Not long ago, I read an interview where K-drama actor Kim Min Jae gave the best description of his co-star Park Eun Bin. Working with the actress on Do You Like Brahms? allowed him to really get to know her: One who's like the sun that fills the entire room with her bright presence. "People on set become happier when Park Eun Bin arrives. Even if she doesn't do anything, that's how it feels," he says.
True enough, I was able to witness this myself when I got the chance to do a one-on-one virtual interview with the lead star of Extraordinary Attorney Woo—indeed, Park Eun Bin has a way of making you feel like everything in the world is okay. No, scratch that. Everything in the world is extraordinary.
My hands were shaking as I waited for her to appear onscreen. To be honest, I wasn't this nervous in the past interviews I did with Korean celebrities, but I'm a huge fan of Extraordinary Attorney Woo so it's been giving me butterflies in my stomach thinking about having a conversation with the Park Eun Bin. When she finally appeared, her background showed her surrounded by a stuffed whale and gimbap, which will remind you of her character in the legal K-drama. All throughout our conversation, her eyes would light up whenever she would talk about Woo Young Woo. We also touched on the episode that she's most attached to, and how she feels about the show's global success.
While others were busy playing with their friends, Park Eun Bin spent her childhood in front of the camera. She made her debut in 1997 as a model for a children's clothing magazine, and it was soon followed by roles playing the younger version of female leads in series. Since then, Park Eun Bin has worked non-stop. The actress, who's turning 30 years old next month, says it's a personal choice. She's well aware of the path she chose, and what came with it are sacrifices she's had to endure.
With her decades-long career, Park Eun Bin remembers the time when she had to juggle being a student and an actress and how challenging it was. "I had to go to school and work at the same time, so I had no time to relax. I never really went out or broke the rules to have fun. That was a little difficult for me at the time," she once revealed in the TV show My Ugly Duckling.
Park Eun Bin has always been a mainstay in the entertainment industry thanks to her signature acting, but now, more than ever, is the time for the actress to receive her flowers.
In the drama, whales represent Woo Young Woo's "eureka!" moments. IRL, it was Park Eun Bin's university life that made her realize what she truly wanted to do. Acting has always sparked joy for her, but she wasn't always sure if the life of a celebrity is something that was truly meant for her.
An introvert who prefers staying at home, Park Eun Bin was naturally confused if living under the limelight is something she would ever be comfortable with, especially when she'd observe and compare herself to her fellow celebrities who make it look so easy to act like a star. Park Eun Bin once asked herself if this career was really for her, but her passion for the craft was way stronger than her fears. "I was able to discover who I was when I went to university. I always wanted to do many different things and I realized that the way to try different things in life can be through acting. That's when I knew that this was the right path for me," she narrates to Esquire Korea.
"Through acting, I experience things that I can't do as the human Park Eun Bin," the actress shared in a previous interview with The Star. "That's why I have more fun and feel free when I act. Acting is my way of communicating. Of course, I lose strength [doing it], but through it, I repeat the process of recharging and releasing energy."
Some stars are born and others are bred, and Park Eun Bin is undeniably both. Although the talent has been there since the beginning, she didn't stop and has constantly worked hard to improve her craft day in and out. She exerts the extra effort that's needed for her to really immerse herself in her character, from learning how to play the violin for Do You Like Brahms? to studying baseball for Hot Stove League. These don't do unnoticed of course, and her many acting awards and nominations are proof—the most noteworthy of which was her recent Best Actress nomination at the Baeksang Arts Awards for her impeccable performance in The King's Affection.
Park Eun Bin is a lot of things, but let it be known first and foremost that she's a fearless actress. All of the roles she's portrayed so far are unique in their own ways and you can easily point out the differences in each character (even though a handful of them are for sageuks or historical dramas). She picks projects that bring her excitement. Park Eun Bin cites Do You Like Brahms? as one of them, where her character is the same age as her and is about to bid goodbye to her 20s.
Another K-drama that's meaningful to her is The King's Affection. Here, she transforms into a king from the Joseon Dynasty. It's a female character that she never thought would come her way. Nonetheless, she took on the challenge and nailed it. She now thinks of it fondly as an important milestone in her career, a path that she will never regret walking on despite its challenges. "There were some difficulties since I had a lot of scenes where I had to yell. Filming these scenes multiple times was challenging, but this was something that I had to overcome," Park Eun Bin reflects.
That being said, the drama that truly put her acting skills to the test is Extraordinary Attorney Woo, where she plays a genius rookie lawyer on the autism spectrum. Whether you read it straight or flipped, her name is Woo Young Woo: Kayak, deed, rotator, noon, racecar, Woo Young Woo. She has a high IQ of 164 and only eats gimbap (because she can easily see its ingredients so she won't be surprised with unusual flavors). She's socially awkward and her love for whales is remarkable (she knows everything about the sea creatures like the back of her hand). In the same vein, her love for the law is equally admirable, memorizing every single rule of conduct at an early age because of her photographic memory. Woo Young Woo is a Seoul National University alumna who graduated at the top of her class. She passed the bar exam with a high score, too, but despite being a genius, she experiences the stigma that comes with those who are socially unprivileged.
