An Asian woman with short black hair, dressed in a red and blue top holds her left arm out in front of her against a white and black background.

Han Hyo-joo’s career takes a serious turn in ‘Blood Free’

Writer Philiana Ng talks with the Korean actress about her new role in the Disney+ sci-fi series, and how it's different from anything she's ever done

Han Hyo-joo as Yun Ja-yu, an emotionless founder and CEO of a controversy biotech company in "Blood Free."

Courtesy of Walt Disney Company

Words by Philiana Ng

If you’re a consumer of Korean dramas, then you may have come across some of Han Hyo-joo’s work. The 37-year-old actress is a veteran of the South Korean entertainment industry, having amassed an eclectic mix of film and television roles since she began her screen career in the mid-2000s, including Hulu’s acclaimed 2023 superhero drama Moving and Viki’s post-apocalyptic zombie series Happiness. Her most recent series, Hulu’s sci-fi dystopian thriller Blood Free, puts the popular K-drama actress at the center of a conspiracy set in a futuristic world where artificially engineered meat has become the norm. Han plays Yun Ja-yu, the emotionless founder and CEO of the biotech company embroiled in controversy, who hires an ex-soldier (Ju Ji-hoon) to be her bodyguard after an attempt is made on her life.

Known for her bubbly personality and carefree attitude off-screen, Blood Free marks a major professional shift for Han. Following her global breakout role as one of the superpowered mothers on Moving, Disney’s most-watched K-drama last year, the actress spoke with JoySauce—with the help of a translator (though she’s conversational in English and fluent in Japanese)—about what she connected with on her latest series, what she considers her proudest roles, and whether she’s looking to expand her reach on the international stage.

This article has been edited for clarity and length, and contains mild spoilers for Hulu’s Blood Free.

Philiana Ng: You’ve been acting for over 20 years. I’m sure over time your perspective has evolved once you gained more acting experience. What have you learned during this period?
Han Hyo-joo: I’m very thankful that I am able to be doing this job for such a long time. And along the way, I got so much love and there’s just so much to be thankful for. Not only did I get older in age, but also, I grew a lot as a person. I feel like if I hadn’t had the opportunity to have lived as an actor, there are many things I wouldn’t have had the chance to feel and experience. So I’m always really filled with a lot of gratitude.

PN: You’re also known to be a chameleon when it comes to the characters you play and the projects you choose. You’ve done romance, action, thriller, apocalyptic dramas, Blood Free is sci-fi. What makes you say yes to something?
HH: It’s definitely, first of all, the script and the storyline. I always try to think about what kind of message this title is trying to convey after it’s done as a whole. Obviously, it’s not that you can deliver a particular message with every project you’re on, but I try to think about the overall goal. Is it for pure entertainment? Do I want to carry meaning through the project? I try to look at the entire message and the creative vision, in terms of what kind of emotions does this want to convey to the audience.

An Asian man in a dark suit stands behind an Asian woman in a cream-colored coat and turtleneck, in front of a dark SUV.

Ju Ji-hoon (left) plays bodyguard to Yun Ja-yu (Han Hyo-joo) in "Blood Free."

Courtesy of Walt Disney Company

PN: Have you found that you’ve been able to play more diverse roles as you’ve gotten older? Especially with your last couple of projects, it seems that way?
HH: Yes, I think there’s some truth to that. Because at the end of the day, we are taking on the character of a human being, and as human beings, it’s not limited to your teens or 20s or 30s. I look forward to the many roles I’ll be able to take on in my 40s and 50s. Of course, having said that, I don’t think I’ll be able to do the more lovey-dovey roles I used to do in my 20s. [laughs]

PN: The character you play in Blood Free is very different from what people may be used to seeing you as. Was that one of the reasons why you wanted to do it?
HH: I felt like it was so new, original, and refreshing—very smartly written and a story that really fits the time. It honestly brought me quite a refreshing level of shock, too. When it comes to the character type, you’ll never see her smile. I believe there’s one scene where she does smile, but even then it wasn’t a true smile. It was like a cynical laugh that she sort of let out. For the fans out there who are used to the more bubbly and brighter side of me, they might feel like this is very different. Because Yun Ja-yu is a character who is very lonely, I also felt that loneliness as I was performing the character, and I also felt a lot of compassion for her as well.

