SINGAPORE - She may have been an actress since she was 17, but popular South Korean A-lister Gianna Jun, also known as Jun Ji-hyun, says she still gets nervous on her first day on any new set.
The 39-year-old, known for the juggernaut romance titles My Sassy Girl (2001) and My Love From The Star (2013 to 2014), makes her first major return to the small screen in four years with the titular character in Kingdom: Ashin Of The North.
She tells The Straits Times over a video call: "I've been working as an actress for 20 years, but every set is new and nerve-racking. Before my first day on any set, I'll lie in bed and think to myself, 'Can I really do this?' It's not just specifically for Ashin.
"But the feeling was more pronounced this time because I'm joining a very successful series mid-way."
Kingdom: Ashin Of The North, now streaming on Netflix, is a 90-minute spin-off from the hit period zombie drama Kingdom (2019 to present), led by actor Ju Ji-hoon. Jun, who admits to being a fan of the series, made a brief cameo at the end of season two.
She plays Ashin, the vengeful heir of a Jurchen tribe living in the ancient Korean kingdom of Joseon.
Aside from Jun, the spin-off also stars actor Park Byung-eun, who is reprising his season two role as the head of the royal commandery.
This is not the first time the two stars are working together - they were both in the espionage film Assassination (2015).
At a separate press conference also attended by Park, Jun says of her co-star, a fishing enthusiast: "He's a better fisherman now because he brought his catch for us to eat."
Park, 44, draws laughter with his response. "I didn't know what I was supposed to be more focused on. I was supposed to be acting, but these people were driving me out to sea to catch more yellowtail and cuttlefish in Jeju, which was our primary filming location."
Despite the friendly atmosphere on set, the show remains grim.
Screenwriter Kim Eun-hee tells ST that while the first two seasons focused on the themes of hunger and blood, the theme of this spin-off is anguish and resentment, in keeping with Ashin's journey of vengeance.
She adds that this episode will focus more on the lore of the series. "Fans who were looking forward to lots of action scenes might not find what they expect."
Still, one can expect zombies galore, each one carefully made up. Director Kim Seong-hun, who has been praised for how cinematic he managed to make Kingdom look, says they are the most challenging part of his job.
"Directing a horde of zombie actors is the most difficult thing. It's hard for them to all be perfect, but as long as there is even one person who is out of place, it just ends up looking bad."
The zombie extras were one of Jun's highlights on the job, however.
When asked if she was afraid of the zombies roaming around on set, she says: "Not at all. In fact, I looked forward to meeting them the most. It's really amazing the amount of trouble they have to go through to act as zombies. I even took pictures with them so I can brag to my friends about meeting them."
It was the seasoned Park who got the chills instead.
"Sometimes, when we have scenes in the forest late at night, I'd see the zombie actors with blood on their faces and bodies just having their meals under the tree in full make-up, which startles me.
"It's also quite interesting because sometimes they look fully like zombies, but they're on their cellphones or talking to their parents normally."
Kingdom: Ashin Of The North has lived up to the popularity of the primary series, topping the Singapore Netflix top 10 charts on consecutive days after its release.
Jun says: "Kingdom is not a piece of work that can be changed easily or one that depends on one or two actors to make it work.
"It is based on an immaculate script, direction and art. It's a totally comprehensive art in its own form and it brings me great joy to see something like this in Korea."
Kingdom: Ashin Of The North is available on Netflix.