Jeon Do Yeon - festival darling, acclaimed actress, and a tour de force. She stars in the upcoming film “Countdown,” alongside Jung Jae Young, as a con artist whose recent job leads to getting hunted down by Jung. It’s totally different from her last film “The Housemaid,” but in both films, she plays a femme fatale.
The following is an excerpt of an interview she had with Asiae.
Q: What was the most appealing [aspect] about “Countdown when you first got its screenplay?
A: I liked the screenplay but was drawn a bit more to my character Cha Ha Yeon. She’s actually someone who is much more appealing in the way she looks — a con artist with a criminal record who is armed with beauty from head to toe. [laugh] That’s what I was already drawn too. And there was no detailed history on her but the fact that she kept going to see the daughter she gave birth to 17 years ago. I’m sure she could’ve lived her life ignoring her but she was constantly curious about her. She may seem like someone who is cold-hearted and cool-headed but she may be a warm and soft-hearted woman on the inside, is what was appealing about her and made her seem humane.
Q: I actually felt that she’s not quite the perfectionist although she may seem like the biggest trickster starting with the fact that she went to jail because she got fooled by Cho Myung-seok (Lee Kyung-young). A: Now that you say it, I only thought she was a warm-hearted woman but was also not perfect. Isn’t that so attractive? [laugh] What I actually focused more on was Cha Ha Yeon as a woman, as a human being. There’s no doubt she’s mean because she drives a person to his death but I wanted people to feel genuineness and sympathy for her. However, Cha Ha Yeon’s a character that I felt I didn’t need to add more to because she was already fully set. She was already complete. And I felt that whatever I added would be excessive and get in the way of people relating to her. So I think I did just enough with her. I think working ‘moderately’ on my role in this movie was the best way to go about her.
Q: That’s surprising. Moderately?
A: Because “Countdown” was about Tae Gun Ho’s (Jung Jae Young) drama. And Cha Ha Yeon was a relatively device-like character. That’s why I tried not to become too attached nor unattached to Tae Gun-ho and not too absorbed nor less absorbed with Cha Ha Yeon’s situation.
Q: But didn’t you want to work on a project where you’d be more at the center of the story?
A: Hmm… There weren’t any projects like that. [laugh] I actually never planned or intended to work on the projects I’ve worked on till now nor dreamt of taking on a particular character or movie. All I’ve done is go with what I wanted to do the most from what I’ve been given because it’s not like I always get handed projects where the female character stands out. I may not do a movie if it’s bad although the I like the character and I may do a movie even if I play a small part in it. I just make the choices that I think are best at those times.
Q: You worked with Jung Jae Young for the first time in ten years. Although you two played characters that must be sick and tired of each other [laugh] what changes did you feel in him as an actor?
A: I actually didn’t know it had been that long. Only after I talked with people did I realize it’s been nine years. But I think that both he and I, in our own ways, have become good actors. Back when we did “No Blood No Tears,” he was a newcomer and I was basically starting anew as well. We had much more to show than what we had shown. And we actually weren’t that close back then. I thought of him as someone who’s just dark and serious. But it turns out I’d really just had no idea what he’s like. He constantly tells the most random jokes but he’ll keep going if you laugh at them so you need to stop laughing at one point. [laugh] Yet he focuses very keenly the moment he goes into shoot. So he’s good at controlling that himself like that. Everyone including both the actors and crew really hard time shooting this movie because almost all of it was shot on location but I think Jung was the reason we were able to work on the movie with a smile. Most directors are known to be cringing yet lighten up when the actress comes but the director for “Countdown” lightened up every time he saw Jung.
Q: I remember being surprised when in a past interview, I read that your dream is to get married because very naturally, I’d thought of you as someone who’d only want to work.
A: Back then, I had a hard time outside the time that I’d be working. I didn’t know what to do nor how to enjoy myself when I was all alone after work. And when a rush of various emotions such as emptiness would come over me, I thought that I’d be able to find an answer from getting married. Because it’s a path I hadn’t been on. I thought that all the answers would lie within marriage.
Q: Your daughter will already be three years old in January. Has your attitude toward life changed now that you have a child and husband where your life is rooted?
A: Life just gets a bit more tiring than me changing my attitude. [laugh] At first I wondered if I’m a weird woman. I thought I’d become a woman like my mother after I got married and had a child. Without even having to try. But it’s not like you say, ‘Yes! I’m a real mother now’ just because you have a child. You have to constantly work towards becoming a mother. But both my child and work are important to me and I want to do my best at both. So it tires out my body yet the compensation is worth it. I think that’s why I keep moving forward and deal with everything.
Q: The film industry in general has contracted these days and most Korean movies cast around the male actor. So in a way, actresses have to find their own paths now. How are you looking for that path?
A: It definitely isn’t easy. But what can I do about it other than just be satisfied with what I’m given and be and devoted to what I do? Some people have told me to try producing my own movies but I don’t think I’m that aggressive. I think taking on the best choice from what I can do is most like me. One needs to continuously be passionate and desire things but I don’t have anything beyond that. I’m not really interested in doing anything outside acting.
Q: I recently met Gong Yoo and he said he was moved by the text message you sent him after the premiere for “The Crucibles.”
A: We’re competitors so I don’t want to talk about “The Crucibles” [laugh] but when I read the book, I was shocked by the fact that all of it actually happened and what’s really scary is that similar things are still happening frequently even at this moment. So because I had a hard time reading the book, I felt that shooting the movie for it definitely wouldn’t be easy. So I think Gong Yoo and Jung Yu Mi held out well. And I was proud of them for that.
Q: Whether you want it or not, you’re at the center of actresses in their thirties and you are bound to become someone’s role model. Have you ever thought that you have too much of a burden placed on you?
A: I think I’m the type of person who wonders what I want rather than wondering what people want of me. Not to say that I ignore their thoughts but I pay more attention to my own demands. Becoming somebody’s role model or being called the ‘queen of Cannes’ are ultimately the me that people demand of me. And of course I’d live like that if that’s where I want to be but I don’t think that’s what I want. I don’t know how high people’s expectations are of me and how much more they want to see of a certain side to me but I just want to live my life working hard at what I want to. It’s nice to know that expectation exists but I’m not pressured to be thought of as a certain actress. At the end of the day, we’re all alone. Our job is about making our own choices, standing in front of the camera alone and bearing it alone.