“When I was a freshman, I flipped a coin with my friends to decide which club to join and ended up in the theatre club.” One coin flip. That was how Kim Tae-ri found her way onto her first stage, where she started to dream of becoming an actress. Some may say it was just a stroke of serendipity, but in a way, her life under the spotlight was written in the stars.
After working as part of a theatre troupe crew, Tae-ri ventured toward the silver screen without formal acting training. She beat the odds at an audition for renowned director Park Chan-wook’s psychological thriller The Handmaiden and landed her first leading role in her first feature film, one that won her a whopping 11 awards. In the coming-of-age drama Twenty Five Twenty One, Tae-ri transformed into an aspiring fencer and brought her character’s sunny demeanour to life with youthful vigour, taking home Best Actress at the 2022 Baeksang Arts Awards. Her latest sci-fi endeavour, Alienoid, is yet another testament to her versatile acting prowess. As she fondly recalls the start of her career, Tae-ri says: “Thank you, coin.” And as her audience, we’d like to say the same.
We heard that you wanted to become a news anchor before university. When was the moment you knew you actually wanted to be an actress?
I only wanted to give news anchoring a try, but I dreamt about being an actress. When I was a freshman, I flipped a coin with my friends to decide which club to join and ended up in the theatre club. At the beginning of my second year of university, I put on a monodrama performance to promote the club to freshmen — it was then that I decided I wanted to be an actress. So, thank you, coin.
Before your debut, you’ve picked up a handful of part-time jobs at a cafe, convenience store and fast-food restaurant to support yourself. Were there any lessons from these experiences that you carried with you on your acting journey?
I think life is a school for an actor. Of course, my part-time job experiences were helpful in my acting journey. From the moment I open my eyes in the morning until I close my eyes at night and dream, all the stimuli, emotions and thoughts help me act. That’s why I pay attention to the smallest of details and try to live a colourful life.
You recently starred in the global hit series Twenty-Five Twenty-One. What was the first impression you had of your character Na Hee-do? Did that impression change as you stepped into her shoes and delved deeper into the role?
My first impression of Hee-do was: how is it possible for a child to be so full of positivity and radiate such bright energy? Then I realised, ah, she has a dark side. She shines so brightly because she has always fought the darkness in her own way.
If you could say one thing to 21-year-old Kim Tae-ri, what would it be?
You’re doing great. Just continue as you are doing now.
You’re starring in the upcoming sci-fi movie Alienoid. What was the most challenging scene you filmed?
When we first started filming, the action scenes we shot were fun but difficult. I practised hard, but when I arrived on set, everything would change, so I needed time to adjust to that in the beginning. I was a little shy about doing ancient martial arts from the Goryeo Dynasty, but then I got more and more excited about it. The directors and staff all told me to be careful…haha!
Alienoid takes place as the gates of time open between Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty and the present in 2022. If you could travel through time and space, where would you go and why?
This is an interesting question. I’ve thought about it for a long time…but I couldn’t come to a specific conclusion. I’m pretty much in love with the times I’m living in right now. I don’t have this grand desire to travel to the future or go back in time to change history.
Your roles are really diverse and spread across different genres from romance to sci-fi. How do you prepare for them?
I prepare things specific to my roles as I go forward. I learnt Japanese for The Handmaiden, cooking when I filmed Little Forest, horseback riding and shooting for Mr Sunshine, gymnastics for Alienoid and fencing for Twenty Five Twenty One. I also go over the script and talk a lot with the writer and director. Rather than focusing on the genre, I feel like actors should increase our versatility and flexibility so that we can adapt to different changes in the field.
What do you look for when you choose your roles?
I see if it’s a character for a story or a story about a character. I also look at the lines and the scenes. The most important question I ask myself is: “Do you want to play this character?”
What is something you’ve learnt about yourself since your acting debut?
I am a person who always tries my best.
If you were to be reborn and live your life as one of your characters, which one would you be and why?
Hee-do, but I don’t want to be born again. I think Heedo and I are the most similar, and I also want to experience life in the ‘80s and ‘90s fully.
You recently fell in love with bird watching. What made you pick up the hobby? What is your favourite kind of bird?
A close friend asked me to go bird watching, I did, and I just fell in love. First of all, it was really fun to look at something through my binoculars. Once I know the name, shape and sound of a bird, I will keep noticing it in my life, and my day becomes more exciting. My favourite bird is an owl — it’s my dream bird. I haven’t seen it yet.
What’s next for Kim Tae-ri? Where do you see yourself in five years?
I think my future will be very sexy in many ways.
Photography: Kim Yeong Jun
Fashion and Creative Director: Sean Kunjambu
Stylist: Choi Ja Ryoung
Makeup Artist: Oh Yoon Hee
Hair Stylist: Baek Heung Kwon
Manicurist: Kim Sun Kyung
Producer: Lee Kyung Kim @BL Creative House
Vogue Hong Kong’s August issue is available now in bookstores, convenience stores, newsstands and shopify.