Entertainment behind the scenes
Korea’s Queen of Cannes is back
By Jon Herskovitz
South Korean actress Jeon Do-yeon returns to Cannes for the first time since she impressed global critics with her role as a widow trying to rebuild her life in the 2007 movie called “Secret Sunshine”. Jeon was an obscure actress as the time but now returns with much greater fanfare as she plays the lead in the South Korean movie “The Housemaid.”
Reuters met Jeon, who was dubbed by local media after she won her award as the “Queen of Cannes”, last week at a coffee shop in Seoul not far from an ancient palace that once housed Korean kings. Here are excerpts from the interview:
Reuters: How do you think it will feel returning to Cannes?
Jeon Do-yeon: The award I received at the Cannes three years ago was a great honour. It was my first film festival and I was taken aback by how no one noticed the actress Jeon Do-yeon. I went without expectations. If anything changed at all, my will to become an even better actress with the award being a stepping stone would be it. Another award will not change my life.
Reuters: How did your life change with the award and motherhood soon following?
Jeon: A part of my life has indeed changed because of my marriage, as you said. I have a child and whether it was intentional or not, I took some time off work and apart from the changes in my everyday life, work has become even more special to me. I feel even closer to my passion and energy for work.
Reuters: After having gone once, do you expect to do anything different this time around at Cannes?
Jeon: My official schedule for the Cannes has not been confirmed yet. When I look back on it now, my schedule then was not that crazy. It was just that it was my first film festival and it was the Cannes, so I had no peace of mind to look after myself. If I do go back now, I believe that I will be able to take some time to look back and see what is around me.
Reuters: What is more difficult, acting or being a mother?
Jeon: Both are difficult! My passion for my work is still so great that it has reached the point where I can enjoy the hardships that come with it, during the projects. But I had a child, and I don’t know if it’s just me, but I was not the mother that I thought I would have turned into. It’s still hard, and I don’t think I know well how to enjoy the difficulties of being a mother. As my child grows and I spend more time with her, I believe that I will be able to grow as a mother.
Reuters: Would you like to work in a movie overseas?
Reuters: Are there any directors with whom you would like to work?
Jeon: I haven’t had many opportunities to meet many foreign film directors. When Ang Lee, (director of Lust, Caution) came to Korea, I had the opportunity to meet him and I was swept away. I would like to work with him and although it was a very natural setting where we met and he said he would also like to work with Jeon Do-youn, For Ang Lee, I am a bit willing to leap the language barrier.
Reuters: What were the challenges of the role you play in “The Housemaid”?
Jeon: Everyone besides Hoon, the master of the house, has a “maid-like” nature. The housewife and her mother, everyone. Everyone is a maid besides the maid, Eun-yi, that I play. This is because everyone besides her has something to compensate for their “maid natures” like power or wealth. Eun-yio does not have anything else to compensate for her maid-ness. This movie might compel audiences to think about whether they have something to substitute their own maid-like natures.
Reuters: As part of the filming, you were dangled in a harness from a chandelier several metres above the floor. How was it doing your own stunts?
Jeon: It was painful, scary and frightening!
Reuters: What do you think about the commotion in South Korean media about the steamy scenes in “The Housemaid”?
Jeon: All movies that have bed scenes are shocking and a lot of talk goes around the bed scenes whenever a movie comes out. What is different about this one is that the shock does not come from visual scenes but the emotional shock. It was all detailed by the director, and if you are expecting something visually shocking, you will be in for a disappointment. The bed scenes in our movie, besides the exposure, has a moderated beauty.
Reuters: Just by winning the best actress award at Cannes before, you are likely in consideration for the award at this festival. Do you have room on your shelf for another one?
Jeon: If they give to me, I’ll take it! But I wonder, if something like that will actually happen. I’m just an unknown actress in Asia and if they do give the award to someone like me twice, it would be something absolutely extraordinary.
Reuters: Do you have any favourite characters from the movies in which you appeared?
Jeon: Now that I’m finished with the Housemaid, the character of Eun-yi remains with me the most. There were so many. I cannot just choose one.
Eun-yi’s allure is her purity and it took some time for me to understand. Understanding her purity would have helped me to put all the other parts of her character into place, but I couldn’t at first. I think I sought her out in all the wrong places, but after I realised I myself could be Eun-yi everything became much easier.
Reuters: You are often cast as a women facing hard times or in a troubles relationship, Do you think you could play a character in a romantic comedy?
Jeon: Of course I would love to play a character like that. I wish there were such roles for me to choose from because as an actress I have such a limited number of choices.
Reuters: Would you want your daughter to become an actress?
Jeon: I think I will object if my daughter decides to become an actress. The reason is because she will have a label as the daughter of Jeon Do-yeon. And it will not be easy for her to surpass her mother. I wish my daughter to stand in the centre of her world, whether that it is big or small.
Reuters: In “Secret Sunshine” you were in the role of a piano teacher. Did you do your own playing?
Jeon: I used to play the piano when I was younger, but after stopping for a long time, I had to learn and practice. The scenario had me playing “Fur Elise”, which I had played as a little girl. But another piece by Liszt, it was so difficult. My piano teacher showed me first how to play and I could hardly see her fingers. So fumbling along the memories of piano-playing I had when I was younger, I was able to mock some of the playing after some practice. Even though it wasn’t perfect. I think…I practiced for two months. I used to live on the set, and in my room, they set up a Yamaha grand piano for me. And so I would sit at the piano every waking hour. Even after a glass of alcohol, I would sit and play profusely. I was able to play the tune with my eyes closed later even though it was a fragment of the original piece.
Reuters: Much has been written in South Korea on the final scene in “Secret Sunshine” showing the beam of light on a bleak patch of ground. How do you interpret that ending?
Jeon: I think the people in the movie believe that salvation and hope are both in the heavens. What the director wanted to show was that maybe that hope and salvation are on the ground where we walk. We have to walk this earth to live our lives, and maybe hope is not that far away, but very close to us
(Translated by Christine Kim)