Remembering the truth of her family history after the complicated death of her mother, a newly orphaned young woman leaves Korea for the United States in search of her little sister only to discover that everyone pays a price for love…. this is ‘Songbird’, the new movie from South Korean-Australian actor Julie Shin. We sat down with the multi-faceted actor to talk about making award-worthy movies and living in the Big Apple.
Welcome to New York Julie. How have you found living here?
The New York I remember when I first flew here in 2019 was filled with giant billboards, a coffee shop across every corner, busy streets, and people preoccupied with their own work. In a way, the city felt cold. But a lot of that changed. New York for me, now in 2024, emulates so much more than bright screens in Times Square. I found my people; I grew from persevering with them and making significant choices in our lives in ways that pushed us to all grow up fast. My faith grew stronger; I discovered the gift of what it means to be in New York as an artist (especially) and how safe it feels to trust in people, even in a place that is known for its reputation as the harshest city to live in. I see myself continuing to cultivate my home/community in New York but a goal that I want to actualize this year is to also have creative freedom to travel for work. I made that happen in early 2023 by flying over to Houston, Texas for a film and I also remember trying Whataburger for the first time. It was worth it.
How would you describe the projects that you typically prefer to work on or create?
I’m compelled to work on projects that have purposeful direction with making a social impact in this world. All the films that I carry to heart hold significant emotional resonance with me. For instance, “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” “Blue Bayou,” “Lady Bird,” and “Her” are films that center around human storytelling about relationships that question our personal reasons for being alive. Projects like those that intricately compel us to realign our surroundings for the greater community are works that I find myself committing the most to.
What is your creative process when preparing for a movie?
Writing. Writing. Writing. I’ve learned that good writing pushes for the best kind of acting on screen. And fortunately, I’ve also found a way to write my own pieces that align with my given character during preparation. The tactic that I use to hone into my role is to write subtext for every given line. Truth is, a simple line like “goodbye” can hold various meanings. The subtext behind it can be “I’m sorry,” “I’ll miss you,” “I love you,” or “you were my everything.” The subtext is what drives the character to say lines and it’s the responsibility of an actor to find those emotions underneath the surface. As a result, my physical scripts have double the writing next to the given lines to study the character’s motives/drives. It’s double the memorization and double the work, but I fall in love with giving life to a character like this every single time.
Tell us about the movie ‘Songbird’. What character do you play?
I play the lead character Helen. I had a strong fondness towards my character Helen because of her chase for wanting to be creative when it feels like everybody is telling you otherwise. Helen was a lead musician/guitarist and singer for a band of two other boys who have their backstories as to why they fell in love with music. As for Helen, she wanted to pursue music for the sake of wanting to be free and having found a medium where she can creatively express her pain was a story that I also resonated with. There is a reason I invest in storytelling and a backstory to why my voice is unique. And oftentimes, it derives from my search to understand my pain to transfigure my imperfections into art. As a singer-songwriter too, I was very excited to embody a character who had such a strong passion for music.
How did you prepare for the role?
The filmmakers (including the director) were all based in South Korea, and they flew to New York to make this project happen. As a result, a lot of the preparation and rehearsals were up to me to work on independently. The director also informed me that this project was commissioned by the Korean Film Council, and they were also on a tight deadline to shoot this project within the dates that satisfied the commission organization. So, a lot of the memorization, studying my character, and meeting my other actors happened about a week before we began to shoot. We also had a Korean composer on this project who scored original songs for our band to work with, so I think that I spent a lot of time learning the music and singing to the songs as I prepared for my role.
It is a great project. Can you tell us how you got involved?
I found this project through Actors Access, which is an audition platform for established actors to submit and for managers/agents to also submit their clients on. I think it was around September when I heard about this project and did an online audition with the casting director for director Juhyoung who was in South Korea. I recall bringing out my guitar and singing to them a song I wrote in Korean. I think that also may have done the trick.
New York has been the backdrop of so many movies and TV shows. What were some of the locations for ‘Songbird?’
That’s so true! For this movie, we went to a lot of different locations because of how there were various montage scenes in the story. We filmed at a church in Flushing, took the 7 train to Brooklyn, filmed at Long Beach, Times Square, Astor Place, a small restaurant in Woodside, and countless other smaller, spontaneous locations that we could find on the way.
At what stage in the process is the movie now?
The film is currently in post-production and I’m in the midst of going back and forth with Juhyoung for ADR and singing recordings! Since it is also a project commissioned by the Korean Film Council, they also do have a strict deadline as to when the film needs to be released. At the moment, it feels like we’d be able to see this project do its festival submission runs in the next couple of months!
If you had one message to give to your fans, what would it be?
Don’t stop. I had long discussions with my older mentors, both in life and in the industry, who told me that one of the biggest reasons as to why people give up their creative passions derives from purely letting it go. Or perhaps they never indulged in their curiosities. My life mentors had dreams of wanting to pursue music, painting, writing, and the list goes on. As for my mentors in the industry, the biggest piece of advice I received was also to keep going. The hard work and discipline will eventually take you places, and I strongly believe in that. I truly want to encourage people to find ways to create a balance for their lives. And it is truly fine to not turn your passion into your career but for those who have a craving, go for it. And in the midst of all the trials and tribulations that you will inevitably face, I can assure you that you will also encounter people and opportunities that you never would have expected.
What’s the best way to follow you online?
The best way to find me is through my social media (links below)! I love to post my photography on my stories, my work, and the people I love. It’s the platform where you can see a lot of the artistic work and the rest of who I am as a person on.