Actress tries to escape stereotypes
While the shocking portrayals she has shown still resonate with the audience, Seo has taken on a somewhat less socially vulnerable character named Hae-rim in Shin Su-won’s latest Cannes entry, “Madonna.”
Hae-rim is a nurse’s aide at a private hospital’s VIP ward. There, she gets an offer from a greedy millionaire to find out anything she can about Mi-na, a patient at the hospital who is brain-dead as well as pregnant.
In the process of tracking down information on Mi-na - who is dubbed “Madonna” - in the red-light district, Hae-rim unearths some of the darkest aspects of society and how cruel it can be for the weak, especially women. Along the way, Hae-rim confronts the biggest trauma from her past as well.
Q. Unlike your previous characters, Hae-rim is like a narrator who helps the audience understand Mi-na’s past. What was it like to play such a character?
A. It was harder than I had expected, trying to contain all the emotions in myself. In my previous works, my responsibility was to captivate the viewers by pouring out my emotional energy. But this time, I had to lead the audience into Mi-na’s story while hiding as much about myself as possible. When I first received the script I knew instantly that this would be a hard one.
Why did you accept the script, despite all the hardships expected?
In “The Chaser” and “Bedevilled,” I was the victim of a horrifying crime case. But this time Hae-rim was neither an assailant nor a victim and it felt like a challenge for me. Hae-rim has her own anguish and troubled past, but she doesn’t reveal it - she just lives her life quietly. Maybe that is how most ordinary people live their lives.
In the first part of the film, Hae-rim was cold-hearted enough to fabricate the signature of Mi-na’s relative to get consent for donating Mi-na’s organs. But as the story nears its end, she changes her mind to save Mi-na’s baby. Why is that so?
Hae-rim started the investigation because she needed money and she was just staying true to that purpose. However, as she found more about the tragic life that Mi-na had led, Hae-rim realizes that they share a very similar past. It also triggers her to face trauma from her past that she desperately wanted to escape. Saving the baby was probably how Hae-rim wanted to get exempted from her own sin.
You have played characters that fall under the category of victims of horrible situations. Do you have a special penchant for it?
There are two types of characters that Korean actresses can play. One is flaunting her sex appeal and the other is being subjected to sexual violence. I was usually the latter one due to my undersized body figure. At one point, I felt tired of playing such roles all the time, but I couldn’t expect society’s perception towards women to change overnight. So now, I just try to be as versatile as I can within my boundaries.
What kind of characters would those be?
For example, I want to play a female character who can solve her problems on her own. The social status of women has improved a lot in recent years, but that is not fully apparent on the small and big screens.
It has been four years since you got married, but a lot of people still don’t know that. Are you trying to keep it a secret?
It is because I don’t reveal my private life that much. I also try to look like I’m single as much as possible (laughs). My husband and I are like friends. We like to go on dates at nicely reviewed restaurants. My biggest concern now [in my personal life] is about having a child or not, but at this moment, I would like to put that off a little longer so I can have more free time with my husband.
BY YOON JI-WON [firstname.lastname@example.org]