During our interview, Park Eun Bin told me that the pilot episode of Extraordinary Attorney Woo made her the most emotional. "I think [in] all the episodes, Woo Young Woo was very tense in the court. But she finds her way through it and she needs that to get used to it," she explains. "As an actor, I was most emotionally attached to the first episode because this is the first time Young Woo was out in the court. She doesn't know much and she's a total newbie, but she gathers up the courage to figure everything out. So that's what struck me the most."
From the very beginning, the team behind Extraordinary Attorney Woo had their eyes set on Park Eun Bin to play the titular character. It was a role that the actress has never tried before, one that required a lot of preparation beyond the script. Park Eun Bin initially declined the offer, but director Yoo In Sik and writer Moon Ji Won only wanted her and no one else—and so they waited for a year until she finally said yes.
Park Eun Bin revealed in our interview the real reason she was hesitant at first and what made her finally decide to do it. She opened up, "At first, as an actor, I felt a sense of responsibility and I was not sure if I can really pull off this character and this project so I was nervous. I also had to think of the impact of this drama and the repercussions it could have. I didn't wanna offend anyone or hurt anyone so I was very cautious at the beginning. But the writer, director, and the crew had so much trust in me the whole time so I kinda wondered to myself, 'Why do they have such trust in me?' If there is such trust, I should prove that I could pull this off. I wanted to live up to their expectations that's why I chose the drama. Because I took the challenge now, you can see the Woo Young Woo as you see it now."
Extraordinary Attorney Woo is a brilliant representation not just of mental health but also of the social issues that are often swept under the rug. The cases in each episode are distinct and interesting, as they show gender inequality, prevalent issues in South Korea's education system, and monopoly, among others. The production team did not just include well-researched facts about whales and the law: They also brought important topics to the table. This is one of the reasons why the K-drama became an instant hit (the series has topped the Netflix charts again and again and it continues to receive double-digit ratings in its home country) not just among Koreans but also among international viewers. But most of all, it became a huge success because of its leading lady who was determined to give justice to the seemingly impossible role.
Amid the overwhelming response of the viewers to the drama, Park Eun Bin is happy and thankful because of the influence that Extraordinary Attorney Woo is able to share. When I asked her if she expected the series' popularity, she candidly said, "This big of a success could be different for other people and I did not expect it to be this big. But I still have trust in the creatives and the crew. I knew this would be a good drama. I was confident that if people watch it, they would like it. But I did not know that this drama will travel globally and be received so well by the global audience. I'm really happy that people are welcoming the messages and stories we want to convey."
To give life to Woo Young Woo, Park Eun Bin changed the tone of her voice, acted with her eyes and gait, and memorized extremely long lines and difficult legal jargon. With the amount of effort she exerted on this project, it's no surprise that viewers have nothing but compliments about her intricate performance. Whenever Woo Young Woo is going through a rough patch, you'd want to hug and cry with her. Whenever she's winning, you'd raise your fist in the air and celebrate the moment with her. You'll find yourself rooting for Woo Young Woo as she tries to carve her own path in this unfair world and prejudiced society. More than this, you'll appreciate Park Eun Bin as an actress with the kind of emotions she's able to stir within you, and you will love her for that.
An actress, a host, and now a singer who has recorded an OST (official soundtrack) for Extraordinary Attorney Woo, Park Eun Bin shows no signs of stopping. Up next on her portfolio is her first fan meeting, which will happen on September 3 in Seoul titled Eun Bin Note: Empty Space. This event is solid proof of her meteoric rise as she finally gains more love and attention that she truly deserves. We can only imagine the venue filled to the brim with her fans—longtime supporters and new ones combined.
As time goes by, Park Eun Bin's roles get harder and harder, but we know she will end up shining brighter than before. Hers is the kind of luster that will never fizzle out.
I concluded our interview by thanking the actress for her time. As a fangirl, I couldn't help but geek out and note how much of a pleasure it was to finally meet her. Park Eun Bin was all smiles as she said goodbye to me and after I left our Zoom meeting room, I stared into space with a greater appreciation of her not only as an actress but also as a person. It was right at this moment when I came to a realization that Park Eun Bin is indeed extraordinary—always has been and always will be.
*This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
PRODUCED BY: Hanna Tamondong
LAYOUT BY: Pauline Moyano
VIDEO BY: Patricia Geminiano
SPECIAL THANKS TO: Netflix, Yoon Songyi