LA (APR 13) / SEOUL (APR 17)
One step onto the red carpet. Silence – or as silent as red carpets could go, which meant it buzzed and people whispered loudly. Who was that? Was she in the movie? was she an actress? That was Nikita, wasn’t it? Was she playing a new character?

“This way,” Wonshik Lee instructed in Korean, ushering her down the carpet. She was flanked on the left by Will Snider and Mellie Finch, her American agent and publicist. They skipped the awaiting photographers who adjusted their cameras, keeping their eyes trained on the entrance for someone more famous, someone more relevant. “We’ll come back for this.”

She was fifteen minutes early, the first of the cast to arrive as far as she could tell. No one seemed to notice. The fans waiting along the barrier barely registered her presence. The reporters chat enthusiastically into the cameras, promising glimpses of the biggest movie stars. She slunk behind them, popping into view, and she paid them as much mind as they paid her – which was none at all.

“Manager Lee,” she said again, confused as she looked back toward the reporters. “Shouldn’t we…”

He shook his head firmly, cutting her off. There was someone she needed to meet before everyone started to throw themselves over the more important stars of the movie. Bob, Colin, Mark, and the others - they were all still in an interview across the street. This was the best time for someone billed 15th in line to speak with the executives.

Seventeen years in the business, most of it spent in the spotlight, and the knowledge that she should’ve been more prepared for a red carpet premiere meant nothing. Her palms felt sweaty, a stray hair seemed to uncomfortably fall on her face, her dress wouldn’t cooperate, her shoes felt constricting. Her fingers twitched, eager to fish out her phone, desperate to message the one person she’d grown accustomed to texting when she started to feel sick and anxious and inadequate.

“Adette,” Will said, “I’d like to introduce you to Mr…” She forgot his name instantaneously, but they were all the same. Producer, executive producer, financier, director, studio head, someone important who had the potential to lift her out of the crowd, but they never did. She smiled all the same, put on an air of confidence. “You’ll love Adette in this movie,” Will continued. “I won’t spoil you, but she’s really got a special quality to her. Not to mention, she’s got trans-Pacific draw. The Asian market loves her! Have you seen My Sassy Girl? One of the highest grossing comedies in Asia. Age of Ultron is guaranteed to make millions, and she’s guaranteed to add to it.”

Even in the silence of the red carpet, everything sounded shrill and she felt ill. She laughed with humility all the same, turned her embarrassment into something more playful. Because that’s what they wanted to see, didn’t they?

They’d beaten her, she thought. Once, she’d been exactly what they wanted to see. Once, the red carpet roared at her arrival, and the reporters and photographers fought one another for her exclusive. Once, people had cared and she’d thrived off of the attention. But that had been nearly ten years ago – the peak of her celebrity and her enjoyment of it, before she’d realized it could all go so horribly wrong.

The meet and greet ended before she realized it’d even started and she was ushered off just as quickly back toward a waiting reporter. She remembered there being questions and she remembered giving some kind of answer. Whatever she said, she had no recollection of it. She wondered if the exhaustion of Coachella was affecting her, or if her unfamiliarity with American press warranted more media training.

“Marvel has so many fans in South Korea. You must really appreciate their support. Why don’t you send them a message in Korean? Let them know what they can look forward to seeing in this movie.”

She doesn't hesitate.

“I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to do this film. Joss and the cast have been very welcoming to me.”

As the reporter watched her with barely disguised confusion, it dawned on Adette and she realized with slow horror that she’d neither answered the question nor spoken in Korean. The nausea returned, her stomach churning as she immediately began to admonish herself for not being more careful. Outwardly, she smiled as blankly as possible masking all self-realization and disappointment. Better to pretend than to admit she’d misspoke.

One step onto the red carpet. A roar, a roar that went as loud as red carpets could go, which means it deafened and filled every corner of Seoul. Song Ji Eun is back! Song Ji Eun is in Avengers! Will Song Ji Eun return to Korea? Song Ji Eun is the pride of Korean cinema! Song Ji Eun!

“Get ready,” she jokingly warned Bob and Mark as they walked down the carpet together as a unit. Here, it didn’t matter that she was 15th on the list. Here, she was equal to them. Here, she was important.

She waved at the sea of photographers and fans who greeted the cast with unparalleled enthusiasm, and they roared their approval, they shouted their love. She smiled, comfortable knowing where she ranked and where she belonged. For a moment, she forgot about the worst parts of the industry. She forgot about the scrutiny she faced over every aspect of her personal life. She forgot about how they disapproved of the way her nose looked, the amount of weight she carried, the shape of her eyes.

It would come back, eventually. The honeymoon phase always ended sooner rather than later. But for the time being, she thrived off the adoration. She remembered what it was once like to be wildly successful, to not have to audition, to walk into a room and be wooed for roles. She remembered when her name carried weight, when people counted on her to fill seats in theaters and draw eyes to televisions. And then... she left. She made the decision to leave.

She posed as strangers screamed her name. She smiled. She was completely in her element.

"Ji Eun," Manager Lee said, appearing beside her. "I need you to speak to some people." Before she could say another word, she was guided toward the press. "Just a few questions and then we'll go back. Remember what we talked about, yes?"

She nodded slowly, feeling the anxiety start to bubble again. The comfort of knowing her environment quickly dissipated, and the frantic need to wear her public mask overcame her. Being Song Ji Eun was a ten inch thick piece of body armor, meant to protect the real woman that hid behind her brand.

Mouth dry, Ji Eun greeted the first man with every ounce of confidence she could find. They circled one another like fighters - he dug for something deeper than the superficial waxings of how great the film was and how honored she was. She evaded every attack with a parry of her own, all the while smiling.

"How do you feel about Rain's engagement to Kim Tae Hee?" He asked, his face expressionless, malicious intent lurking just beneath professionalism. "You dated for several years, didn't you? Did he tell you he was engaged?"

She fumbled. Ji Hoon was engaged? And he didn't tell her?

The reporter watched her intently, memorizing every twitch that could be interpreted as a reaction. For just a second, she gave him exactly what he wanted. A glimpse behind the publicity, behind the brand she'd spent years meticulously building.

She felt herself spiral out of surprise and out of anger. Here she was promoting the biggest film she'd done in years, here she was representing Korea, and he wanted to talk about her ex-fiancee. Ji Eun fought the urge to snap, to scream at him for the stupidity of the question. What relevance did it have to her career?

But she didn't.

Because she knew better than to lose control in front of so many cameras, to jeopardize what she had left in credit with the Korean public.

She retreated instead. She retreated back into the celebrity that was Song Ji Eun, and she smiled as blankly as possible. "I wish them all the best if they are engaged," she said politically. "I hope they celebrate by watching Avengers: Age of Ultron."