pachinko’ stars Lee Min-ho and Kim Min-ha get candid about their characters in the new Apple TV+ drama (Photo: Apple TV+)

In a Hong Kong exclusive interview, the actors dish on the brand new Apple TV+ series—and what playing their roles meant for them

Pachinko, the TV adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s best-selling 2017 novel, premieres today (March 25) on Apple TV+

The star-studded series stars Lee Min-ho, one of the biggest names in South Korean entertainment, and newcomer Kim Min-ha. The story follows four generations of a Korean immigrant family in the 20th century, and their epic journey between Korea, Japan and America.

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The two portray star-crossed lovers. Lee plays Hansu, an enigmatic and wealthy merchant who falls in love with the young and fierce Sunja, a woman who hopes for a better life for her family, portrayed by Kim.

In an exclusive interview with Tatler, the two stars dive into their emotional journey in playing their Pachinko characters and what they want the audience to take away from the series.

Read also: Meet the Cast of ‘Pachinko’, Apple TV+’s Adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s Best-Selling Book

What were your first thoughts about the script?

Kim Min-ha (KMH): I initially thought of the feelings that I needed to be able to tell this story. I even thought: “Should I do this?”—and if I could bring justice to the story.

Lee Min-ho (LMH): I thought it was a very strong story. While it was set [in a time period] years ago, I can still resonate with it. I also think that it’s a story that people nowadays can relate to.

What attracted you the most to the character you were cast in?

KMH: Sunja’s both fragile and resilient. She knows how to survive and how to adapt to a new environment. Those traits appealed to me the most. I had a lot of pressure when I first got this role because Sunja has a big responsibility that later affects her family.

LMH: Hansu didn’t have a choice as to what kind of life he wanted to lead, especially in those times. He could only think of survival. To me, that was the most appealing part of the character. Compared to others, he chose a darker path to survive during such difficult times. In some ways, I can understand him and also resonate with his feelings.

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How did you prep for these roles?

LMH: I tried to portray younger Hansu as someone who has a heart of gold—but because he has to survive, he had to make decisions that eventually put him on the bad side. I [also] wanted to make that clear distinction between the young kind Hansu and the older Hansu.

KMH: In order to properly portray teenage Sunja, I had to understand her as this young girl who is living in isolation. To show how she changes as a woman, I had to look at her history and her feelings and convey it to the viewers.

Your characters are rarely seen smiling—except for the opening sequence. What was your experience in filming that scene?

LMH: My character is someone who was really tough and had a rough history, so I couldn’t believe it myself [the character smiling]. I actually asked [screenwriter and showrunner] Soo Hugh a few times if Hansu could laugh and have some fun. I really enjoyed filming that sequence, because Pachinko itself is quite heavy—that was the only time I felt liberated.

KMH: The opening sequence was the only time where I didn’t have to really think about anything. They just played the music for us. I just stood there at first because there were no directions. Like Min-ho, it was the only time that I really felt free and I had so much fun filming it.

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“I hope viewers will see this as a story of love, and remember the sacrifice that their families had to do in order to survive”
Kim Min-ha

What was the most emotional scene for you?

KMH: Sunja’s scenes are all very emotional and very intense. But if I had to pick, it’d be the scene where I say goodbye to the members of the boarding house [run by Sunja’s family, which she departs from]. It was so emotional that I couldn’t help but cry.

LMH: I’d definitely choose the scene when Hansu first met Sunja. I think it isn’t just love at first sight, but much more than that. They were attracted to each other as human beings, and it left a really big impact on both of them. 

When we talk about events that had such a big impact on our lives, it could be when we first fell in love or the first time we see our baby. For Hansu, I think seeing Sunja is like one of those moments.

See also: Watch the Trailer for Apple TV+’s ‘Pachinko’ Starring Lee Min-Ho and Youn Yuh-Jung

Are there any similarities between yourselves and the characters you play?

LMH: Hansu and I are the same when it comes to our goals. When I have a goal I want to achieve, I would do anything to achieve it without any hesitation.

KMH: We’re both fragile, but also resilient. We have this hidden strength inside of us. But at times, we are also very vulnerable.

What do you want viewers to get out of Pachinko?

KMH: I hope viewers will see this as a story of love, and remember the sacrifice that their families had to do in order to survive. I’d also love for them to see the tragedies, reflect on history—and know that they are not alone. We are all going through various hardships together.

LMH: We now live in a very fast-paced society, and we sometimes lose track of what we have and what is really important to us. I hope that people can take a look at our older generation through Pachinko and resonate with the universal values that are present in the series. Take some time to look back on themselves and the people around them and their families. It’d also be nice if they can think about what’s the best path forward.

Read also: How Author Min Jin Lee Is Taking A Stand Against Racism

‘Pachinko’ is now available to stream on Apple TV+ with new episodes every Friday.

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