[BAEKSANG AND BEYOND] Song Hye-kyo breaks away from sweetheart role, awarded for 'The Glory'
The Baeksang Arts Awards is one of the most prestigious award ceremonies in Korea. Held by the JoongAng Group, it has honored excellence in film, television and theater in Korea since its inception in 1965. The 59th edition took place on April 28 in Incheon, with this year’s focus on works that received international acclaim thanks to online streaming platforms. In this interview series, the Korea JoongAng Daily sits down with Baeksang award recipients to talk more about their wins, careers and plans for the future.
“The Glory” was not only one of Netflix’s biggest hits this year, but to actor Song Hye-kyo, it was a long-awaited chance to finally break away from the role of Korea's sweetheart.
“It was a big challenge for me, one that I had wanted to take on for a long time but just never had the chance to,” Song said. “I’ve been wanting to try different genres, but it wasn’t easy finding a piece where the story and character matched what I had been longing for so much. I am so happy that I met this wonderful piece after such a long long time.”
Song won the Best Actress award at the 59th Baeksang Arts Awards for her portrayal of Moon Dong-eun, a victim of school bullying back for revenge on her perpetrators, in the 16-episode Netflix series that also received the Best Drama award at Baeksang.
“The Glory” was the most-watched TV series not only in Korea but also the world when the first eight episodes were released on Dec. 30 last year and again when the latter half came out on March 10. It became the No. 7 most popular non-English series with 380.38 million hours viewed around the world within the first 28 days after the episodes were revealed.
The humongous success of “The Glory” meant that the honors endowed to Song and her work were no surprise, but Song’s take on a vindictive lady vengeance certainly came as a surprise when it was first revealed to the public.
Song, born in 1981, started modeling in the mid-1990s and made her television debut in 1997. Since then, she had been best acclaimed for her lovable and loving characters in major romantic dramas in Korea, namely “Autumn in My Heart” (2000), “Full House” (2004), “Worlds Within” (2008) and “Descendants of The Sun” (2016).
In Korea, she is considered one of the three most beautiful actors collectively referred to as “Tae Hye Ji,” alongside actors Kim Tae-hee and Jun Ji-hyun. But adding to her looks and accomplishment in acting, she has also been applauded for her charity donations and long years of voluntary work with Professor Seo Kyoung-duk of Sungshin Women’s University to create and distribute historical brochures to museums for free.
When the three decades of the reputation she had built for herself had been slowly putting her in a rut, “The Glory” was the breakthrough she needed to not only show everyone she’s cut out for more than just romance but also to remind herself why she started all this in the first place.
“Dong-eun was a very difficult character to portray, and I was filled with concerns and doubts about whether I was doing it right, even while I was shooting on the scene,” Song said. “I was filled with doubt and pain throughout the whole time, but still, everything felt so fresh and fun. I think that came across to the audiences.”
Song sat down for an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily to discuss more about her big win at the Baeksang Awards, her career and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q. Congratulations on winning the Best Actress award. Why did you parody your own hit line from “The Glory” and say, “I got an award, Yeon-jin. I’m so excited right now” in your speech?
A. It wasn’t planned. They were the lines that so many of “The Glory” fans had liked, so it just came to me very naturally. The moment I stepped on the stage, I saw everyone at “The Glory” congratulating me so much and that brought me to tears. I wanted to lighten up the mood with some humor; plus, I thought that this may be the last chance I may get to say Dong-eun’s lines.
I wanted to say that line one last time in this great place. A lot of people asked me whether I had thought of it beforehand, but it honestly came to me right at that moment. The fact that people liked it so much made me very happy, too. I was actually very nervous on the stage, but saying Dong-eun’s lines made me ease up a little too.
You also said that you were longing for this award very much. Why was that?
It wasn’t because I thought I had done a good job. I got to be a part of a wonderful work with great actors and a very talented director and writers to make such an excellent piece together, so I wanted to be happy with everyone there. And of course, I know that I still have room for improvement, but it made me all the more wishful because I had taken a big challenge with a completely new genre and I was very gratefully loved for it.
Did you think that it would be as popular as it was?
I did in a way, but not this much. I thought that people would like it because it was such a great piece, but even we were surprised to see every character — not just one or two — be loved and every line become a hit trend.
But I think it’s great that the drama has also brought changes for the good of society. I feel like our series has become a reason for social issues to be solved and shed light on past wrongs that had not been righted in the past. Giving some sort of help to the victims really felt good. We feel very fortunate to be of help to the victims.
What was the hardest part for you to shoot?
The most difficult scene that I did was when Dong-eun and her mother come to an emotional explosion at the end, where it was both physically and emotionally very challenging for me. We had to shoot the scene for a whole day, from morning until evening, but it was so emotionally demanding that I couldn’t think of anything when it was all over.
There was also a fire in the background, which meant that we had to shoot the first few scenes indoors and then have the same set made outdoors because of potential hazards. Continuing the emotional streak after a break was really hard for me.
Are there talks of another season of “The Glory”?
We said to ourselves, jokingly, that we should do a part three if the first two parts do well. But [actor] Lee Do-hyun has his military duty left, so I may be too old by the time he finishes. We would have to do it quickly if we were going to do it. I asked the writer Kim Eun-sook, and I thought that she would say no, but she actually said, “I know.” I think she was half joking, but at the same time, half serious.
If everyone on the team was all together again, then yes, I would definitely love to do it.
Is acting still a challenge for you?
When I was younger, in my 20s, I would see older actors in their 30s and 40s and think, “Acting will be so easy when I’m that age.” But it turns out that as I grew older, the characters that I were given became older as well, and it was always new. If looks allow, I think I may be better at acting a character in her 20s because I’ve lived that age and I would know how to express myself. But I would never know what will happen in my 40s or what kind of a character I will be given, so I will have to keep on training myself for what may come.
Why were you longing for a new genre so much?
I had almost always done romance or romantic comedy pieces. However different they may be, at the end of the day, it comes down to love and breakups. The character will always be different, there are so many ways in which you can express love or heartbreaks. So at some point, I felt like I was always showing the same side of myself to the audience; that I wasn’t changing and that viewers weren’t curious about me.
That made me long for a new character in a new place, but it hadn’t been happening for a long time because the more love stories I did, the more romantic pieces I was offered. It’s not that I didn’t like acting. That was never the case. But I did feel like I was repeating myself and I had come to a certain limit in my acting. I needed something new to intrigue myself, too, and that’s when I met “The Glory.” It was very hard, but all the staff there helped me get through it.
How will Song Hye-kyo be in the future?
I don’t think anyone knows that. I could be a good actor — or not. Whatever I’m given, I’m going to do my best. But if my best isn’t enough to convince people, then it means I’m doing it wrong. Whichever way, I will do my best on any good piece and good character I’m given.
I’m always looking for new challenges. I don’t know what good piece I will be given next, but whatever comes up, I will put my best foot forward. I have been so happy to be awarded such a big honor and I will take this energy to try even harder and come back to show you a better side of myself.
BY YOON SO-YEON [firstname.lastname@example.org]