I have a Dear kfangurl question to ask! My question is whether you’ve ever had a problem watching the same actor in a different role, because you have such a strong impression of him/her in the first show you saw the actor in? Asking because I just started watching K dramas last year, and i started with highly rated ones like Crash Landing on You and Healer, where the OTPs are so smashing that I was reluctant to see the actors in other shows as it would feel to me almost like they were cheating on their original OTP! Lol.
So far I haven’t “repeated” any actors besides Lee Jun Ki – I first saw him in Arang and the Magistrate and a few months later in Flower of Evil. But to me that felt ok as his performance made the two characters feel completely different. It probably helped that his Flower of Evil character was supposed to have antisocial personality disorder so has flattened emotions.
But now almost a year after watching Healer, I’m watching Park Min Young in Her Private Life and I keep getting flashbacks to her Healer performance, especially when the two characters overlap on certain traits like optimism, pluckiness and sunny smiles. It’s probably a personal quirk but I do wonder if anyone faces this issue too! For now there are so many dramas out there that I can avoid repeats of actors but soon it won’t be an option! Ha ha.
Thanks for your question! I find that I don’t struggle with this issue as much now, but I do know the feeling that you describe, where you find it hard to immerse yourself in a show &/or character, because you can’t shake off the actor’s previous role.
I feel that there are a number of factors that feed into this, which I’ll attempt to explore in this post, so that we can figure out how to best mitigate this, where possible.
Everyone, please feel free to chime in with your own thoughts, insights and stories in the comments! 🥰
A HANDFUL OF FACTORS
1. The actor’s acting ability
I feel that this is a big piece of the puzzle, because whether an actor’s different roles feel different distinct to us, depends on said actor’s delivery of the roles. And how the actor delivers each of the roles, depends not only his or her skill and acting range, but also, their dedication to their craft. Do they make a point of delving deep into each role, to fully understand their character and what makes them unique and different?
I do think that different actors differ in their ability and their dedication to do this.
Since I’ve just finished our Chuno group watch, and am now properly settled into our Money Flower group watch, I’m having the pleasure of watching Jang Hyuk back-to-back, in two very different roles. And it’s quite startling to see how distinct and different he makes each role. Even the way he uses his voice is completely different in Money Flower, compared to Chuno. In Chuno, he’s all smooth laidback drawl, while in Money Flower, his voice is tempered, dialed down, and diminished, like it’s coming from the back of his throat.
It might be slightly startling to see him in Money Flower right after Chuno, since it’s a completely different era and genre, but I’d venture that there’s really no danger of seeing Dae Gil in Pil Joo and vice versa. He’s just that good. 🤩
This list isn’t comprehensive, but here are some other instances where I’ve been impressed with an actor’s very different and distinct outings in two different dramas. In no particular order:
Jung Kyung Ho (Heartless City vs. Falling For Innocence), Yoo Ah In (Secret Love Affair vs. Chicago Typewriter), Ji Sung (Kill Me Heal Me vs. Familiar Wife), Kim Soo Hyun (It’s Okay To Not Be Okay vs. Producer), Shin Hye Sun (Mr. Queen vs. Thirty But Seventeen), Kim Hee Ae (A Couple’s World vs. Secret Love Affair), Kang Ha Neul (When The Camellia Blooms vs. River Where The Moon Rises), Lee Jae Wook (Memories of the Alhambra vs. Search: WWW), Yoon Eun Hye (Goong vs. Coffee Prince) and Joo Won (Gaksital vs. Ojakgyo Brothers).
Sometimes, I couldn’t even recognize that it was the same actor, like in the case of Lee Jae Wook’s sweet, amiable young actor in Search: WWW, compared with his unhinged, wild, slightly savage character in Memories of the Alhambra.
Shout-out too, to Joo Won, because his characters in Gaksital and Ojakgyo Brothers are both reticent, angsty policemen, and therefore somewhat similar on paper. Even so, the two characters felt so different and distinct onscreen, that I was able to watch both shows concurrently, and not feel echoes of one character in the other. Really impressive.
To be sure, not all actors are capable of creating such different characters, and for some actors, their acting styles &/or their personal mannerisms are so distinct that most of their characters have similar flavors and therefore land similarly.
This could be quite subjective, but here are a few actors whom I personally count in this category (to be clear, this doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t enjoy these actors): Gong Hyo Jin, Park Min Young, Cha Eun Woo, Shin Se Kyung, Lee Min Ho and Lee Seo Jin.
The more capable the actors are, in differentiating the way they deliver their characters, the easier it is for us as viewers, to keep them separate in our heads and our hearts.
2. Type of role
Another factor that I think we should consider, is the type of role in question.
