Q: From “Ruler of Your Own World” to “The Greatest Love,” it somehow seems that you have the ability to make the male actors seem like younger brothers to you. Even the great Dokgo Jin. It’s like you look after them.
GHJ: Yes, I know, right? I think so too. I think such habits exist within me because I’m the oldest in my family, the oldest daughter and I’m blood-type A. I have to look after my younger brother, Seung-beom… I practically raised both of them. (laugh) So I think that’s why but I’ve gotten extremely used to looking after guys. And I guess that vibe somehow gets passed onto the men I work with. I make them perceive the fact that as I gradually open my heart to them, I also see completely through them.
Q: I guess you’re not that scared of guys.
GHJ: I think I try to act like equals to them, regardless of age, once I get close with them. (laugh) Even Cha Seung-won used to say to me, Goo Ae-jung, you’re sneaky! Don’t make that face! And that I look at him as if I know everything. Then I’d respond, “Come on. How would I know that…”
How sneaky! (laugh)
Q: Well when you were filming “Memento Mori,” which was basically your debut project, you quite innocently said, “I don’t know!” when asked if you would continue to act. It seems like you weren’t serious about becoming an actor back then.
GHJ: I was told I’d get paid three million won so I went thinking of it as a part-time job. But I was asked to pull all-nighters all the time and wouldn’t let me go home when I wanted to. And I’d go to the director and say things like, what time will this finish? Don’t you think I’ll show on the screen in the size of a fingernail? I don’t think people will see me if I hide behind the pillar. (laugh) I used to think the head of production was the person who feeds people and wondered why the producer always sits around in fishing chairs while wearing shorts. I really was not interested in movies nor actors.
Q: So how did you come to decide that you would take up acting as a job?
GHJ: Well when I saw other kids pull all-nighters while filming the movie, I told myself wow, I should never play the main character. Plus they had agencies and were getting attention while I wasn’t. So I just wanted to get the movie done and over with and go back to living my normal life. But when “Memento Mori” got released, people started asking about me and showed interest. And that’s when I started getting calls from agencies. I’m the type that whether it comes to tennis, piano or studying, I had never felt the desire to be complimented by doing better. I always told myself, this is good enough, this is okay. But for the first time, I wanted to be better. There was a surging of such desire within me. But the face of mine that showed on the screen was so ugly. I had always gone on set after sleeping after eating ramen. I got shocked over how ugly I was. (laugh)
Q: But once people realize new desires or resolutions, they start worrying over the methodical aspect to them. And since you hadn’t undergone proper acting training, I’m sure the time came when you could no longer hold out with the refreshingness you presented when you were young.
GHJ: That time came for me around the year 2004 or 2005, after I wrapped up “Sang Doo! Let’s Go to School” and starting filming “Heaven’s Soldiers.” You could call it the time I was in dilemma or a slump. I wasn’t getting the projects I wanted to do and I was getting only the boring and unsatisfying projects. What do I do? Ah… I guess people don’t want me. But I’ve been good with what I’ve done so far, I had been thinking, when people started telling me I need to try harder. And that too by people who were closest to me. But I had been so carefree with my life that I didn’t know what I should do. I was thinking, what do I learn from where? Do I have to change my pattern of acting? And that’s about the time I was given movie “Family Ties.”
Q: I think that marked the birth of the female grown-up Kong Hyo-jin and was the turning point to your acting career which ultimately led to your appearance in “The Greatest Love.”
GHJ: I did not have the talent nor charm to appeal to the opposite sex and I knew it would be difficult for me to be portrayed as someone’s ideal woman because the image of me being wild and strong-minded had become fixed. So I was thinking that I’ll probably have to find satisfaction in being a cool woman that people want to be like. But it’s true that I had been working on creating a new image through TV series “Thank You” and movie “M.” And Yu-kyung in “Pasta” wasn’t supposed to be the character she turned out to be but I changed a lot of things about her.
Q: What was she supposed to be like?
GHJ: A very determined woman. A boy-like girl who worked really hard with a towel tied around her head. She was supposed to fight with the chef a lot and be rebellious but… I just didn’t do any of it. I’d be going back to being my old self if I portrayed her as a cool and straightforward girl. But this worried the director. He said she was too weak and is no match to the chef. But of course she wouldn’t. She was the youngest in the kitchen. Isn’t it normal that she’d feel like dying when she gets scolded because she’s scared and that she would cower? That’s why I didn’t [fight the chef] although I could and was asked to a couple more times. As if I couldn’t. And that’s how I, in my own way, succeeded in making her into the character I wanted her to be.
Q: It was a stubbornness that came from conviction right? You knew there was no need to do more.
GHJ: Yes because people wanted to see what they were used to. Hence they were trying to make me show the image they had of me when they case me. But it took little time to adjust this. The director said that it seems like I’m right after editing and placed his faith in me after that. The reason the level of satisfaction I got from “Pasta” was high for me was because I got to create and show the character I wanted to portray. And I was happy that the public liked it. That’s why I’d been thinking I would like to take on another character that’s like this when I was handed “The Greatest love.” I’m so happy that people now consider me as an actress that can play loveable characters as well.
Q: I think the character you played in movie “Crush and Blush” was quite dramatic, a rare character for your filmography. This was a big decision for you, right?
GHJ: It’s my favorite movie. And it was a character and movie worth the gamble so I started on it with the determination that if I’m going to do it, I might as well astonish everyone. I told myself, I’ll wear a strange coat, strange shoes, and give up on trying to look pretty! I’ll reveal all of my weaknesses! (laugh) And maybe that’s why but I felt like I was entitled to more compensation for it. I’d write responses like, “Who are you! I’m Kong Hyo-jin!” when I see bad comments written about me on the Internet. So imagine how happy I must’ve been when I won the award for best actress for “Crush and Blush” at the Korea Film Awards. I cried. (laugh) I was so happy because it felt like the world was finally telling me, okay! You win! I hadn’t been able to get the poster changed because director Park Chan-wook chose it. I would’ve tried to change it if it was director Lee Kyung-mi I could talk to about it, saying how it’ll affect a woman’s life. Imagine seeing that red face of mine hanging up this big in front of theaters! But it freed me completely. I became indifferent to everything after “Crush and Blush.” I had revealed myself completely. What would I be scared of? (laugh)
Q: But I think your boyfriend Ryoo Seung-beom might’ve reacted a bit differently.
GHJ: Seung-beom loves that movie. He complimented me for a while over it. And he’s actually stingy when it comes to compliments. So he finally started to acknowledge the fact that my acting is a bit better than his. (laugh) And from then on, he started to bring the edits of his movies to me to ask for my detailed advice and wrote down everything I’d say. (laugh) He had completely disregarded my acting for such a long time, saying things like I taught her the A to Z of acting. Even when he came to the set of “Family Ties” for a cameo appearance, he told me, “Hyo-jin, you have to act in more of an adult way” to which I’d respond, “What would you know about my acting when it’s your first time here today?” and bickered on and on. We didn’t talk about each other’s acting in the past that much but from a certain point on, we’ve come to be the most critical observers of each other’s acting.
Q: But that’s when you two had briefly broken up so how was it that you came to recommend that he play the role of the ex-boyfriend in “Family Ties”?
GHJ: Because it’s fun. He had to play the role of the ex-boyfriend fighting with me and it had to be someone who could leave a strong impression no matter how brief his appearance was so I thought nobody could be better than him. I told him I thank him a lot after the movie came out. And that the movie improved by about 30 percent because of him. Not because of his acting but because of his presence. (laugh)
(to be continued)
Vietnamese translation: here