Rick Yune and Claudia Kim
Korean Actors Add Intrigue to New Netflix Series Marco Polo
by Brad Balfour
With a storyline that includes drama, sex, and exotic visuals, Italian explorerMarco Polo‘s time spent in the court of 13th century Mongol ruler Kublai Khan provides all the necessary elements for a great television series.
Netflix and the Weinstein Company have joined forces to turn this story of the legendary excursionist’s time as an emissary for the great warlord into a ten-episode series that debuts on the media distribution service on December 12th, 2014, at 12:01am PST.
To make this sprawling production, it had to include experienced cast members such as 43-year-old action actor Rick Yune (The Fast and the Furious, Die Another Day and Olympus Has Fallen) and 29-year-old Claudia Kim (who was a star in Korean television until recently, when she was cast in the upcoming Avengers film, Avengers: Age of Ultron).
Recently the two actors sat down in Manhattan’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel to give a look inside the process of turning their characters – Yune as Kaidu, the Khan’s cousin, and Kim as Khutulun, Kaidu’s daughter (who may or may not have exactly existed in history) – into living beings.
The global cast, a mix of established and relatively unknown talents, also includes Lorenzo Richelmy, Benedict Wong, Joan Chen, Chin Han, Zhu Zhu, Olivia Cheng, Claudia Kim, Mahesh Jadu, Tom Wu, Remy Hii and Uli Latukefu.
You’ve had lots of experience in films versus TV. How was this contrast? You have been in a film where there’s a huge cast but here, you have cast coming and going, in various international locations, so you don’t see the whole picture until some of the episodes are completed. How was the experience of making them?
Rick Yune: I can understand what you’re talking about, because there’s generally been a difference in scale and you feel it. There’s been no difference between any of the big budget movies I’ve done but I’ve had a couple moments in television that I’ve done and you can feel the difference from what film is like.
In this one, it’s been probably one of the biggest productions I’ve been on. It’s been actually more allowing than a lot of the other films I’ve been on, as far as bringing out the moments and the time that you can have in working with the scenes. Hands down, it’s been the greatest creative experience of my life.
And for you?
Claudia Kim: For me too. I’ve mostly done dramas in Korea. I’ve wanted to do a movie for the longest time.
That was mostly TV in Korea?
Claudia Kim: TV. And I did The Avengers. Marco Polo happened at the same time for me, so working that schedule out was a bit of an issue, but I was fortunate enough to make both things work. Also anything international gets my attention, and to have an international cast and crew, working with them was an amazing experience for me.
This show is focused on the Mongols and their relationship to the China of that time, so in some ways it’s very relevant. You have actually traveled through many different locations like Marco Polo for the shooting. Marco Polo was one of the first international characters, having to adapt to different cultures and to talk to the Chinese culture. We don’t think of the Mongols and Chinese as very different yet for you, you’ve learned the difference. You two come from very different cultures – people don’t really think of that.
Rick Yune: You have to bring a part of your experience and a part of yourself to whatever you’re doing. For me it was no difference between growing up here and living in Mongolia. Basically the Mongols were a superpower back then, and they had to take into consideration the growth of China, and that was the challenge.
I’m Kaidu, the great-grandson of Genghis Khan, who’s the most powerful ruler of Central Asia. So there’s not that much difference between now and then. My character’s the one who wanted to stay true to the philosophies and the tradition of the Mongolians and Kublai sort of wanted to go in the direction of the Chinese.
Kublai’s predecessor Genghis Khan used more brutal ways; he killed whoever got in his way.
Rick Yune: That’s true! We might be a little bit more political now.
What were your thoughts about the role your character plays in the context?
Claudia Kim: First of all for me, I felt like Marco Polo doing this project, because it’s like the cast from the West meets the cast from the East (laughs). We’re coming together as one and that was a very new experience for me.
Also getting to play such a strong character – who is so fierce and playful and fun at the same time – was a huge challenge for me. I auditioned, but I didn’t dare think that I could take on a character like this, so it really helped me grow as an actress and a person.
Was it a big transition for you to be playing her, knowing that you’re going to be seen in a much larger cultural context than something just for Korean audience?
Claudia Kim: Of course.
How does that change things in terms of where you see yourself going?
Claudia Kim: It’s something I’ve always wanted, and yet I limited myself more. I thought okay, it’s not going to happen until like, maybe ten years, or 20 years. So I’m really grateful that Netflix allow me to do this.
For me, as an Asian, there aren’t a lot of roles like this. It’s not a typical Asian character – especially regarding that a lot of the Asian cultures suppressed women so much. To see how contradicting that is in Mongolian culture, how women were encouraged to be strong and expressive, it’s altogether surreal.
There are some documentaries you should see about Mongolian families. There’s The Story of the Weeping Camel which really shows you how powerful the women are, even in just a normal Mongolian social world.
Rick Yune: They say women are the foundation of a strong culture. It says a lot, you know?
It must be interesting for you because often you’ve played somewhat of a villainous character from time to time, and here you get to play a character who is a lot more complex, little less caricatured.
