30th November 2009
After the mid-term exams, one student who was struggling in a class asked if she could do some extra work to improve her grade. I pointed to a stack of Cine21 magazines on the coffee table in my office and told her she could pick any interview out of them to translate and submit to me before finals. To my surprise, instead of choosing a more popular, hipper star, she chose Kim Yeong-ae. I admit I hadn’t even read this interview prior to her choosing it. Kim Yeong-ae had been in many movies in the 70s and early eighties but has done mostly television work since then. She left tv for awhile to run a company selling cosmetics—most notoriously mud packs. These mud packs were soon rumored to cause skin disease because of an alleged contaminent. Although the rumors were proven false and she won the lawsuits against her, her business was in shambles. Frankly, I almost did not post this articles. Much of what Ms Kim says is so negative. Here is the article as translated by my student. (This interview in its original Korean language form can be found in Cine21 n. 720, Sept 8, 2009. The original interview was conducted by Lee Hwa-jeong and can be viewed here – )… (hmmm..it seems my student skipped a few sentences along the way…but it was a good effort otherwise)
Why did you choose to act in the movie Goodbye, Mother out of all the possible roles you could have had? When I was offered the role of the mother in Goodbye, Mother, my situation was quite difficult. I wasn’t really feeling ready to work. I was appearing in a drama here and there, but I didn’t feel I was ready to take on a film part. However, the scenario caught my attention and I liked the fact that it was the story of ordinary people. My favorite parts to play are of the people next door like I did in the dramas ‘Wave‘ and ‘Brothers’ River’.
The movie is the story of the relationship between Ae-ja and her mother…but it seems to me that Ae-ja is the larger role. My part was large enough! I was worried about how my acting would be received and if I could manage the part.
Well, they say that once you learn how to ride a bicycle, you never forget. I think the same can be said for your acting skills. No, that’s not true. My acting is not improving as I get older and I am always so tired after wrapping up a shoot that I catch a cold. I see other actor’s my age performing and I think to myself, “Her style of acting is so old-fashioned!” I think people might look at me the same way. I feel as if I have lost my ability to concentrate and think on my feet since my role in Hwang Jin-yi about three years ago. And since I had been through so much since that part, I was worried that I would not be able to do as much as I used to.
Although I was excited to be on a movie set again, I was still nervous. I was worried about my reputation and the fact that I was rusty after several years of not acting. I threw up often and couldn’t sleep at all. I even suffered from a burst blood vessel in my eye–all because of high expectations of myself.
I’m not sure that director Jeong Ki-hoon knew that. He referred to you as an ‘expert’ and that you were very helpful on the set. Everyone else was calling you ‘Mother’. That’s natural considering my role. There is somewhat of an age gap between myself and the director who often told me I was a ‘fox’. He directed me well and got me feeling like an actress again in no time at all.
There are many scenes where you interact with your ‘daughter’ played by Choi Kang-hee. I was wondering what you thought of her as an actress… She is more like a friend to me…but a younger friend. We have a lot in common and many similar interests. We both have some bold ideas and hate staying in one place. And besides that, we are both anti-social!
I don’t understand that. With your long experience as an actress and your time as a CEO, you should be good at mingling with people. No. When I go shopping for clothes, my stylist picks everything out. I have kept the same hairdresser since I was 28. I have a person who is responsible for my makeup and nails. I just follow the people around me. I prefer to maintain my relationships with these people whom I already know.
That sounds kind of scary. It’s just that I want everything to be scheduled for me and to go smoothly. I actually keep myself in control. It also means that I expect alot of my co-stars as well. Of course, I am not talking about making mistakes. Everyone does that. However, I don’t want he or she to ignore me. I cannot stand that! I always try my best and give a huge effort with whatever task I’m given. I have heard from many people over the years that I am too strict. However I don’t agree with them. My character in Hwang Jin-yi was so strict that I was fed up with playing her. One day my son told me that the character was just like me! (Laughs) I guess I always try to be perfect.
The mother in the movie Goodbye, Mother really seems to suit you. She is also an upright person who always follows her principles. I think I have a lot in common with her.
I heard that many people called their mothers right after watching Goodbye Mother. That must be because your role was special. Although I played the mother, I thought of myself as the daughter while acting. My own mother passed away when she was 79. I was stunned when she died. Even though I had been taking care of her for twenty years, I never expected that she would pass away suddenly. I thought she would always be beside me. I most regret what I last said to her on the phone. “I’m busy, tell me what you want to say.” And then I hung up
Tell me about when you were younger. Your photos are beautiful. You must have attracted many men. When I was in middle school, the children in the village used to follow me around with sticks and call me very derogatory names. They used a term meaning half-breed because my skin was so white, my forehead was high and my eyes were brown. My father was very strict with me when he saw boys following me. He assumed I was leading them on and I was severely scolded.
It must have been difficult then to get your father’s permission to get into acting. Well, I was quite spunky! I didn’t go back home for a month after submitting my application to a vocational high school. My mother suffered from his complaining that she did not raise me better. I used to rebel quite a bit. By the time I started to get into acting, he was too sick to prevent me and then he passed away a short time later.
Did you really want to be an actress? I think you were influenced by many people telling you that you were beautiful. In the past, men and women who were good-looking were asked if they were interested in acting. I’m from Busan and when I came to Seoul, my friend urged me to apply to an acting competition at MBC. So I applied. I wonder what would I have done if I had not won. What would I have become? I used to dream of being a housewife.
When did you really start getting into acting? With my aunt’s support I set about learning everything I could about acting while I was staying in Seoul. I didnn’t know the first thing about it. But I was the eldest child and I did not want to bring shame to my family. When I look back, I think the reason I made it so far in this field is because of my pride and patience. I had my first leading role when I was 25 and I loved it. At this time, Kim Ja-ok, Ko Doo-shim and I were very popular.
You were in a lot of movies in the 1970s but afterwards you seemed to switch to television parts. I was in various kinds of movies in the past. But always meeting new people on the movie set and shortly after parting ways only to meet another new group made me feel very uncomfortable. I was also in some adult films but I stopped doing them because I was worried that my son would go into a video shop and find them. That thought makes me laugh now. Frankly, I was a terrible mother. I usually checked if he had done his homework with a phone call. I think now that I should have spent more time with him rather than working so much.
Your business venture ended quite messily. Although you won the lawsuit, it must have been quite stressful coming right after your divorce. Owning a business was not for me. I felt like a dog on a chain taking care of 80 or 90 employees. After the rumors broke out, I wanted to die! But I couldn’t because I didn’t want people thinking, “She deserved to die.” I cannot tell you how much I suffered during that time.
How did you get through it? Nothing could console me then and it made me very bitter towards my husband. I wanted to have it all–I don’t do anything in moderation. I wanted to keep a generous mind toward everyone but I couldn’t do that within my own family. I guess I can’t change who I am.
The movie Goodbye Mother has brought you back. Yes but I was worried about negative comments because I am nearly 60. Actors thrive on compliments. I want to hear that my part was the best in the movie, not that I was the best.
As an actress, are you afraid of getting older? Getting old is inevitable. It is something people should just accept. No one can stay beautiful forever. However, age has its own beauty. I think Meryl Streep’s wrinkles are beautiful, but not my own. If I had a calmer life, I would have taken better care of my skin. But I am more interested in people referring to me as a good actress rather than a pretty face.
So are you going to continue acting? Of course I will. I don’t think of myself as a star but while I was away from acting, fans kept asking when I would return. I really appreciated that. I appreciate all the love people have shown me and I am repaying that love by returning to acting. However, I won’t rush into it and I will pursue it at my own pace.