Cha Chung-hwa radiates positivity on and off screen
Sixteen years after her debut, Cha Chung-hwa finally had her chance to shine thanks to tvN drama series “Mr. Queen,” which recently ended. Her character, known as court lady Choi, constantly looks after the queen and has her best intentions at heart. From the first episode, when the spirit of star chef Bong-hwan enters the body of Queen Kim Cheorin, the strict and worrisome Choi is always by her side. The look of complete horror on her face when the queen does something preposterous drew laughter from the audience, and her presence always promised viewers a laugh from the very first episode of the series.
The actor is just as dynamic when the camera is off. During a recent interview with the Ilgan Sports, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, her positive energy shone throughout. The following are edited excerpts of the interview.
Q. How do you feel now that the series has ended?
A. I’m really just so very stunned at how many people loved my character. I think the viewers related to Choi because they loved the queen as much as she did. I still haven’t let go of my character. It doesn’t feel as if it’s over — I feel like there’s more that I can give [to the series].
Q. Your character stood out from the very first episode.
A. The viewership rating for the first episode, thankfully enough, got us off to a good start and my friends said that [the story] was entertaining. More than anything else, my mother had fun watching it. You know, your friends can be the harshest critics — they aren’t afraid to be straightforward with you — but all of them said that it was fun. I had such a blast while we were filming it and hoped that the vibe could transcend through the screen, and I was grateful that people seemed to be at the receiving end.
Q. How were you cast for the series?
A. When I met with the director, the scripts for the sixth episode had come out. He [the director] strongly felt that I should be part of the scene where Choi yells in the bamboo forest. I read the script and it was so funny. If a usually polite person who strictly abides by the palace rules runs out [of the palace] to scream, I felt that a very good pansori [traditional narrative singing] could be created. I asked the director if I could try that, and he said to do as I wished. So I acted without any kind of restrictions or directions.
Q. How do you think you will remember “Mr. Queen”?
A. It’s a series that received so much love and I really appreciate how much people loved Choi. I always think that the role that I’m doing now is my most memorable character, but I think that Choi will stick around a little longer than others.
Q. Your chemistry with actor Shin Hae-sun [who played Queen Kim Cheorin] was also evident on screen.
A. It was more than I could have ever imagined. She’s such a good companion. She’s pretty, cute, amiable and an exceptional actor and on top of that, she’s diligent. She’s basically a very likeable person. Her staff and manager was very kind to me too. I felt that she was a powerful actor when I saw her on television, but when I met her in person, I came to like her even more. She was very reliable, and even though it must’ve been difficult for her and a lot of pressure to lead the drama, she showed no signs of tiring.
Q. You also left a very strong impression with your previous role as Yang Ok-geum in tvN series “Crash Landing on You (2019).”
A. It was such an honor to be part of that cast. It was my first time learning to speak with a North Korean accent, and I was so happy that I was learning something new while doing a job that I love. What I envy the most about entertainer Yoo Jae-suk is that he gets to slip into multiple personas and learn new things on the MBC show “Hangout with Yoo.” I had such a great time receiving lessons for free while doing my job.
Q. You debuted through musical “Backstreet Story” in 2005. How has the past 16 years as an actor been?
A. It still doesn’t feel like it’s been that long. I immediately debuted after I graduated, but back then I wondered if I’d chosen the wrong path. So I took a detour and tried other jobs. I wanted to work for a company and there was even a time when I was so career-driven and focused on getting a promotion. There aren't any promotions with acting. I tried working for an advertising company that I interned at, but it didn’t suit me. So I came back to acting. I started working seriously as an actor after I turned 30.
Q. Where do you draw inspiration from?
A. There’s a lot that comes from experience, but I think most of my inspiration lies in imagination. I used to daydream a lot from when I was little, and sometimes experience hinders my acting. When I was younger, I sometimes struggled because I tried to think within my own experience. I learned to put that aside and think, ‘there could be people like them’ or ‘there can be people whom I can’t understand.’ I learned a lot through reading novels and other books and watching films, and it helped in more ways than one to start processing [information].
Q. Do you feel that you’re being recognized overseas as well?
A. I’ve never created my own social media account before but I do watch YouTube. Once I had the courage to read the comments and I was so surprised that many of them were from foreigners. I felt so happy and grateful.
Q. You’re appearing more frequently on variety shows these days.
A. I got to meet Yoo again through “Running Man” on SBS after we met on “Happy Together” on KBS last year. It was my first time talking with him while I was running. It was fun. He’s the kind of person who takes care of the people around him. I was worried because I wasn’t really good at the games, but he told me that’s fine, I just needed to have fun. So that’s what I did.
For “On & Off” on tvN, I’m not as outgoing [as the characters that I’ve portrayed in the past]. Personally I am a little shy, and I like spending time alone, and my friends respect that. Since I have a profession in which I need to display my energy, on my off days I live [more quietly] and I was so worried that I would be too boring for others to enjoy watching. But the staff were so nice that I almost immediately opened up.
Q. Are there any other genres or characters you'd like to try your hand at?
A. I’m actually just excited about what kind of roles will be offered to me. I hope I’m approachable enough for [casting directors] to suggest any roles without prejudices. I’m going to try my best [at any role]. I want to draw out responses like “she can even do that?” That will be the goal I need to achieve for the rest of my life as an actor, and my ultimate goal as well. What’s so great about this job is that I get to slip into new roles through new stories. My heart still flutters every time I receive a new script. There’s still so much that I haven’t done, so I want to try it all. There are so many personalities residing within me.
Q. What’s your motto in life?
A. My goal is to become the type of person that you always want to see [on the screen]. The kind of person who can empathize with the audience in both happiness and sadness until I die, that’s the hope I have.
BY HWANG SO-YOUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]