Remember Jewel In The Palace, the Korean TV epic about a kind-hearted palace cook, who overcomes the odds to become the first female royal physician? We sure do. But where did Lee Young Ae disappear to after that? Well, after a 14 year long break, the star is making her TV comeback in the historical drama Saimdang. We speak to her over email where she recalls the pain (the cold, cold weather), the joys (co-star Song Seung Heon, of course) of filming the drama, and what she's been up in the past decade.
8 DAYS: Saimdang is your first TV show since 2003’s Jewel in the Palace. What challenges did you face while filming?
To me, the biggest challenge was the chilly weather, which caused me to catch a cold several times. I also had many lines in the drama, so having good stamina and making sure I was in my best condition during filming was difficult as well.
On Saimdang, you play Joseon-era artist and calligrapher Shin Saimdang. How did you prepare for the role?
LEE YOUNG AE: Saimdang is a figure who really existed and she lived in Korea 500 years ago, and she was a famous female painter. I wanted to recreate the paintings created by Saimdang, so I practiced drawing and worked on folk paintings for about a month. It was really fun and beneficial. I also went to the traditional Korean costumes museum and looked at some of the relics and Hanbok pieces from more than 500 years ago. It felt like I was travelling back in time, and it allowed me to focus on the character even more. Plus, I chose some songs which complemented the affectionate scenes between the two lead [characters], and listened to them frequently to get in the mood.
Speaking of which, what was it like working opposite Song Seung-Heon?
Well, as we all know, Song Seung-Heon is loved by all women in Asia. Even our crew, especially the female staff members, adore him. It’s very refreshing to work with him, and he is uniquely charming and attractive in his own way. He’s very good-looking in person, and he is kind and sweet but sometimes cute and cheeky. I had a lot of fun working with him.
Are you nervous about viewers watching you after such a long break?
Well, if I say that I am not nervous at all, that would be a lie. From the very beginning, since the drama was announced, it seemed like many fans in Korea as well as Asia paid attention to it. That raised my expectations too. Of course, I would love it if we can get high ratings for the drama, but I hope that the story can warm and touch the hearts of our viewers at the same time. If we can achieve that, it would mean that the drama is successful to me.
So what have you been busy with in the past decade?
After I got married [in 2009], I started my doctoral program in a graduate school. I wanted to study acting in a more profound way and I had a great time learning about it in school. I believe that what I learnt during my doctoral course has helped me a lot during the filming of Saimdang. I also had a great time watching my kids grow up. Starting a family [after I had my twins in 2011] has given me a newfound joy in life.
Why did you decide to return to showbiz then?
I had wanted to make my comeback and meet my fans and viewers earlier, but I had [children] at a later stage in my life, and it made me realise how precious it is to have a family of my own. So I focused on my family for a few years, which is why I took a longer time to make a comeback. While I was looking after my family, I came across Saimdang, which was impossible to turn down as I thought the role would allow me show the viewers new aspects of me as compared to my role in Jewel in the Palace. That’s why I decided to return to showbiz with this drama.
Do you miss your kids when you are at work?
My husband took the kids to the film set to visit me on weekends when he was free. My kids are at the age when they miss their mum a lot, so it’s nice to have them come on set, and I can also show them that this is what is I do. It gives them new experiences too. This also allows my husband to realise that acting is not an easy task. When I am too busy filming, my husband would take care of the kids. In that way, I get to have a good balance of enjoying work and spending time with my kids.
Saimdang airs Wed & Thur, Oh!K (Singtel TV Ch 525/611 & StarHub Ch 816), 9pm.