Seo Ju-hyun, known professionally as Seohyun, debuted with the k-pop group Girls Generation in 2007. Performing a succession of bright bubbly songs, such as Gee, Oh and I Got A Boy, the group’s members quickly became international stars. Yet, as much as Seohyun enjoyed performing with Girls Generation, she also longed to act. During the last few years she has realized that wish with a variety of roles in film, TV and musical theater, her most recent role being the likable con artist Cha Joo-eun in the k-drama Private Lives.
“Ever since I was a kid, I dreamt of becoming an actor as well as a singer,” said Seohyun. “What fascinates me is that acting allows you to experience different lives through various characters. You can share the emotions felt by these characters with others, and moreover, be a force of inspiration.”
Singing with Girls Generation helped her become a more confident actress.
“I’m used to being in front of a camera,” said Seohyun. “Having sung and performed in front of crowds for so long, I don’t get nervous or self-conscious about acting in front of so many crew members.”
Musical theater was a fitting transition as it combines singing and acting. For her musical theater debut in 2014, Seohyun played the lead character in Moon Embracing the Sun, a musical based on the Korean drama of the same name. She played Scarlett O’Hara in a musical based on the novel Gone With The Wind, then in 2016 played Sophie in the Korean version of Mamma Mia. As well as appearing on stage, she also played supporting roles in the Chinese film So I Married An Anti-fan and the historical k-drama Moon Lovers: Scarlet Heart Ryeo.
“Musicals, films and dramas each have their own characteristics, but there is one thing I see in common across these areas,” said Seohyun. “In each show or film, I try to raise up the emotions deeply ingrained within me to the highest level possible. When I act based on sincere deep feelings, it helps me to better communicate with the other actors and with the audience. That is common ground. So, no matter the genre or the platform, I do my best to express the true emotions felt at every moment. I find that this is the only way I can bond with my fellow actors and with the viewers.”
Joo-eun in Private Lives is her fourth leading drama role, having previously starred in Bad Thief, Good Thief; Time and Hello Dracula.
“I’m drawn to shows or films that have a core message that moves me, or have strong, intriguing characters,” said Seohyun. “I try not to set limits on myself or the roles I can play. That way, I don’t get trapped by set expectations and can see the stories and characters from an open, broad perspective and from different angles. What I just mentioned is a goal for me as an actor, so it’s important for me not to set limits on the works I choose. I’m just starting out as an actor. I have no doubt that whatever I do to gain diverse experiences will serve as fuel to become a better actor.”
The character Joo-eun grows up with con artist parents and tries to leave the world of scams behind, only to become involved in what seems like a scam in her private life. Joo-eun falls for Lee Jeong-hwan, played by Go Kyung-pyo. He seems ordinary, but has secrets that force him to leave her waiting at the altar. Seohyun was drawn to play the character because Joo-eun is a model of resilience.
“I really empathized with her accepting her given environment and doing her best to thrive within it,” said Seohyun. “I think of Joo-eun’s character as someone keen on self-preservation. This aspect of hers is how she stays true and defends herself against a harsh world. She may appear to be too cold, too difficult to get close to. But over time she is someone you can gradually warm up to. With time and her warmth and vulnerability, the wounds from her past and the touching stories surrounding them shine through her tough exterior. These were the driving factors behind empathizing and connecting with her as one human being to another.”
Seohyun succeeds in playing Joo-eun as a multi-dimensional character, one who talks tough and seems jaded but is secretly vulnerable and hopeful.
“First and foremost, I really tried to portray her not as a simplistic character but as a multi-dimensional being with many facets to her personality. I feel that Joo-eun is someone complex who cannot be defined in an oversimplified way. For example, I thought it was very human and realistic of her to choose to be selfish and indulgent once in a while, especially with her difficult life requiring her to struggle on a daily basis. It was interesting and charming to see the contradictory sides of her personality, clashing almost to the point where it’s hard to believe that they exist in the same person.”
To understand the character Seohyun studied and analyzed what shaped her.
“The most rewarding part of playing Joo-eun was when her wild side, that is so different from her normal self, would show up unexpectedly,” said Seohyun. “As I was transforming myself into her character more and more often, it almost felt like we were becoming one person. That was a rewarding thing to experience.”
The storyline of Private Lives shifts between the perspectives of the different characters, with each episode revealing new insights. Jeong-hwan’s back story reveals that he is more complex than he seems and not heartless enough to purposely leave Joo-eun at the altar. Layers of subterfuge peel away to reveal who characters really are.
“If I were to pick out interesting elements of Private Lives, one would be that it’s a show best experienced from the different perspectives of various characters,” said Seohyun. “In real life, someone else’s take on an incident can be different from mine. In the same way, seeing the events in the show through the lens of each character, can make the show refreshing and interesting on many different levels. Secondly, the way the storyline unfolds is fascinating as it interweaves fact and fiction. Finally, the characters are appealing in different ways, each offering his or her own charms, personality and fashion styles.”
Envisioning her future as an actress, Seohyun wants to continue to challenge herself by playing different roles in various genres.
“Personally, the first that I’d love to take on would be a warm and upbeat romantic comedy or a deeper melodrama. I’d love to show a different kind of a transformation, the kind that differs from my role in Private Lives.”
This story was originally published on forbes.com.