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Actress Bae Doona in love with her role in 'Cloud Atlas'

All Headlines 18:13 December 13, 2012

By Shim Sun-ah

SEOUL, Dec. 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korean actress Bae Doona never dreamed of starring in a Western film. For the lead actress of "The Host," a 2006 sci-fi blockbuster that is one of the most-viewed movies in the country, her lack of English speaking skills made Hollywood seem like an alien world.

So, when she was offered an audition for a hefty role in "Cloud Atlas," a new film co-directed by the Wachowski siblings, best known for "The Matrix" series, and their close friend, German director Tom Tykwer, she could not believe her ears.

"With a quick glimpse of the script carrying the names of the three directors, I became curious how this screenplay came to me and how they knew me. It was amazing," Bae said during a press conference to promote the film in Seoul.

"And as I read the screenplay and the original book translated into Korean and came to know more about the character Sonmi, I got the thought that I can portray Sonmi better than anyone else even though I wasn't good at speaking English, far worse than I am now," the 33-year-old actress said. She later had an audition, her first in 13 years, in Chicago and the directors chose her for the cast. Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving and Jim Sturgess are among the film's cast.

"Everything was new to me, I was really happy to work with really good directors and a cast most of whom I have seen only in movies."

The film is an adaptation of David Mitchell's 2004 best-selling novel of the same name with a unique structure where multiple stories in different time periods are told chronologically from past to future and then back again.

The novel has six story lines -- each with a different central character -- but the characters are interconnected by their ability to escape the fate that has been prepared for them.

In the fifth story set in "Neo Seoul" in 2144, Sonmi is a genetically engineered clone, who is one of many fabricants grown to work at, among other places, a fast-food restaurant called Papa Song's, and treated as slave labor by the "pure blood" society. Becoming self-aware thanks to individuals from a rebel underground, she later leads a revolution against those "pure blood" people for freedom.

Lana Wachowski, one of the three directors who also attended the news conference, praised Bae's acting ability.

"Even though her conversational English was very limited, the actual performance was quite riveting," the director said.

"She had this quality that I hoped for Sonmi. That Sonmi we felt had to be able to feel innocent in the way you almost see like a deer, a deer can project a feeling of innocence or a quality that was almost trans-human where she was almost so innocent she was not human like the way a baby would feel but in an adult. And yet then she had to evolve into this incredibly strong revolutionary leader. And that's what is so unique about Doona," Lana Wachowski said.

"She has this capacity to in a performance inhabit such a pure emotional vulnerability where you feel like there's almost nothing between the lens and her emotion. And then yet underneath that openness and sweetness, there is a sort of strength, a toughness, a kind of steel in her bones that you could believe could lead the revolution."

The director says she first saw Bae in her 2001 film, "Take Care of My Cat."

"And I was like 'Wow? Who is that girl?' And then I kept watching her films -- 'Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance' (2002) and 'The Host' and 'Air Doll' (2009)," the director recalled.

"When we were thinking about Sonmi for the first time in the beginning, we were talking about doing the multiple races and the transformation of actors from one gender to one race to one age to another. And in the way we had the six main parts, we kind of had this emotional feeling that the one from Seoul should be a Korean. And then I suggested Doona."

The five other stories are: an 1849 Pacific sea voyage where a crooked doctor (Hanks), a novice sailor (Sturgess) and an escaped slave (David Gyasi) cross paths; a saga of dueling composers (Broadbent, Ben Whishaw) set in 1936 Cambridge; a San Francisco-set 1970s thriller about a rogue journalist (Berry) taking on a nuclear power chief (Hugh Grant); a 2012-set comedy about a down-on-his-luck London book editor (Broadbent); and a 24th century tale of tribal warfare, where Zachry (Hanks), a member of a tribe called the Valleymen, teams up with a visiting explorer (Berry) in search of a groundbreaking discovery.

In addition to the role as Sonmi, Bae also acted as the wife of the novice sailor and a Mexican mother.

Bae showed her strong affection for the role of Sonmi.

"I helplessly like the character so much. I was devotedly attached to Sonmi while living for four months as Sonmi," she said.

The movie is set to open in Korean theaters on Jan. 10.


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