Film & TV

From Korea to Hollywood, Doona Bae is a Global Sensation

The actress's impressive list of accomplishments prove her to be a major star far beyond her home country.
Reading time 7 minutes

Photography by Danny Lowe

Styling by Vanessa Bellugeon

You may know her form the Wachowski Sisters-directed hit Netflix series Sense8, playing the role of Sun Bak, a Korean businesswoman specializing in martial arts. Or, if super-powers infused entertainment isn’t your thing, then you’re likely to have spotted her in the latest Louis Vuitton pre-fall campaign, where she poses alongside Michelle Williams and Léa Seydoux. If you’re a Japanese film buff, then you most definitely remember her starring in director Hirokazu Koreeda’s Air Doll (think Mannequin, but with an inflatable bouncy doll instead of Kim Cattrall). Doona Bae is, in short, a global sensation, known as much for Hollywood bona fides as she is for her runway good looks. With a list of credits to her name—including her breakout performance in the Wachowski helmed Cloud Atlas—and a forthcoming role in director Eric Lartigau’s #jesuislà starring opposite legendary French actor Alain Chabat, Bae is intent not just on conquering Hollywood, but the world. Here, she sits down with L’Officiel USA to discuss #jesuislà, acting in Korea and Hollywood, and her longstanding relationship with the Wachowskis.

CLAIRE BEGHIN​​​: Tell us more about #jesuislà.

DOONA BAE: I have a few close French friends, Eric Lartigau being one of them. When he introduced me to his new project, which was going to take place in South Korea, I was seduced by the story and I immediately said yes. I’ve always loved shooting in my country. Filming with them was a fun, unforgettable, and moving experience.

 

CB: What was it like to star alongside Alain Chabat?

DB: To be honest, I don't watch a lot of movies and I'm not a great connoisseur of French cinema. But I had seen Alain’s movies. I now have great respect for him; he is as adorable as he is extraordinary, both as an actor and as a human being. Working alongside him is inspiring. His example as an actor enables other actors to reach a higher level. All I had to do was look him in the eye and my ability to perform was spontaneous.

 

CB: How has your vision of Seoul, where you were born, changed since you made films there?

DB: I’ve often shot in Seoul, including every season of Sense8. But during my time working on #jesuislà I had something of a realization: an awareness of how differently foreigners perceive a place that is, for me, something so familiar. Through their novel experiences of Seoul and how the film was shot, I observed it with a more aesthetic and exotic eye. In many ways, I also felt like I was a host during the time we were shooting— I wanted to ensure their experience of Seoul reflected what it means to me.

CB: Your work bridges both the American and Korean film industries. How do you negotiate between the two and how has one affected the other?

DB: I’m not ambitious; I didn't intend to make a career in Hollywood. I have been lucky enough to receive many interesting proposals and I am working on them with the same curiosity, without a strategic approach. Perhaps it is a lack of sensitivity, but I do not feel any difference, except, of course, at the level of budget. To create a good film, everyone does their best by trusting a good leader. As an interpreter, I put myself at [the director's] service. That is my conviction as an actress.

 

CB: How have you seen Korean cinema evolve?

DB: I believe it has already undergone significant change at an incredible speed. When I started twenty years ago, there were already several directors with very bold visions for what Korean cinema could be— like Bong Joon-ho, for example, who won the Palme d’Or for Parasite. As with any industry, cinema’s success relies on the support of the public, of the audience. I’ve never seen audiences as invested in going to films as South Koreans. Cinema is a part of our lives.

CB: You have a close relationship with the Wachowskis. When did that begin?

DB: They have become as important as my mother; they have my respect and my trust. When they contacted me to participate in Cloud Atlas, I couldn’t believe it. We first met on Skype and I made a demo tape that I sent them. They gave me an important role despite my lack of English proficiency. I believe that a certain understanding developed between us at that time, which pushed me to follow them on Sense8. Thanks to them, I have had opportunities that are not given to all the actors. Most importantly, it is the passion they bring to their work that has made our collaboration so enjoyable. They made me want to surpass myself and enabled me to overcome fear and limits.

 

CB: Do you have a favorite project from your past?

DB: Every film is important because you always learn something. But it was my first film that shaped my convictions as an actress. I am thinking in particular of Bong Joon-ho’s Barking Dogs. He brought me a new vision of my work. Before I met him, I tended to associate acting with beauty and glitter. Kwak Ji-kyun’s Plum Blossom has also profoundly influenced my style of play. He taught me to put myself in the shoes of a character. I'm not sure I'd be able to play with all my heart if I hadn't worked with him.

 

CB: How do you prepare for a role?

DB: When I choose a movie, I choose a character that I understand. Then I make the necessary efforts to be ready professionally: learn archery to play an archer, kick-boxing to make a combat scene work. For #jesuislà, I had to learn French. It is these concrete training sessions that allow me to better understand a character and to play it with realness.

 

CB: Is there a role that you dream of playing?

DB: I’ve already had the chance to play all the characters I wanted to. I do not dream of a role or a particular type of film—I am happy to accept the roles that inspire me.

Credits

Makeup Jun Sung Lee

Hair David Delicourt (Calliste)

Producer Joshua Glasgow

Photo Assistant Mehdi Sefrioui

Styling Assistant Gabriela Cambero

Studio Studio Sal

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