Rick Yune: You know how they do us! (Laughs…)
In Olympus Has Fallen you played quite a villainous character – you are sometimes cast that way.
Rick Yune: What’s interesting is the feedback I was getting on the character, which is people were actually rooting for some of these characters. That’s the audience’s decision, but I think that’s the way to do it. I don’t think you can be a good hero unless you can be a good villain.
That’s true. A lot of people will agree with that. You learn a lot about acting by doing that.
Rick Yune: When I saw Daniel Craig’s earlier work, he was playing all these [villain] roles that were similar because a lot of Brits are cast that way. Today he’s an amazing James Bond. When I play my roles, I look at them as human beings, number one. There’s good and bad. So ultimately there should be no judgment.
What I loved about Kaidu is all of the different elements that could come out. It’s more of a function of the fact that there was more time to explore these nuances and these moments. It’s ten hours, compared to an hour and a half or two. You have the father/daughter relationship, the man’s trying to stay true to his lineage and then also, you have caretaker of his village and his people and the little kids there. All these components the writers were able to bring together. People are going to be able to watch it in ten hours.
You have some serious martial arts training. Did you and Tom Wu [the series martial arts trainer and actor who plays Bayan the Hundred Eyes] get a chance to talk or work together?
Rick Yune: Not really. He’s extremely seasoned and an advanced professional. Normally when you get together with a guy like that, it’s not about the movements at all, but it’s about the intention and the vibe of it. At least that’s what I go for, and how it works within the story.
That’s the most important thing because as far as anything is concerned, whether it’s anything physical, to making love, to shooting a gun, to riding a horse or anything, it’s the vibe that goes with it that’s more important. That’s the difference between something that’s going to be watchable and something that’s not. So with Tom, we didn’t have any scenes, but yeah….
Some people have different approaches in developing their characters. Sometimes they don’t want to know everybody in the cast, just to flesh out their characters on their own.
Rick Yune: Actors are unique individuals. (Laughs) This is their office…
Did you get to interact with everyone on the set or were there some people you never met?
Rick Yune: We met everybody. It was fun. Everybody’s working, also, so during that time there’s some people that want to stay within character, [and] others that are like me, that are joking around all the time.
How much do you get to insert into your character your own interpretation of who that character is? That’s particularly a challenge in historical dramas where we don’t really know who the characters are.
Rick Yune: Generally, what I look at when I look at a script or the whole production is what I understand is the foundation that was laid down. They’re not going to know my character better than me, because I’m doing it. So there’s going to be a give and take there.
Ultimately, when I’m working I don’t have any expectation or preconceived notion about what’s going to happen. These are the highest-level guys that we’re working with such as series creator John Fusco, producer Dan Minahan, executive producer Harvey Weinstein, and the Netflix production group. It’s like putting together an NBA team or Navy SEALs. They all know what they’re doing. Just put them together, they know what the mission is. You don’t really have to talk anymore.
That’s a lot of what went on there. Different directors came in and out, they were all spectacular. Ultimately it was like, “What are you going to do?” “Okay, cool.” “Step back for a minute, let me float with this for a second.” Then it just went. That’s when the magic is.
You trust your intuition. How much you try to make this character a human in the context of how we see it, or how much you try to figure out what he would’ve been like in that culture? It’s interesting what you’re saying, that’s very enlightening.
Rick Yune: I don’t think people have changed that much, that’s the thing.
Claudia Kim: It wasn’t forceful. None of it was forceful. It was all very natural and you know, yes, we are given these significant and incredible characters, but we have this humble approach to it.
Rick Yune: Humble?! (Laughs)
Claudia Kim: Yeah! You know, it’s just like, “what would you do?” We were just asking ourselves constantly on set like, “What would she do?” She’s just normal, she’s not so different.
Except that they weren’t normal because they were in this high-level social setting where you can’t really be normal. That’s what was fascinating about it, in watching certain martial arts films, or films like The Last Emperor orFarewell, My Concubine, which show this level of society. They couldn’t be like normal people because they were meant to be perceived in a certain way, behave in a certain way as royalty. That was one of the constraints.
Claudia Kim: I think so, but I think they would’ve tried harder to become normal. (Laughs)
Rick Yune: What would the perception be of people in Asia of House of Cards?
That’s an interesting question.
Rick Yune: Do Americans behave that way because that’s how Americans are portrayed? (Laughs) You know what I mean?
You might be right!
Rick Yune: Is that the way they really behave? I didn’t find this in a martial arts story. I could relate it more towards what goes on in House of Cards, The Sopranos, Game of Thrones.
Is this the biggest challenge you’ve had for you in films, the most strenuous?
Rick Yune: Perception?
Just in terms of the work involved.
Rick Yune: Well, it’s all about timing. Because the other ones, you didn’t have enough time. You have to fit the story within an hour and a half. Like the last one, there was so many different situations happening with the character, but it couldn’t be fit – it had to be a three-hour movie at that point, so you couldn’t have – but this one we’re allowed to, so you could see more.
Copyright ©2014 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: December 5, 2014.
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