[Herald Interview] 'Ms. Shibal': Actor Lee Eun-saem surprised by show of love from global fans
Lee wants to return with more interesting characters
Published : Feb 22, 2022 - 15:52
Updated : Feb 22, 2022 - 15:52
Lee Eun-saem (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

Among the many Korean high school students who starred in the latest Netflix zombie thriller “All of Us Are Dead,” Park Mi-jin (played by Lee Eun-saem) is arguably the most mesmerizing character, especially to foreign audiences, who were unfamiliar with the Korean curse word “ssibal” until they watched the series.

With the 12-part project topping Netflix’s streaming chart around the globe, the Korean swear words have intrigued many viewers.

From online posts to hilarious memes on social media, passionate drama fans shared their reviews and reactions to Netflix’s coming-of-age zombie apocalypse series. And Lee Eun-saem, 22, who played the charismatic senior Park Mi-jin of Hyosan High School, had not expected such reactions.

“Watching some parts of the series before the official release, I was concerned that the viewers might feel a little uncomfortable after hearing so many swear words from me. I never expected that I would earn a nickname, like ‘Ms. Shibal,’” Lee said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Monday.

“I never practiced acting in front of my family, but I asked for tips and advice from my father and grandmother after showing some of my character’s lines. Mi-jin is a strong, tough character. I did not wish to ruin any of her characteristics by using clumsy insults,” Lee added, explaining that the word should only be used as a tool to dramatically express one’s emotions.
Lee Eun-saem (Park Hyun-koo/The Korea Herald)

The actor also said having to learn to smoke for the Netflix drama was another challenge.

“I am a non-smoker, so I started practicing with fake cigarettes two months before shooting my first scene -- Mi-jin smoking inside a toilet,” Lee said, referring to a smoking cessation product made with various herbs instead of tobacco leaves.

“Director Kim Nam-su gave me additional advice with hand gestures, inhaling and exhaling the cigarette, which I think was a big help in making the act more natural.”

Though both local and global viewers might think of her as a rookie, Lee is a 16-year veteran who has been steadily expanding her performance scope, working on various films and dramas after her debut as a child actor in KBS’ television novel series “Landscape in My Heart” (2007).

“I did have a short break after starting my career as an actor at a young age. I decided to concentrate on school work, but as my friends started to set their own career path, my passion to become an actor grew even stronger,” the actor said.

From performing minor supporting roles to the recent Young-hee of MBC’s 2021 smash-hit “The Red Sleeve” and Mi-jin of “All of Us Are Dead,” Lee shared her satisfaction as a growing actor and enjoying the viewers‘ surprise after they realized Young-hee and Mi-jin were both performed by her.
A screenshot shows actor Lee Eun-saem playing Young-hee in MBC’s “The Red Sleeve.” (MBC)

The 22-year-old believed that her latest zombie series brought her not only popularity and many fans, but also a chance to blossom as an actor.

“I can feel that actor Lee Eun-saem has grown up as the significance of my roles has increased. While I was an actor who simply carried out the actions and was interested in performing the lines in the script, ‘All of Us Are Dead’ gave me an opportunity to share my opinions with the directors to fully understand the character and the storyline,” Lee said.

Lee explained that Mi-jin was a character that she created after actively communicating with director Lee Jae-kyoo and reflecting on her experience as a high school student.
Lee Eun-saem stars as a high school senior Park Mi-jin in “All of Us Are Dead.” (Netflix)

“Director Lee wanted me to create my own version of Mi-jin, who was different from the character of the original webtoon. As Mi-jin’s friends turned into zombies and left her side, I did not hide my feelings of regret and sadness, which was unimaginable for a cold-hearted, rational Mi-jin of the original webtoon,” the actor told The Korea Herald.

While the actor believed that she would have tried to stay safe inside the toilet or classroom during a real zombie apocalypse, Lee did not hide her desire to perform more dynamic action scenes in fighting against the bloody zombies.

“I always liked to move my body around, which led me to learn some martial arts, including jiujitsu. Though I used weapons and tools to stand against the zombies, I want to fight my enemies with fists and kicks in a future action film or drama series,” the actor said.

Receiving the love and attention of local and international fans was an unbelievable experience and still feels somewhat unreal, Lee said. But returning their support with another character is her new goal.

“Instead of rising to instant stardom, I wish to progress in a slow pace. My dream is to meet a character that can allow me to develop,” Lee said.

By Lee Si-jin (sj_lee@heraldcorp.com)