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[Herald Interview] Jung Ryeo-won on the joy of finding strong female character

  • Published : Dec 14, 2017 - 15:14
  • Updated : Dec 14, 2017 - 15:14

Lauded for charismatic, sensitive portrayal, actress discusses empowerment of women, artists

In the recently concluded drama series “Witch at Court,” Jung Ryeo-won took on a role that is the exact opposite of her nature.

Jung, 36, is known as many things in the industry -- former K-pop idol star, fashionista, painter, an actress with a knack for naturalistic portrayals and a rare bohemian free-spirit in mainstream media.

In the KBS legal procedural drama, which ran from October to November, she played Ma I-deum, a highly ambitious prosecutor who speaks her mind and is known for her aggressive investigation tactics.

Jung Ryeo-won poses for a photo before an interview in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Wednesday. (Key East)
In real life, actress Jung is extremely timid. “I’m the type of person that comes home (after a confrontation) and thinks, ‘Why couldn’t I think of that comeback earlier?’ Then I write in my diary,” she said in an interview at a cafe in Gangnam-gu, Seoul on Wednesday.

The character Ma, who was raised a single mother, vows to achieve success in her career. She contributes to uncovering numerous cases at the prosecutor’s office, but is shunted off to the department for crimes against women and children, regarded as a marginal post, after testifying against a powerful figure for sexual harassment.

Ma is enraged at first, but the show details her growth as she comes to understand the struggles of the victims she defends.

It was liberating to play the role, Jung said, not only as an introvert but also as a working woman.

“I remember telling my friends, I really hope someone will write a female character who is not passive, who, as a member of society, says what needs to be said. (Ma) was exactly that kind of character.”

Jung Ryeo-won poses for a photo before an interview in Gangnam-gu, Seoul, Wednesday. (Key East)
Jung, who made her acting debut in 2002 after a brief stint in K-pop group Chakra, has compiled a diverse filmography. She was instantly attracted to Ma upon reading the script, Jung said. “I remember telling our writer (Jung Do-yoon, “Baby-faced Beauty,” 2011) and director (Kim Young-kyun, “Spy Myung-wol,” 2011) that I really wanted the role. I also told them that I honestly might not be able to do a good job, since my personality is the exact opposite of hers.”

Jung did get the job, and she chopped off her hair the day she got the news. “I felt it better suited the character. And I didn’t want them to back out from choosing me!” she said. The actress went on to ace the part and was lauded for bringing Ma to life in a performance that is both charismatic and sensitive. Jung has been nominated for best actress by the KBS Drama Awards, set to take place on Dec. 31.

“Witch at Court” was heralded as a socially-conscious series of both commercial and critical success, dealing with crimes against women and children and the treatment of women in the workplace.

Both the crew and actors were hyper-vigilant when filming fictional victims of sex crimes, Jung said. “We didn’t want to cause additional harm to victims who might be watching the show. We would all get together and debate on the issue,” she recalled. “We were all studying on set. I feel a greater sense of responsibility now.”

Jung, whose hobby is painting -- she has a studio in Pyeongchang-dong, Seoul -- hopes to immerse herself in art and travel for the time being, until she meets that next role that ignites a spark in her. “It might be interesting to play an artist, actually,” she says. “You see a lot of rich gallerists on TV, but I don’t think I’ve seen a creative, sensitive artist on Korean TV.”

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)