When the time came to film the second season of the historical zombie drama Kingdom, actor Ju Ji-hoon found it easy to revive his role as Crown Prince Lee Chang, despite the year’s gap between the seasons.
“It’s a character that I’ve already played and having the same actors I worked with also makes it easier to slip back into the character in a sequel,” said Ju. “In particular, season two of Kingdom was a strange experience for me—I took about a year off between wrapping up season one and shooting for season two, but I couldn’t feel the time gap. We did promotion for the series in-between and even when I worked on another project during the break, I couldn’t leave Kingdom out of my comments. I’ve been staying in touch with the writer, director and cast members and met up with them sometimes to talk about the series a lot. As we talked about the episodes that happened during the filming of season one, audience feedback, and season two, I didn’t feel the break was that long.”
Kingdom 2 was not Ju’s first sequel as he also appeared in the two Along With The Gods films, but the original film and its sequel were filmed simultaneously, so there was no gap in filming. Ju signed on with the Netflix drama, about a Joseon-era zombie plague, not so much because of the role he was offered but rather due to his faith in the entire project.
“From the refreshing subject matter to writer Kim Eun-hee’s exciting script, direction by director Kim Sung-hoon—and the cast members from season one—all these factors convinced me to continue on the journey to season two,” said Ju. “On top of that, director Park In-je joined us for season two, and the new system of ‘making a TV series with people who make films’ was fascinating. The intensity is definitely higher compared to filming a two-hour film, but the actors were allowed enough time and room to prepare for filming a season that amounts to six hours, so I had faith in the final outcome being of high quality.”
Despite initially prizing the overall project over the role, Ju has created a complex character in the prince, a man whose leadership skills are honed by facing a supernatural disaster. Ju, who is equally happy playing either heroes or villains, as long as the characters are interesting, considers Lee a realistic hero.
“Being the crown prince of a country swept by zombies, he would’ve been praised as a hero if he hadn’t run away and fought to overcome it—but I don’t think Lee Chang had any choice,” said Ju. “He had nowhere to go, and he’s been trying his best given the situation that he found himself in. In our real world, there are a lot of real heroes—people who volunteer themselves to help out those in need in a national crisis or disaster and people who dedicate themselves to dutifully doing their job in such difficult times. I think they’re the real heroes, and from that perspective, I would call Lee Chang a hero.”
The character does continue to evolve in season two and the evolution required some preparation.
“I prepared more thoroughly for this season though, as it has a lot of action scenes and Lee Chang’s character grows and changes throughout the season. Particularly for Lee Chang, he transitions from being passive as seen in season one to becoming more proactive in season two, so I had a lot of discussion with the cast members and directors to make sure that audiences will find his changes and emotional development convincing and find such changes cathartic.”
Would Ju personally stand up to a zombie uprising? The actor, whose resume also includes the dramas Princess Hours, Five Fingers and Mask and the films The Spy Gone North, Antique and Dark Figure of Crime, said he would try his best to defeat such a disaster.
“I don’t think I would deliberately put myself forward, but I’ll try my best to do what I can given the situation.”
Kingdom has been described as a political drama because the court is embroiled in a struggle for power while zombies ravage the country. Those who oppose the prince’s right to the throne want to kill him and the zombies want to kill everyone. United, the warring forces could take on the zombies but instead power plays could prove to be a fatal distraction.
“I think one of the lessons we can take from the series is that we need to stay united in times of crisis rather than splitting up into different groups.
Ju also currently stars in the drama Hyena deftly playing an overconfident top-notch attorney, who meets his match in an unconventional female attorney. He will soon begin shooting the film Kidnapped (Pi-rap).
This article was originally published on forbes.com.