“I learned from Ji-hoon that I reap what I sow!”
This is a line shouted out by lawyer Baek Ma-ri, portrayed by Kim Ji-eun, as she goes undercover and tries to get hired at a secondhand car dealer, in the hit SBS drama series “One Dollar Lawyer.”
As an inexperienced lawyer working under lawyer Cheon Ji-hoon, played by Namkoong Min, Ma-ri is willing to do anything to tackle her case: sometimes comically, sometimes touchingly.
Though many had expected veteran actor Namkoong Min to steal the show, Kim, too, reaped what she sowed in hard work to rise above and leave a big impression.
Together with Ji-hoon’s legal assistant Sa Mu-jang, portrayed by Park Jin-woo, the trio succeeded in wrapping up the 12-episode series in high sails with a viewership rate of 15.2 percent last week.
Kim met with the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, at the building of her agency HB Entertainment in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, before the series ended and said at the press interview that she felt like she really was part of the show as she “created the scenes together” with Nam and Park.
As part of an elite family and the only heir to a famous law firm, Ma-ri is unafraid to stand up against the majority and has the guts to stick to what she thinks is right. However, Kim said that she “used all of the whimsicalness and mischief” hidden within herself to portray her character.
“Directors and writers initially wanted a more cynical Ma-ri, but she became the lovely character you saw on screen after multiple discussions,” Kim said.
The set, Kim recalled, was always full of new ideas and ad-libs from the actors.
“The casino set was too pretty to only film briefly,” she said. “So [Namkoong and I] suggested adding scenes where we play games.”
Kim, who had already worked with Namkoong and Park in the MBC drama series “The Veil” in 2021, felt comfortable enough to not hold back when she had ideas. When asked whether or not she felt sorry to see the series cut back two episodes from its original 14 episodes, she hesitated before responding, “I did the best I could within my boundaries. It would have been fun for the characters to solve more cases, because the show [had already put] a lot of focus on diving into Ji-hoon’s past.”
As the title implies, Ji-hoon was always at his clients’ beck and call, taking their cases for the fee of one dollar. Similarly, Nam’s presence on the set was a relief to Kim, who was struggling with near anonymity after debuting in the entertainment industry in 2016 through a coffee commercial. Namkoong, after meeting her through a minor role as a victim of dating violence in KBS2 drama series “Dr. Prisoner” (2019), recommended her for “The Veil.”
“We’d only filmed one scene together, but he asked me my name and age,” Kim reminisces. “He didn’t exactly put me on the map for the role [in ‘The Veil’] but he did recommend me and several other actors to the director. Later, when I found out, I asked him the reason behind his recommendation. He said that watching me felt like holding up a mirror to his past-self, when he was full of passion but things wouldn’t always work out for him. I was so grateful, and I hope that I can become an actor like him, able to climb up to a position where I can help other actors in need.”
Before Kim made a name for herself through OCN’s “Strangers from Hell” (2019), the actor described her first three years after her debut as “the hardest time” of her life.
“Whatever minor role I would land on, I would do it with relish, but as I couldn’t land an audition for a year and a half, it became difficult for me to make the ends meet.”
As she struggled to juggle her acting work and part-time jobs in fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and cafes, she even thought of quitting it all and going back to her hometown in Incheon.
“I think I was overwhelmed with negativity because I continued to fail to receive callbacks from my auditions,” she said. “I had to take three auditions to land a role in ‘The Veil,’ and I wanted the part so much that I overdid it and all of my bad habits came out. For the last audition, I just thought to myself, what the heck, and just relaxed — and that’s when I got the call that I made it.”
Although it was a hard-earned opportunity, the actor said she “continued to make stupid mistakes” because she was caught up in the pressure that she had to prove herself for her first-ever lead role.
“I was so tense that my scenes, reactions and everything else were so stiff and unnatural,” she reminisced.
When she was offered another role in SBS’s “Again My Life” (2022), she was worried that, again, her performance wouldn’t measure up to her expectations.
“Thankfully, I found my pace as I began filming,” she said.
Now Kim has no time to rest as her next role has already been set: She will star alongside Na In-woo in ENA drama series “I’ve Been Waiting for You” (translated), which is a mystery thriller revolving around a machoistic detective trying to get revenge on behalf of his younger brother.
“I hope to learn life through a variety of characters that I portray,” she said. “As much fun as that would be, it would also be as just as hard, I know. But I don’t want to wake up one day, married, watching the television and regret not taking that chance — to mutter to myself, ‘I once dreamed of being an actor. I could have been there.’ I give myself a pat on the back for not giving up and pulling through.”
BY MIN KYUNG-WON [email@example.com]