Jeon shows reluctance over her latest image

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Jeon shows reluctance over her latest image


Jeon Do-yeon

Most people who have worked with actress Jeon Do-yeon only have good things to say about her. And it’s not because she’s the first Korean ever to receive an acting award from Cannes, or because the films she stars in sell tickets.

Jeon performs in a way that ensures the people around her - co-stars, the production crew or viewers - just can’t take their eyes off her. She may not be the prettiest face in the Korean film scene, but few can act better than she does.

The 42-year-old is particularly good at taking on extreme characters. In “Secret Sunshine” (2007), she plays a mother who loses her husband and child and becomes a radical Protestant. In “The Housemaid” (2010) she is a maid who is overcome with love and sexual desire. And in “Way Back Home” (2013), she acts as a mother in a low-income household who is imprisoned in a jail overseas on drug trafficking charges.

In her latest film, “The Shameless,” Jeon does what she does best: Act as someone with nothing more to lose. She falls in love with a detective chasing after a gang leader who happens to be her lover. She is used by the cruel criminal but falls in love again, with his enemy.

Ilgan Sports, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, interviewed Jeon recently, shortly after her return from the Cannes Film Festival.

Q. How do you feel about your new nickname in Korean media, “Queen of Cannes”?

A. I guess it’s something that will follow me throughout my career. It’s quite a burden, but I should accept it. When I won the best actress award at Cannes with “Secret Sunshine,” people said I was at the peak of my acting career. I hope to continue to show good performances in my future work.

Your down-to-earth fashion at the airport on your way to Cannes was also the talk of the town.

I usually dress like that. Although I like to dress up my daughter, I’m almost always in a sweatshirt and sweatpants. I feel uncomfortable at press events or weddings where I have to dress up. I was hoping, for that reason, that I wouldn’t get photographed at the airport, but I was going there for a good cause and the photographers had been waiting since early morning.

The screenplay for “The Shameless” was wandering around the Korean film scene for a while. Why did you take on the role?

I didn’t know that. But I did hesitate somewhat because I had just finished filming “Hyeopnyeo” [working title] and had to film another work soon. So it was quite a tight schedule. But I was so drawn to the character, Hye-kyung. In most noir films, female characters are predictable. But I found her to be different. She was not necessarily a woman, but a human who was rubbing shoulders with men in a gangster’s world.

How is the love story in “The Shameless” different from those in other films?

It’s a little bit more rough and raw. But I don’t think the love story in the film is all that different from those of other movies. It’s just a matter of with whom and how, but the essence of love, I think, is all the same. I’m the kind of person who puts love at No. 1 over anything else. I think you should be able to tell that if you look at my filmography. Love stories never get old and are always with us.

Because you’re so renowned for your acting, don’t you think your co-stars, especially the male lead, would find that an issue?

I don’t think so, because I never act to stand out. I think acting is all about harmony. I try never to act in a way that distances me from my co-star or his pace. That’s why while working on “The Shameless” I communicated a lot with Kim Nam-gil and often talked about how we would both give 100 percent for the film.

How do you stay so fit?

I don’t have any secrets, but I really like working out. After filming “Happy End” [1999] I began working out because I wanted to concentrate on something other than my work. It was good because working out really suits me. I wasn’t able to work out for a long time after marriage and giving birth, but I felt so weak when I was filming “Way Back Home” and “Hyeopnyeo.” That’s why I began again.

It appears your recent films are all dark. Are you intentionally avoiding brighter roles or comedies?

No, but for some reason I don’t really get bright roles. I think I could do well in those roles, but I guess [directors] find me more suitable for dark roles [laughs]. But I also think that most of the screenplays in the Korean film scene today are generally dark.

You haven’t been on TV entertainment programs, although appearing on them seems to be a trend for actors and actresses these days.

I think if I appeared on those shows I would do really well - I would perform fiercely. I’m just a fierce person and I love winning and can’t accept losing. But that’s also the reason I avoid such shows. I’m afraid I would be obsessed with the outcome and not really enjoy it after all.

Have you thought about making it in Hollywood?

The language issue is the hard part. The roles I could play are limited because I’m not that good at English. I would have to do action films mostly where I don’t speak much. But such roles require certain types, and I’m not that type. When I say the language barrier is what’s making me concerned, people around me say I should play an immigrant. But I don’t want that. Plus, I’m not that ambitious about making it in Hollywood.

But I hear you studied English?

Yes, but it’s hard for me. I’ve been so bad at concentrating since I was young, and that’s why I never really excelled academically. The first time I heard I was good at concentrating was when I was acting for the first time.

Many people wonder what kind of mother you are.

I think I’m a strict mother to my 7-year-old. But I always do my best to tell her everything and be honest whenever she asks questions about things. I don’t assume that because she’s a kid she wouldn’t know or doesn’t have to know. I just talk to her like I would an adult.

But it’s hard because I’m always working and have been particularly busy recently. I feel awful because my daughter is at the period where she needs her mother the most.

What does she think about you being an actress?

She says she doesn’t like it because it keeps me busy all the time. But she did say there is one thing that makes her like my job. One time, we were walking and found a beautiful house with an adorable garden. The gate was open and the house and the garden seemed a little untended, so we just went in. The owner came out and yelled at us, but when she saw me, she was like, “Ah! Jeon Do-yeon” and welcomed us.

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