Decoding Doona Bae's Many Faces

Doona Bae has played a baker's dozen unconventional roles, including her debut as the South Korean version of the infamous killer ghost Sadako in "The Ring Virus," a vengeful archer in Bong Joon-"The Host," and a lesbian policewoman in the critically acclaimed Cannes favorite "A Girl at My Door." In addition, the 38-year-old South Korean actress is a Wachowski favorite, having played a pivotal role in the multigenerational tale "Cloud Atlas," an almost unrecognizable appearance as a bounty hunter in the space opera "Jupiter Ascending," and leading the cast of the short-lived-but-loved Netflix series "Sense8."

Woman with close eyes deeply breathing
Photo by Vinny on Twitter

So it may come as a surprise to learn that the real-life Doona Bae is more restrained and introverted, even dreamlike in her reluctance, than her typically spirited performances on cinema and television. She speaks slowly, almost lazily, and has a habit of becoming lost in contemplation mid-sentence before returning sheepishly to Earth.

The majority of her comments were evasive. When asked about her early days as an actor, she, for example, displayed a kind of shyness, as if embarrassed about ever wanting to act in the first place. She was scouted as a model on the streets, so she began modeling first and had no interest in acting. However, her mother was a stage performer when she was small, perhaps five or six, and she grew up witnessing her performances.

Unlike most of South Korea's media darlings, who won hearts with depictions of feminine paragons such as the blushing ingénue, long-suffering wife, or devoted lover, Bae finds almost perverse joy in playing roles that defy the notion of the perfect Korean woman.

However, she refutes the notion that she made casting decisions based on the role. She chose a film to portray a part she would love to play. For her, the director is more important than the character. Excellent directors create great stories and characters.

Nonetheless, it appears that colorful characters chose Bae, who embodies them enthusiastically. It needs to 'be' when she plays a role. You read a script, and it enters your mind, travels through your body, and then exits. It turns out differently.

She also defines her acting style as "instinctive." She strives not to have any prejudice. She trains hard and works hard on herself when she plays as an athlete, a fighter, or a ping pong player. She practices physically in the morning and evening, which allows her to enter the character effortlessly."

She also mentions makeup and costume as techniques. For example, if she plays a prisoner, it's quite easy for her to get into character once she puts on the jail uniform. It happens automatically.

Despite Bae being one of the few South Korean actresses who has successfully crossed over to mainstream Hollywood, she still wants to stay at home, claiming that the South Korean film industry "feels like home."

Instead, she argues, Hollywood was never a desire of hers in the first place, thus crossing over came with no expectations. Instead, her first Hollywood experience, when she was cast in "Cloud Atlas," was more enjoyable than terrifying. Working with performers, she grew up watching on TV was a lot of fun, such as Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. In addition, she enjoys learning new things; it is a fun challenge for her.

The concept of challenge appears to bring out the hidden Bae from beneath her collected apathy, the spunky, fiery Bae that spectators are more accustomed to seeing in her on-screen appearances. She is hooked on to challenge. Every new character presents a unique difficulty, but she needs an easy character to portray.

If there's nothing to challenge me when I read a script anymore, I'm like, 'Hmm, boring!'"

Bae's next television appearance will be in the upcoming Netflix original "Kingdom," a Korean language mini-series set in medieval Joseon. She co-stars with erstwhile teen heartthrob-turned-serious actor Ju Ji-Hoon.

However, if you're expecting a courtly drama like many South Korean period works, you'll be disappointed since this is Doona Bae, after all. "It's a zombie period TV drama," she says, with a slight grin. "There are zombies, and my character is a nurse."

That may be why, when asked what to anticipate from the actress next, a generally soft-ball inquiry that almost always results in a passionate plug for whatever next film has to be pushed, Bae breaks the standard once more. Instead, she remains silent for a long time, as though carefully composing her response. Then she drops this diamond.