From Actress to Mother, and Mother to Actress
JEON Do-yeon doesn’t like to be coined as the "Queen of Cannes.” The only instance she uses it is when she is jokingly showing off to her husband. Still getting nervous every time she works on a new project, she braces herself for the two newest projects. Way Back Home (directed by PANG Eun-jin) and Memories of the Sword (directed by PARK Heung-sik) are the two. What is interesting is that her role in both films is a mother. In Way Back Home, JEON plays an ordinary house wife, who is also a mother of a little girl that is about the same age as her own daughter, and she is wrongly accused of drug trafficking when she is briefly travelling France and is put into jail for two years. Here, she shows a portrait of a strong mother who never gives up on hope. Also in Memories of the Sword, she turns into a sword warrior, trying to bring up her step daughter as a secretive weapon for revenge. From Happy End (1999), Secret Sunshine (2007), The Housemaid (2010) and Countdown (2011), one gets to wonder how many faces this mother has.
- Since Countdown, it took two years till Way Back Home.
I have had numerous interviews. It has been pretty hard but I am happy that I am getting healthier now. It’s probably because I am in the middle of shooting Memories of Sword, which involves a lot of action. Thanks to that, I don’t get as easily tired even when I am not feeling very well. (laughs) The question I frequently get in an interview is what I have been doing for the last two years. I just lived, I guess, everyday life, just like everyone else. I have a little daughter, so I go to the kindergarten and back home, go grocery shopping, and work out. I have a few drinks sometimes with my friends. Just like others. (laughs)
- JEON Do-yeon as a mother is already familiar on the screen. But in Way Back Home, you look more natural than ever as a mother.
Just like in the film, I often sing with my daughter. The person I was in the film is part of my real life, too, and that is how it is reflected, without trying too hard. However, I didn’t think of my daughter when the character I played cried thinking of her daughter. I can tell you one thing for sure: now that I am a mother, I am not afraid of playing a mother on the screen. In Secret Sunshine, I didn’t have a child and I was not married. It made me feel as if my acting as a mother was fraud. The director, LEE Chang-dong, would tell me “just do what you can do,” but it was extremely hard for me. I had no idea why he casted me in the first place. Now I think that maybe, every woman has innate motherhood, and although not usually shown in everyday life, it kicks off with a cue. I guess that’s what he expected when he casted me in Secret Sunshine.
- In Way Back Home, Jeong-yeon is scared and desperate at first but becomes calmer and stronger as time goes by.
We shot for three weeks in Dominican Republic for the jail scenes and one week at Orly Airport in France. What was three weeks for me was in fact, for Jeon-yeon, two years. Moreover, very tiring and sad things keep happening to her. Her husband is having a hard time too, but he is at least in the real world and has familiar people around him. It is completely different for Jeong-yeon. For her, it is just a chain of drastic episodes, one after another that she has to cope with. That is when I stopped and asked myself, “would she be just sad?” If you get beaten on the same spot several times, your body kind of gets used to it; you endure it better and feel less pain. You become strong, and in a way, indifferent, even asking yourself, “is that all?” That is reality. Jeong-yeon used to be a trusting soul, a naïve housewife, but after two years in the Martinique prison, she must have become stronger and tougher. Towards the end of the movie, she says “I am guilty.” Her resentment on others is now finally on herself. That is how she grew up.
- Memories of the Sword is your first attempt at a period action drama and the atmosphere is quite different from Way Back Home.
It has a deep and vast scope of narrative, so for the time being, it’s hard for me to understand the big picture. There are many characters and episodes and I guess it is a story about the feeling of justice in people. I am one of the people with the strongest sense of justice. Does that sound as though I am the main character? (laughs)
- It is your third work together with PARK Heung-sik, along with I Wish I Had a Wife (2000) and My Mother, The Mermaid (2004).
He had the idea of Memories of the Sword
already when we were working on My Mother, The Mermaid
, which was back in 2004. The film is to have three female characters, and he said he wanted one of them to be me. I naturally agreed to take the part. I like his perspective and filmic details very much. Now that I look back on things, I was not at all good enough in I Wish I Had a Wife
. For example, there is a scene where Wonju, the main character that I played, had to go back home because she left her cell phone at home when she was already late on her way to work. The director asked me, “don’t you think she would be really mad?” but I didn’t act it well enough. That makes me want to do well in Memories of the Sword
all the more. I want to make a clear difference this time. You may want to call it grudge, if you like. (laughs)
- It is somewhat like Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) in that she brings up the child into a warrior so she can revenge Dukki (played by LEE Byung-hun) who betrayed his teacher and friends to become the King.
In a way, yes. However, I am not sure if it is going to be a better film than Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, but certainly a very different one. PARK has prepared for it for a long time. In his imagination, he has already completed shooting this film several times. (laughs) Unlike in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon where the action is beautiful like a dance, in Memories of the Sword, you will see action that is full of power and emotions.
- Since you received the prize at Cannes, you are praised as one of the most successful actresses in Korean cinema.
I only use the expression “the Queen of Cannes” when I want to playfully show off to my husband. I even tell him that I am among the 100 most influential film people selected by Variety. (laughs) But I have a long way to go. I still have to wait and endure. Actors and actresses have to get chosen, it’s not like they choose their roles. Going through marriage and raising a child, I came to think a lot about life as a mother and a wife. I have lived without too much difficultly, both as a person and as an actress, but marriage has made a big difference. Moreover, I now have a child. I have no choice but to mature as a person. I see clearly how insufficient and incompetent I am as a person and an actress. That makes me shaky and even scared. It is the same when I work. I keep asking myself if I can do it well, and become nervous. People who have been with me long enough say that I am just whining, but it’s really how I feel. However, when I actually start working I manage to do it well, but the worries and anxieties are what propel me. (laughs)
By SONG Soon-jin