By Camden Ferrell
Minari dazzled audiences when it premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award. The movie was recently nominated for a Golden Globe and three SAG awards, and in anticipation of its wide release, disappointment media got the opportunity to speak with members of its cast. Yeri Han, who plays Monica, talked to us about her role in the movie and what she enjoyed about making this film.
On Receiving the Role of Monica
disappointment media: I want to start by congratulating you on Minari's nomination earlier today for Best Ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Award. I'm very happy for you all.
Yeri Han: Thank you so much.
disappointment: How did you first meet Lee Isaac Chung and get the role of Monica?
Han: So actually, I came across this project through the script first. It was sort of the first draft translated version, so there were a lot of gaps to be filled in for Monica's character, and I was worried whether I'd be able to fully comprehend it. When I met Isaac, I decided that I was going to do this film no matter what because he's such a great person, and I was already looking forward to the process of making Monica's character with him.
disappointment: What about Monica's character interested you the most?
Han: I thought to me, Monica was the strongest character in the film, although she didn't have her own aspirations and dreams that she wanted to pursue. Nevertheless, she was the strongest force that holds the family together. I believe that the force that really was holding this family together was love, and I wanted to capture and portray this character sincerely.
disappointment: Are there any people in your life or family members who shaped your performance as Monica and inspired you?
Han: First of all, my own mom and dad married very young, so it was before their ego fully developed, so we went through the growth pains. And I also had six aunts, so I had a glimpse into lives of six different women from that time that helped me tremendously with my character. I also had a very loving grandmother like Soonja [Youn Yuh-jung].
On Filming Minari (Contains Mild Spoilers)
disappointment: What were some of the challenges with making Minari?
Han: One of the real challenges that I can remember is the weather and the climate. It was always 40 degrees Celsius the whole time, and I was really worried about the child actors. But other than that, it wasn't so much of a challenge.
disappointment: I've seen Minari two times now, and both times I watched it, I'm always impressed with how great your chemistry is with Steven Yeun. What was it like to work with him?
Han: Steven is such a sweet guy, and he’s very honest. When we were working together on set, he would always ask me if I'm okay, how I felt about certain scenes, and if we wanted to do it together. He would always want to discuss our performance together, which enabled us to put our heads together and think about better ways to make that scene. And in a way, I felt that I was meeting Steven’s own childhood through this film, so it motivated me to try and portray Monica's character to my best ability.
disappointment: What scene in particular was your favorite in the film?
Han: There are too many. Personally, it's the scene before Soonja has a stroke, and she holds David in her arms and comforts him. Also, the scene where all of Jacob's hard work and effort goes up in flames in that fire at the end. Whenever I look at that scene, it brings back the memory of the emotion that I had at the time.
On Her Career and Korean Culture
disappointment: What is the difference between making movies in Korea and making a movie in the United States?
Han: I don't know if I can make that comparison since this was a small budget film production. I guess the difference that I could say is that I had to speak English on the set. I guess that's why a lot of the crew or the people who are involved in the project kept telling me, “Yeri, this isn't the typical experience of filmmaking in the States. You should keep making more films here,” I guess to make sure that I'm not discouraged by the experience.
disappointment: For the last 13 years, you've been very busy as an actress. Is there any genre of film or television that you haven't done that you want to do in the future?
Han: This is one of the questions that makes me think when I'm asked that question. As far as I'm concerned, an actor is someone who waits for a role or a film project to come to her, so I don't think about what kind of genre of films that I want or characters that I want to portray. It's the moment I get a script that I like or the director that I want to work with that I suddenly have that burning desire and want to do it and feel ownership that this is mine. And when that falls through, then I get sometimes very hurt. I guess I fall in love when that happens, when things come to me.
disappointment: In the last few years, we've seen Korean culture becoming much more popular in the United States. How do you feel about this sudden increase in interest in Korean culture?
Han: I can really feel that the world has changed for younger generations, the generation that's younger than me. It's become faster. The world has come closer together. I feel very lucky that so many people have interest in our popular culture of music and film, and that there is that emotional connection happening across cultures. Currently, there are a lot of projects and new content being made and a lot of money that's injected in the market. I don't know how long that's going to continue, but I hope that we will continue maintaining that unique quality of Korean cultural assets and continue making films.
On the Universality of Minari
disappointment: This is a movie about the Korean American experience, but it's a story that everyone can relate to. What about this movie makes it so universal?
Han: I guess because everyone has their childhood. And because they can relate to Jacob at times and at times, relate to Monica or to Soonja. Especially if you have the memory of having a grandmother like Soonja then it will resonate particularly more. Another thing is that there is not a single bad character in the film. Everyone is so innocent, and there is nothing that is mean or bad or hurtful in the film. They all have the warmth in their hearts in the film. I guess that's what makes this film special. One of the great virtues of this film is that rather than forcing certain emotions on the audience, it gives the audience that room to distance themselves, take a step back, and gaze at what's happening because what happened in this family is told in such a very calm manner.
disappointment: And for my last question, what do you hope audiences learn the most from your character after watching Minari?
Han: The feeling of love. That strong root of the feeling of love that Monica has is the power that binds this family together and prevents them from splitting up. I want the audience to take away that feeling, and I guess that's what makes the root of Minari strong. And although Monica's character cries a lot in the film, I think she's the strongest character in the film. And I want the audience to take away that love that Monica has.
Minari will be in select theaters February 12 and on VOD February 26.