PN: Was it hard for you not to smile? You’re very outgoing, so I wonder how difficult that was for you to maintain throughout filming?
HH: I’m very outgoing, but I also have the personality where I’m introverted. I have many personalities!

Three men stand facing away, while photographers and journalists take their pictures and hold sound booms above them.

In "Blood Free," a biotech company that artificially engineers meat becomes embroiled in controversy.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Company

PN: Your onscreen chemistry with actor Ju Ji-hoon, who plays Woo Chae-woon, the former soldier hired to protect your character, was satisfying to watch and is filled with tension. How did you create that dynamic?
HH: Because [my] character, Ja-yu, is so lonely and someone who doesn’t overtly express her feelings, I also tried to manage that tone on set. Compared to my previous projects I’ve been on, this time around there was a sense of distance with others I was working with, and that also led to that level of tension between Ji-hoon and my character. It’s hard to put into words, but we were very good friends, and we maintained a very good relationship, but I think it hindered us from getting too close or too friendly with one another because I wanted to maintain the essence of the character. 

PN: The ending of the show leaves room for more story. Are you interested in revisiting this world?
HH: Do you want to see season two? I’m curious about that too. I want to ask the writer [Lee Soo-yeon]. I hope she’s writing now! 

PN: One of my favorite shows in recent years is Happiness, which was filmed and released during the pandemic, and centered around a pandemic caused by a failed drug. Do you have any fond memories about making that show?
HH: I got so much love from many people. It’s definitely a big gap between the Happiness character and the Blood Free character. A big gap. [laughs] It was so me, so it was really comfortable to act that character. It was really fun to be on set at that time and my co-workers, they’re very good people and good actors, so we had many, many good experiences with each other. After finishing shooting, we meet one or two times a year.

PN: Moving was one of my favorite shows last year and it was received well here in the U.S. What did you take away from playing a mother like Lee Mi-hyun that has stuck with you?
HH: Although I don’t have kids of my own, through Mi-hyun I was able to indirectly experience and learn just how much one can feel for their child. I was actually thinking a lot about my own mother as I was portraying the role. Having been able to portray a character who’s larger than me, I felt like through her I learned so much about having that big heart.

PN: The world also seems to be opening up in terms of Korean actors being involved in more global projects. Moving maybe was a step toward that direction for you. Is that a desire of yours to work on a larger international scale in the future?
HH: We’re definitely living in a world and time where, regardless of your country or your language, you have the opportunity to perform as an actor. From when I started out from a very young age, I’ve always wanted to be able to work, not only within Korea but outside of Korea as well, with great directors, and I’ve done a lot of preparations for that. So if opportunity allows, I would love to work on international projects in different cultures, including the United States. Currently, I’m shooting a project in Japan, so these days I watch a lot of Japanese content also to hone my Japanese skills.

An Asian man in a dark suit and Asian woman in a beige coat run out of an SUV with bullet holes in the door and into the woods, while another man closes the door.

In "Blood Free," Ju Ji-hoon's bodyguard character (left) must protect Han Hyo-joo after her character receives death threats.

Courtesy of Walt Disney Company

PN: Is there an American show you’ve watched recently that you enjoyed?
HH: When we were shooting Blood Free, I recommended this show to our director of photography as well as others, telling them, I hope our show can have a similar in tone—maybe this could be a reference point for it. And that show was Succession.

PN: Anything you can share about the Japanese drama you’re filming with Shun Oguri? I read that it’s in the vein of a romantic comedy?
HH: It’s been quite a while since I’ve done something in the romance genre, and I’m having a lot of fun. I also feel like it’s been quite a long time since I’ve seen this expression or face from me. I feel like I’m going back to my 20s when I would do more romantic roles, so I’m looking forward to watching it as well. It’s not just a romance genre, it also has human drama elements to it as well. We’re putting a lot of effort and hard work into it, and it will be released sometime next year.

Published on June 11, 2024

Words by Philiana Ng

Philiana Ng is a Los Angeles-based entertainment writer and editor specializing in TV. She is a Daytime Emmy winner and a National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Award honoree.Her work has appeared in The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, Entertainment Tonight, TV Guide, Yahoo Entertainment, Netflix, The Daily Beast, The Wrap, Primetimer, Backstage, and more.