Since the ’90s, veteran television and stage actress Jung Ae-ri has been one of the go-to gals for portrayals of stoic, intellectual women.
She’s played every stock character in Korean drama -- doting daughter-in-law, loving mother, working professional and even mediator for a television show that deals with troubled marriages.
But these days the soft-spoken 50-year-old wants to expand her horizons into darker territory.
Though her latest role in “Beautiful Farewell” heralds her return to the stage after a three-year hiatus, she has begun taking on characters of sly, sinister women -- roles in which she has reveled.
“There’s something engaging and almost seductive about playing villainous roles,” she told The Korea Herald.
“As an actress, I’ve played similar roles of nice characters over the years -- sometimes even back to back -- and you sometimes get a bit bored, and for me taking on such different characters was refreshing.”
Until her high-profile role as cold-hearted stepmother in the 2008 KBS drama “Women in the Sun,” Jung had played characters viewers had either loved or related to.
Since her debut in 1978 as an actress signed exclusively with KBS, she’s played attorneys, journalists and doctors in films, movies and on the stage.
However, Jung said it was never her intention to corner herself.
“I didn’t go after roles during that time,” she said.
“I made choices based on the scripts I would be given and the options presented to me during that time just so happened to have been roles of nice, pleasant women but in my mind, I’ve always had urges to change it up a bit but that didn’t happen often.”
That change in gear came in 1997 in the local stage production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
Her role tandem role as both a ditzy nurse and an uncouth senior citizen brought her much acclaim and in the following year, she took home the Best Actress award at the Seoul Theater Festival.
From there, offers of roles radically different from the ones she had been known for came pouring in.
But in her stage return for “Beautiful Farewell” she plays a role seemingly tailor made for her.
It is a stage remake of the 1996 television drama of the same that scored big with viewers nationwide.
People have dubbed it, “the drama that brought the nation to tears” as the story tells of a devoted homemaker and mother diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Although her recent roles have been diverse over a wide spectrum, one thing is common in all of them.
They have all been portrayals of mothers.
“I don’t think the character I portray in the play is someone who is strictly sacrificial and committed to her family,” she said.
“She is someone who is the way she is because that’s the only way she knows how to live life. So I approached the role not in a way that would make her seem like that kind of woman but more as a woman who is just simply carrying on with what she’s always done.”
Jung believes such traits are inherent in Korean mothers and also their essence -- mothers who make personal compromises not because they are innately sacrificial but because that is the way they had been brought up.
“In my previous roles as characters with objectionable traits, I didn’t try to take them on thinking I was going to be as nasty as I can be,” she said.
“Instead, I tried to understand all of the variables and circumstances throughout their life that might have made them turn into such cynical and wicked people and that’s how I try to approach all of my roles.”
By Song Woong-ki (email@example.com