How Being an Idol Helped Suzy Bae Shape ‘Doona!’

For many actors, they go through great lengths to understand their character and the reasoning behind their actions. There are some that shadow the careers of the characters they portray or even experience it for themselves. But for actress Suzy Bae, she lived the life in Netflix’s Doona!

In the romantic drama, the title character Doona is a former K-Pop idol who decides to step away from the spotlight and move into an apartment complex. There, she meets ordinary college student Wonjun (Se-jong Yang), who slowly helps Doona come out of her reclusive shell — while also falling in love. 

Throughout the drama, flashbacks of Doona’s life as an overworked idol is shown, including a scene where she collapses on stage in front of an audience from anxiety. She is then forced to take a break from the group. Though Doona is not an exact copy of Bae’s experience as a former idol from the now-disbanded group, Miss A, she could relate with the experience of the pressures of performing on stage.

“[My experience in a girl group] helps very much,” Bae said during a roundtable interview. “I didn’t think it really helped a lot in portraying this character — but, when I was on camera acting in those particular scenes, it all felt so familiar to the point that at times, I would be confused. Am I currently acting or am I in this for real?”

Bae was attracted to the role after receiving the script and then reading the original webtoon comic it was based on, The Girl Downstairs written by Songa Min. She described her heart fluttering while reading it. 

“There was this particular mood and vibe that was unique to Doona!,” she explained.  “And also, I was drawn to the character because it was a character I’ve never played before. And I also had some parts where I really felt for the character Doona, so it tapped my curiosity.” 

DOONA! Bae Suzy as Lee Doona in DOONA! Cr. Kim Seung-wan/Netflix © 2023

Doona appears cold and stoic when she is first introduced but later becomes more grounded and forthcoming with her emotions, particularly towards Wonjun. She begins to live for herself rather than what those in the industry wanted her to be. While examining the character, Bae really wanted to just give Doona a hug, because there were so many misunderstandings for the character in the beginning, particularly her idol moments. 

“Looking back [as part of a girl group], there were moments that I felt I was struggling but I didn’t really know much,” Bae revealed. “You know I think I try to deny that I was struggling. I try to just stay a bubbly person and stay in my bright bubbly kind of character. But Doona is different. She would express her feelings to every extent, and she lets herself suffer. She lets herself go through all those emotions. So I kind of was envious of her and I could resonate with her in that sense.”

The production team really wanted to create this angelic and fantasy aspect surrounding Doona, which felt like a long photoshoot for Bae. And though it’s quite believable with Bae’s beauty, the lighting staff wanted to showcase that everyone would fall in love with Doona. But for Bae, she wanted to show that Doona is more than just a pretty face, she wanted the character’s personality and flaws to shine through. 

“She is very sensitive, very alert and she has a guard up, and it’s hard to tell what she’s thinking,” Bae shared. “That’s the kind of character she is. But once you get to know her, she really loves people, and she has that thirst for love.”

Doona isn’t perfect. She makes mistakes — many mistakes — and owns up to her actions, especially in her relationship with Wonjun. She said, “For me, while it’s set in early 20s, Doona, in her mind, she feels like she knows stuff. She knows life. She feels like she’s figured it out, she knows how to handle things. And because she’s also ‘Noona,’ which is like an older sister, so she’s older than Won-jun in that sense. At times when Won-jun would say something that’s a little bit painful sometimes, something that’s very based on facts or hurtful to her, sometimes Doona would realize that ‘Oh, I wasn’t aware of my own emotions.’ I tried to focus on those particular nuanced moments.“

For Bae, she feels “exhilarated” to portray this character because it’s someone she’s never played before and hopes viewers and fans will enjoy watching her. 

“I really wanted to do a good job portraying this character,” Bae said. “If you watch the show, I’m sure that you will think that I’m perfectly in sync with the character.” 

Doona! is out on Netflix now!