Succession's Jihae Talks Joining the Hit Series and Her Stellar Rise from South Korea to Hollywood
Joining Succession, the hit HBO Max drama about a ruthless media and entertainment mogul and his equally ruthless children, seemed daunting at first, even for veteran singer-actress Jihae.
"I didn't know what to expect," she tells PEOPLE. "You just never know what the climate is like on any set."
She adds, "I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised at the warm welcome of Jesse Armstrong, Mark Mylod — the producers — and all the actors. Everyone was super down to earth."
As was revealed in the Oct. 17 premiere, Jihae plays top PR consultant Berry Schneider, who advises Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong), in the battle against his father, Logan Roy (Brian Cox).
"The table reads, being a part of it all, gave me a reason to laugh out loud and I'm really grateful for that," she says. "It's such a privilege to be a part of something that is so well done."
The South Korean singer/songwriter-actress, who was born in Seoul, moved around a lot as a child, also living in Nigeria and Sweden.
"At the time I was not really thrilled as a kid having to go to different schools all the time," she says. "I went to ten different schools by the time I turned 13. I was always having to make new friends and always kind of in this unfamiliar uncomfortable place and always looking to find my ground. I was really grumpy about it."
But her perspective has since changed. "I look back and I realize what an incredible gift that was because as an adult, I know how to find my way in rough situations. It was a great training ground for that."
Growing up, she was drawn to music. "I sang before I spoke basically," she says. "I come from a very musical family. My grandmother who passed before I was born, her dream was to become an opera singer —she made arrangements to go to opera school in Japan. And, similar to her dream, my mother also had a great voice and it was also her dream. But post-Korean war, it never got fulfilled. So, when I was born — I'm the youngest of three — she thought, 'She's got the voice in the family.' So she thought I fulfill their dreams."
In 2007, the singer-songwriter released her first album, My Heart Is an Elephant, featuring Lenny Kravitz on guitar and bass. The next year, her song "Man to Man, Woman to Woman" was chosen by First Ladies Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama as the theme song for the Hours Against Hate campaign to combat bigotry. In 2015, for her fourth album, Illusion of You, she worked with Eurythmics' Dave Stewart.
"It was like a gift from the universe or from God. Every time I felt like, 'I don't know if I could keep doing this.' I'd meet amazing people who wanted to collaborate with me."
Her charisma led to acting opportunities in shows like Netflix's Altered Carbon, the National Geographic series Mars and a starring role in Peter Jackson's big-budget action movie Mortal Engines.
"I have to say that it wasn't a plan to become an actress," she says. "But I did pay my dues. My first manager sat down in all seriousness and asked me to get a boob job to help my career."
As things turned around, and she played characters like Commander Hana Seung in Mars and warrior Anna Fang in Mortal Engines, she says, "It was such a gift to be participating in projects that were really intelligent and well written, but also playing empowering roles, as an Asian female. All of the different fans of color have come up to me and told me how much they appreciated seeing me and how it inspired them. To me, that was just so much more than just acting for acting sake."
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