Park Chan-wook Praises Robert Downey Jr. for Remembering Every Crew Member on ‘Sympathizer’ Set: “He Gives Them Each a Pat on the Back”
Park Chan-wook is currently in production on the post-Vietnam War drama series The Sympathizer for HBO and A24, but with a weekend off, the Decision to Leave helmer made a decision to enter Saturday’s BAFTA Tea Party in Beverly Hills.
Before he ducked into the ballroom, Park took a moment to speak to The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet, where he shared a little about what it’s like to not only direct Robert Downey Jr. in the adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Viet Thanh Nguyen but to watch the way he moves about the set.
“First of all, he is very delightful and pleasant character, with a personality that really lights up the entire set and makes everyone happy to be there and having such an enjoyable experience,” Park relayed through a translator. “He remembers every single crew member and all the background actors. He really is friendly with all of them and gives them each a good pat on the back after their performances. He’s so encouraging to everyone.”
While that all sounds lovely and expected from the well-respected Downey, Park did say that he will have his work cut out for him when he gets to the editing bay. “With every setup and every take, [Robert] improvises dialogue every single time that’s incredibly witty and stems from something really deep from the character itself. For me, choosing which take to go with will really [be] the biggest problem that I have as a creator working with him.”
The Sympathizer, ordered to series by HBO in July 2021, is described as part espionage thriller and part cross-culture satire. It follows the Captain (Hoa Xuande), a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist spy during the final days of the Vietnam War and his resulting exile in the United States. After leaving Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in 1975, the Captain becomes enmeshed in the Southern California exile community and serves as a cultural adviser to an American film about the war. He’s later recruited to return to Vietnam for a raid on the communists.
Fred Nguyen Khan, Toan Le, Vy Le and Alan Trong round out the cast. Park and Don McKellar are co-showrunners on The Sympathizer. The series is a co-production between HBO, A24 and Rhombus Media, in association with Cinetic Media and Moho Film. Park and McKellar executive produce with Robert and Susan Downey and Amanda Burrell of Team Downey, A24, Kim Ly, Rhombus Media’s Niv Fichman, Ron Schmidt, author Nguyen and Moho Film’s Jisun Back. A debut date hasn’t been set.
When The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg sat down in conversation with Downey and his wife and producing partner Susan Downey in December to talk about their Netflix documentary Sr., Susan confirmed that her husband plays five roles in The Sympathizer.
“That one’s really fun,” she said of the limited series, with Robert adding that he shaved his head for the series in order to save an hour a day rather than put on a bald cap to change up the looks for each character. (Paparazzi shots from the set surfaced last week showing the actor in a variety of looks.)
Though Park is best known for his feature film work with credits like Oldboy, The Handmaiden, Lady Vengeance, Stoker and Thirst, the director says he’s not approaching The Sympathizer limited series like it’s for the small screen. “I think of it as a very long film in a way that the episodes are continuous and create one long story,” explains Park, who previously directed the limited series The Little Drummer Girl. “Previously, while making a film you have to think of the running time and whether you’re in the script stage or the editing stage. You always have to think about what scenes you can remove. With this, I don’t have to do that anymore, which is great.”