An iconic role
If a role is particularly iconic, it can admittedly be difficult to see the same actor in another role. For me personally, I fell for Ji Chang Wook‘s Healer, hook, line and sinker.. and then found that, like you, I had difficulty seeing him other roles. Soon after I watched Healer, I tried out Empress Ki, because so many people love that show and him in it, but it was so jarring for me to see him as a different character, that I just couldn’t get into it.
Granted, I’ve also mentioned that my other reasons for not continuing Empress Ki is because I’m not a big fan of Ha Ji Won, and the premise itself didn’t grab me, but for the record, this thing about having difficulty seeing Ji Chang Wook as someone other than Healer, was definitely a big factor.
Now, with enough time and space, I no longer have trouble watching Ji Chang Wook in other roles, as evidenced by my being able to finish and actually enjoy Suspicious Partner and Warrior Baek Dong Soo. So.. at least I can say that this phenomenon isn’t necessarily permanent? 😅
Sometimes, an actor keeps getting cast in a similar type of role, which makes it difficult to differentiate one character from another.
I mean, at first glance, can you even tell which of these screenshots of Cha Eun Woo comes from which show? He looks so similar and vibes so similarly, in My ID is Gangnam Beauty and True Beauty. And even though he did get the chance to do a fusion sageuk in Rookie Historian Goo Hae Ryung, and therefore was at least styled differently, he still came across in much the same way, with a very similar vibe to his other roles (that I’ve seen, anyway).
To be clear, this didn’t prevent me from enjoying him in each of these shows.. I’m just making a point that he’s mostly coming across pretty similarly, in his roles.
I’d say that pigeonholing as a phenomenon is partly to do with what roles the actor chooses, and partly to do with what roles are being offered to him, in the first place. Maybe, because an actor has done well in a certain type of role, he just keeps getting offered those types of roles, even though he’s capable of more.
Case in point, Nam Goong Min, whom I thought, for the longest time, was only capable of vanilla second male lead types, like in My Secret Hotel; pleasant enough but hardly memorable. And then, one day someone had a stroke of genius and decided to cast him as a villain in Sensory Couple, and everyone’s jaws dropped to the ground, because of how interesting Nam Goong Min suddenly seemed, onscreen.
In this case, it wasn’t because he couldn’t do more; he just didn’t get the chance to show that he was capable of more.
In Cha Eun Woo’s case, I do think that his acting range is still limited, and that’s why he keeps getting offered roles within a similar range; these are the types of characters that suit him and he does better in.
While we can’t say for sure whether a pigeonholed actor will get to break out of that mold, at least we’ve seen that it’s been done before, and therefore, we can have hope that it will be done again? 😅
3. How much time has passed
They say time heals all wounds; well, time also does a great thing with blurring our memories and therefore making dramas feel fresh, all over again. And therefore, it also does this thing, where, if enough time has passed, then seeing an actor in something other than his or her most iconic role, can become believable and even palatable, where before it was just too hard.
For example, back in 2013, when Reply 1994 aired, I was so used to seeing Yoo Yeon Seok as Chilbongie, that I found it rudely jarring to see him in 2012’s A Werewolf Boy afterwards. By the time I spied him as Gu Dong Mae in 2018’s Mr. Sunshine, though, enough time had passed that it wasn’t hard to see him as someone other than Chilbongie anymore. Not to say that it actually needs to take years for this mental adjustment to happen; this might’ve happened faster, if Yoo Yeon Seok had done more projects that I was actually interested in checking out. 😅
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Here are a handful of strategies that I personally use, to mitigate the difficulties that we might encounter when watching an actor in multiple projects.
1. Allow some time between shows featuring the same actor, especially if you’ve just watched him or her in a particularly iconic role.
2. As far as possible, pick your next watch of a particular actor such that you’ll get to see him or her in a different type of role, and if possible, a different time period &/or genre.
3. Spread the love around, and give some love and attention to other actors, before coming back to a particular one.
4. Adjust your expectations. For example, if you know that the actor’s next role is something that’s similar to a role you’ve seen before, dial down your expectations so that you’re not expecting something completely fresh. Just knowing what you’re getting into helps a lot. 😉
I hope you find this post useful, and that it helps you with some ideas on how to best enjoy your favorite actors on your screen.
Like I mentioned earlier, everyone, please feel free to add your own thoughts, insights and experiences in the comments below. As they say, sharing is caring. 🥰
I hope this post helps!
1. If you feel that I missed anything, or if you have your own insights that you’d like to share with the rest of us, do tell us about it in the comments!
2. Do you have a question of your own? Drop me a comment here or on the Dear kfangurl page, or send me an email!