|Han Ye-ri / Courtesy of Pancinema|
By Kwak Yeon-soo
When Han Ye-ri first saw the script for director Lee Isaac Chung's moving drama, "Minari," she didn't think it was a story about immigrants. She thought it depicted the universal story of a family.
The semi-autobiographical story of Chung, the film tells the story of a Korean immigrant family that moves to rural Arkansas to start a farm in the 1980s.
Han plays the role of Monica, a young mother who follows her husband's decision to move to Arkansas in pursuit of the American dream. To portray Monica and bring emotion to her character, Han said that she turned to a particular person for inspiration.
"To portray Monica, I thought about my mother a lot. It made me think about women who lived in that era and raised children in their early twenties, trying to make better decisions for their families," she said during an interview with The Korea Times via Zoom, Tuesday.
The questions Han held in mind while filming were: "why does Monica love Jacob?" and "why is she staying with him?"
"Monica never mentions divorce. Instead, she just pours out her heart to Jacob and implies that she's barely hanging on. I believe that she truly supports his dream and loves him so much, but when Jacob chooses the farm over the family, she realizes that their relationship is falling apart," Han explained.
|Han Ye-ri in a scene from "Minari" / Courtesy of Pancinema|
On starring opposite Steven Yeun, the actress said, "He is an honest and really sweet person. We talked a lot about the scenes and asked for each other's help when necessary. He was so passionate that it inspired me to want to do more and be better."
The actress also talked about her on- and off-set chemistry with Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho, who played her son David and daughter Anne, respectively.
"They were so adorable. The two barely had any experience with acting, so they followed me around on set, calling me 'Monica-mom,'" she said.
"Minari" highlights the loving and affectionate relationship between Monica and her mother, Soon-ja, because her father passed away when she was young.
"I think Monica loves Soon-ja because she has a distinct philosophy and personality. For that same reason, Monica loves Jacob because he's always striving to achieve something on his own. He simply doesn't wait for something to fall into his lap," Han said.
The 36-year-old actress recalled that the most challenging part of the 25-day shoot was beating the heat. "It was a tight schedule, so we didn't have time to spare. The weather was so hot that it was even hard to concentrate. The most joyous part was gathering on weekends or evenings to have dinner together," she said.
|Han Ye-ri / Courtesy of Pancinema|
Han said that she is well-aware of people's anticipation for the possibility of an Oscar nomination for "Minari." In fact, "Rain Song," the lullaby-like song sung by Han, was included among the 15 shortlisted for the 93rd Academy Award's Original Song category.
"I happily accepted Emile Mosseri's ('Minari' composer) offer to participate in the soundtrack because I was willing to do everything that could be helpful to our film. I was both surprised and happy to hear that 'Rain Song' was shortlisted for the best original song at the Oscars. To be honest, I'm a bit embarrassed by the news, too," she said.
She added, "I hope that Isaac has good news ― whether it's a director's award or a screenplay award or a best feature award. Moreover, I hope Youn Yuh-jung gets a nod for best supporting actress. But even if we don't receive anything from the Oscars, we're already getting enough love from our fans."
The reason "Minari" is special for Han is that she learned a lot about herself and her parents from the experience.
"Not all Koreans have experienced immigration, but 'Minari' will be able to resonate with all of us because it reminds us of our own childhood memories and families. Without forcing emotions on the audience, it gives them the room to step back and see how these characters live their lives and go through growing pains," she said.
"Minari" will hit local theaters on March 3.