Actress Jang Na-ra / Photograph = Lawon Munhwa

The younger actors that played my peers on the show saw me as my character, Ma Jin-joo. They were genuinely concerned for me. I think that’s why a realistic story was able to be born. Of course, when I was playing the part of a 20-year-old, I tried to be as unabashed as possible.“

The above quote comes from actress Jang Na-ra, who had to alternate between playing a 38-year-old stay-at-home mother and a college student in her 20s for a TV drama on KBS2 that recently ended, Go Back Couple. In response to reactions from viewers that she seemed completely natural playing a character in her 20s, Jang Na-ra said it was all “thanks to the younger actors that [she] worked with on the show.”

Go Back Couple tells of the story that unfolds between married couple Ma Jin-joo (Jang Na-ra) and Choi Ban-do (Son Ho-jun), as they go back in time to their 20s at the moment when they are about to get divorced. Since the time slot for the show was 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, the initial expectations for Go Back Couple weren’t very high. However, due to the originality of the plot and the excellent performances from the cast, Go Back Couple became the number one rated show among viewers aged 20-49, and also found itself becoming the most talked-about TV drama on air.

Actress Jang Na-ra / Photograph = Lawon Munhwa

Jang Na-ra was at the center of it all. She painted a detailed picture of a woman who finds herself becoming burned out from raising a child without any help and from the lack of communication with her husband. Jang Na-ra was praised by viewers for her ingenious handling of both the comedic scenes and the emotional scenes that show her love for her mother and her son. Watching Go Back Couple almost felt like a “rediscovery” of Jang Na-ra, the actress.

Because I’ve never been married, she wasn’t a character that I could relate to 100 percent. I tried to get a better understanding of stay-at-home moms by reading childcare forums, and Director Ha Byung-hoon gave me detailed explanations of what emotions I should be feeling and expressing. Vierwers relating to the show and finding comfort in it made me happier than I could ever express. As an actress, I feel like that’s a huge achievement.”

Scenes that involved Jang Na-ra and Kim Mi-kyung – the actress who played Jang Na-ra’s mother on the show – made viewers well up with tears every time. The scenes showing Ma Jin-joo becoming glued to her mother’s side after reuniting with her late mother by going into the past, and the scenes in which Ma Jin-joo helps her mother cross off items on her mother’s bucket list resonated with the viewers. When speaking about acting alongside Kim Mi-kyung, Jang Na-ra commented that “the emotions that [she] felt were stronger than when [she] filmed romantic scenes with male actors.”

I worked with Kim Mi-kyung before in 2011 on a drama called Baby Faced Beauty. At the time, I was so happy when she even looked in my direction. When I heard that she would be playing the part of my mother on Go Back Couple, I decided to take the role without a second thought.”

Actress Jang Na-ra / Photograph = Lawon Munhwa

With one person after another saying that Jang Na-ra has performed the role of a lifetime with her portrayal of Ma Jin-joo, it is clear that Go Back Couple has been a special project for the actress. Perhaps that’s the reason why the actress who typically shrugs off emotional scenes after right after filming them found herself drinking for two days after the end of Go Back Couple.

Although I’m not much of a cryer normally, I cried for two days straight after the drama finished. I’ve never cried while watching myself acting in a scene, but I cried two times while watching myself in Go Back Couple. One of the scenes that made me cry was the one where we went on an impromptu trip. The scene shows the characters having a great time together while looking off into the sea. It was so beautiful that it made me cry. Even though my co-stars on the show are people that I’ll be seeing again in the future, I felt like I was leaving them in the past.”

Jang Na-ra said the biggest thing she’ll be taking away from the drama is “the people.” She had a big smile on her face as she named off each co-star – Heo Jeong-min, Han Bo-reum, Jang Ki-young, Lee Yi-kyung, and Cho Hye-jung.

They were exceptionally lovely. When I was with them, I found myself giggling as if I had really gone back to my early 20s. I’ve even made plans to go to an amusement park with Bo-reum and Hye-jung, who I spent a lot of time with on the show.”

Jang Na-ra made her debut as a singer in 2001 with her first album, First Story. After starring in the 2002 drama, Successful Story of a Bright Girl, she solidified her position as a hot young star while going back and forth between acting and music. Jang Na-ra went on to star in a number of TV dramas including School 2013 (2012), Fated to Love You (2014), Hello Monster (2015), and One More Happy Ending (2016). Even with all of her experience, the actress has said that “acting is still difficult” for her. 

Every time I start a new project, I feel like it’s my first acting job. Before I say my first line for a read-through, I feel like my heart is going to burst. I think that the value of being an actor is being able to bring joy and comfort to the viewers. I will continue to do my best to become that kind of an actor.” 

Translated by Jennifer Earwood