Cover South Korean actress Park Eun-bin talks to Tatler about her new K-drama (Photo: Netflix)

Ever since debuting in 1996, South Korean actress Park Eun-bin has transformed from child star to leading star. Her latest K-drama, The King’s Affection is a new challenge and Park tells Tatler all about it

With a 25-year-long career under her belt, Park Eun-bin has taken on various roles across a variety of genres. The former child actress has continuously evolved since then and is now a full-fledged leading star and one of South Korea’s most recognisable faces. It seems there’s not a character she can’t do.

But for Park, her role in the new historical K-drama on Netflix, The King’s Affection is a new challenge. There, she plays a woman disguised as a prince which marks a new era in her career. In this exclusive interview with Tatler, Park gets candid about coming back to the seaguk (historical) genre, how she prepared for her role and what makes it different from anything she’s ever taken on.

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Can you describe your character in The King’s Affection?

I play the role of Yi Hwi, who becomes a crown prince in her twin brother’s place. To me, Hwi resembles a blue flame that burns quietly at an even higher temperature than a typical red flame—she looks cold but hides burning emotions inside. She’s desperate enough to bury her real identity in order to protect her secret. This forces her to become stronger and more cold-hearted. Her life is lonely and she has to be watchful at all times, so I felt compassion for her.

Were there any funny moments while filming? How was it like to work with the co-stars in The King’s Affection?

I was excited about the project since I got to film a period piece with castmates of a similar age. They turned out to be even kinder, cuter, cooler, and funnier friends than I had expected so we had a lot of fun on the set. Everyone would focus on acting when it was their turn to shoot, but start joking once they went off-screen, so I remember having a good time.

Which scene in is your favourite and want the audience to look forward to?

It’s very hard to pick one scene because I enjoyed every second of filming and cherish every single scene. We travelled all around the country to find the best locations that encapsulate South Korea’s beauty, so I think you can look forward to seeing breathtaking landscapes and time-honoured traditions in each and every episode. Personally, I loved every single scene. Also, I recommend that you try to feel the heartbreaking emotions in the poignant scenes. That way, you would be able to have a more intense experience.

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How will you describe your offscreen bond and onscreen pairing?

We would never stop talking unless we had to go into a shoot. Since we’re all around a similar age, everyone’s interested in the same things and it’s much easier to talk to each other about our concerns about acting. The chemistry [with Rowoon and the cast] couldn’t have been better, and I think this really shows how comfortable we look in front of the camera. I feel very grateful to everyone.

What kind of message did you want to bring out through the story or your character?

I think every drama has to carry a message. The viewers should be able to learn something through the drama and the characters. Hwi’s life is turned upside down all of a sudden due to external factors. It seems like she has everything, but none of that is actually hers—even her own life isn’t hers, and she’s given a lot of things to protect and take responsibility for instead. However, she will not be swayed by this pressure or give in to it but will remain strong, standing her ground and trying her best to overcome her limits.

I think the ultimate message that the show conveys will be in the form of a world that Hwi envisions, and aspires to build. I hope that you will understand what the writer is trying to say through Hwi about the world that she believes in. Personally, I cannot wait to see how this story is going to end.

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We’ve seen a different side of you in your last drama. Having a lot of experience in acting and always trying out different roles, why did you choose to star in The King’s Affection? What attracted you to the role of Yi Hwi?

I thought that the story itself was very fascinating—that it was set in the past, and was centred around a woman who ascended to the throne. This woman king, Yi Hwi, seemed like a role that I had always dreamt of, and one that would not come along easily. I didn’t hesitate one bit in deciding to join the project, because I wanted to wear a dragon robe that belonged to me, and only me. I think this is going to be an invaluable, one-of-a-kind show that we will not be able to see for quite a while.

Since your character has a secret and has to undergo a lot of issues to hide her identity, what kind of preparations did you do?

Even if the idea of a woman becoming king started from one’s imagination, I thought it was my responsibility as an actor to make the character believable. Rather than drawing a straight line between Hwi as a man and Hwi as a woman, I felt it was more important to make Hwi convincing as a person. So I’m trying not to pretend to be a guy, but to show how natural it was for Hwi to grow up as a man. I’m also trying to give off a genderless vibe.

It’s very important for the narrative that no matter how hard she tries, she can’t hide her feminine qualities and that this leads to suspicion and danger. I hope that the audience will not focus on whether she’s a guy or a girl, but just naturally embrace that Hwi has this side to her, but also has that side. My hope is that me on-screen would really come across as Hwi to the viewers.

Yi Hwi is skilled at literary and martial arts, so do you face any challenges when shooting those action scenes which require you to play swords, archery, or do martial arts?

Although her figure is small, Hwi excels in swords, archery, and martial arts. That meant that I also had to train a lot in order to become true king material. I practised horseback riding and martial arts, and I’m trying hard to look like someone who was raised as a man. Sometimes it’s very physically draining, but Hwi is a person that has to overcome her limits every time, so I’m working to show you my best performance.

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You started off as a child actor and have evolved since then. While many would become complacent with sticking to a particular genre, you have constantly hustled and tried different things. What inspires you to take those risks?

You may think that I’m taking risks, but I’ve just literally taken on new challenges. I’ve worked on one project after another ever since debuting in 1996 and I think what drove me forward all this time was the urge to try something different, something new rather than making safe choices.

It’s always scary and nerve-wracking to try something new, but I can feel that I’m becoming more mature every time and this is a very fulfilling experience. I put a lot of thought into what I can do, learn lessons through trials and errors, and find what I have to improve. I’m trying to take one step at a time, looking for what makes my heart sing. 

Since the series is coming on Netflix, the reach is wider. Following the success of Squid Game, there’s a lot of anticipation for Korean dramas. How do you feel about that?

I think it is truly mind-blowing that Korean content is receiving so much love from all over the world. Also, I’m very grateful and happy that as an actor, I can present various Korean titles to the global audience at this important point in time. I definitely think that Korean content deserves to receive love and support internationally, so I hope that more Korean shows get to reinforce their preeminence on the global stage.

The King’s Affection will also be brought to the global audience through Netflix. This is a show that is packed with lots of excitement and tears, as well as Korea’s traditional beauty which I know many of you are interested in. I hope you guys look forward to it.


The King’s Affection airs every Monday and Tuesday on Netflix.

 

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