By Kim Boram
SEOUL, Aug. 24 (Yonhap) -- At the set of the hit legal drama "Extraordinary Attorney Woo," which finished airing last Thursday amid rave reviews, 29-year-old actress Park Eun-bin might be one of the youngest among the cast members.
But in terms of acting career, she was the one who has the longest with nearly 50 TV series and films, including the recent "The King's Affection" (2021) and "The Witch: Part 2. The Other One" (2022), as she made her acting debut in 1998 with the action drama "White Night 3.98."
For the young but veteran actress, however, playing Woo Young-woo, a genius lawyer on the autism spectrum, was not easy. She had refused to take the role several times.
"I turned it down, not because I'm exceptional, but because I wasn't confident I could do well with this character," Park said in a media interview held Monday. "I was afraid of portraying Young-woo. I had no idea about how she speaks and responds."
After deciding to join the project, Park tried not to feature Young-woo as a typically rigid and unfeeling autistic character who suffers social and emotion-sharing problems. So she depicted her as a fresh, lovely, sympathetic and talented lawyer who has a brilliant and outstanding memory in the legal field.
The actress said she wanted to focus more on the wider opportunity that Young-woo has in the show, where the autistic lawyer can be accepted by people from all walks of life, rather than on her autistic behaviors.
"If I had taken a conservative approach, I could have missed the potential of Young-woo," she said. "In the beginning, Young-woo should look weird but work well. As the episodes go on, she is still weird, but no longer seems weird. This delicacy was the most difficult part."
She said Young-woo represents an autistic individual who is known to lack social and communication skills that lead to problems with friendships, romantic relationships, daily living, and vocational success.
But in the world of "Woo," Young-woo grows to be a good attorney and an abled individual through courtroom episodes in cooperation with her teammates and even starts a romantic relationship with Joon-ho (Kang Tae-oh).
"Most people think it's impossible for autistic individuals to fall in love. I think our show wants to break that bias," she said. "The romantic relationship looks unnecessary for Young-woo's growth, but it shows she gradually starts to take care of others in the end."
On top of that, acting the part of a genius lawyer and memorizing all the legal jargon was another hurdle for Park, a seasoned actress who is confident about remembering lines and dialogue no matter how long they are.
"Young-woo is a genius, and she has a photographic memory that allows her to recall images from law books, but I'm not like that," she said. "Those legal words were too difficult to stick to my brain. It took time. I even spent my break time memorizing the script."
The popularity of "Woo" was also extraordinary both at home and abroad. Its final, 16th episode, broadcast Thursday, hit 17.5 percent in nationwide viewership, up sharply from 0.9 percent for the first episode on June 29. The final number is the highest for the little-known cable channel ENA launched in 2004.
It has topped Netflix's weekly top 10 list for non-English TV programs available on the service for a total of five weeks.
It became the second Korean-made TV series to be simultaneously streamed on a local TV channel and on Netflix to rank No. 1 on the official viewership chart, following the romantic comedy "Business Proposal" (2022).
About the rising demand for a second season of "Woo," Park remained cautious, saying nothing has been determined yet.
"I love the last scene of 'Woo.' When filming the scene, I was so proud of it and wanted to say goodbye there," she said. "It's like, I put the last image of Young-woo in a treasure trove and locked it up. When somebody asks me to open it, I think I need more courage and determination."