Actress Park Min-young rose to instant stardom through her debut role in MBC smash-hit sitcom “High Kick” in 2006 by managing to shine amidst the throng of diverse characters with her role as Kang Youmi, an ignorent yet confident and cheerful girl in high school.
Yet such fast-obtained popularity rarely lasts for long and the industry does not allow an actress to see slow growth. In KBS drama “I Am Sam” she played a character who holds her emotions within herself while bullied by others rather than immediately respond like Youmi from “High Kick” would have but viewers remembered her as the same cheerful high school student rather than notice the change between the two and in her acting skills.
She then did fairly well in pulling off her role as a princess who depicts on the most tragic narrative through traditional drama “Princess Ja Myung Go” but the low ratings the depressing show scored was applied to Park as well.
Hence she truly meant it when she said through her interview with 10Asia that she “was healed” through her role as girl in boy disguise Yoon-hee in “SungKyunKwan Scandal,” a show also starring JYJ member Yucheon and actors Yoo A-in and Song Joong-ki. Below are excerpts from the interview with the 24-year-old actress.
10: You went to Paris as soon as you wrapped up filming for “SungKyunKwan Scandal.” Did you rest well?
Park Min-young: I toured the city rather than rest. There was so much to see because it was my first time there. I excitedly rummaged through the numerous galleries in Saint-Germain and acted all silly on the Montmartre hill, running and jumping around by myself when I saw a group of Korean tourists come my way and recognize me. So I ran away but all the whole time I was still acting ridiculously silly. People who were with me said they were ashamed of me.
10: You must’ve felt more freedom being in a place where nobody recognizes you.
Park: I usually don’t mind other people when I go on trips. But I was at one of the most famous department stores in Paris when one of their employees recognized me, a mixed-blood Chinese. She said she watched “SungKyunKwan Scandal” on YouTube and that she had watched it that day as well before she got to work. I was really surprised. It’s understandable in the sense that she’s Asian but to think that someone living overseas would watch our show real-time was surprising.
10: That incident in itself doesn’t prove the drama was a success but “SungKyunKwan Scandal” was a show that was received well by fans also because of its artistic quality, something that cannot be proven merely through the viewership ratings a show posts. What meaning has the show had for you?
Park: I was loved by the public for the first time in a while and on a personal level, I was able to mature in step with my character Yoon-hee. That’s why the drama was all the more special [to me]. But what’s more of a relief is that it’s actually been quite easy shake off my character this time. I was hurt, happy and proud whenever my character was but in the end, I was able to let go of her with a happy mindset because she was loved very much and the story itself ended happily as well.
10: Was it easier to shake off the character because you were happy being her?
Park: The drama saw a happy ending and I just believe that she’ll live happily. In a way, I have to shake her off quickly because I’ll be going into my next project earlier than I expected but I think I’ve been doing a good job it so far, one step at a time. That’s why I’m staying away from reruns of the show. Watching them will only bring back the emotions I felt back then. I’m going to watch them later on when I’m more at ease. There’s still a lingering feeling I have about the show because I put my all into it for six months.
10: You wrote “Thanks Yoon-hee. For coming to me,” on your Twitter account. It doesn’t seem to mean that you were simply happy to get to play the role of Yoon-hee.
Park: It’s also part of the lyrics to one of the soundtracks for “SungKyunKwan Scandal,” the ending narration by Yucheon where he says, “Thanks, for coming to me.” It best expresses how I feel because first of all, it was through Yoon-hee that I was able to gain the courage to overcome the obstacles laid in front of me. I had taken on the drama after going through a slump in terms of acting and spending much time wondering whether I’m walking the right career path so I healed a lot while playing Yoon-hee. So it was in that sense I wanted to say thank you to her. My great passion for the role was also why I was able to act with such intensity so I was grateful that was conveyed to the viewers and was received well. I cried a lot after shooting my last scene and it was because I felt grateful to the crew I worked with, the actors, the director, the writer and everyone who picked me for the role. I wonder whether I would’ve been able to become this strong again had I not been given this project.
10: Isn’t that because you experienced the process of Yoon-hee maturing?
Park: I felt much vicarious satisfaction from it. And there were a few scenes that Yoon-hee was extremely cool in. She shined when for the first time, she asked her teacher for the chance to dream of a new world while saying she will remain at SungKyunKwan, and when she spoke of how she opened her eyes to the world of academics while on a walk with Seon-joon (Yucheon) after drinking. I also felt a great amount of satisfaction when she asked, ‘If you can’t become a government official because you’re a woman, why is the Joseon that men created in this awful state?’ in response to how she was taught that she needs to be able to question what is regarded as natural. It isn’t often that you get to learn through a project and the character you play in it. I think getting to learn things from Yoon-hee itself makes me a lucky person.
10: You played a rare character in a rare drama.
Park: It isn’t often that actresses get to play such round characters. It may seem like there are a variety of roles that actresses can play in Korean dramas but there’s only about three types: the Cinderella, a femme fatale, or the mean girl who is green with envy. But Yoon-hee is a character who has been developed an extra step from that. A-in too said he would have played Yoon-hee had he been born a woman.
10: As happy as you were with your character, I’m sure there was a point where the role actually became comfortable for you.
Park Min-young: From the third or fourth episode? That’s when the acting became easier. I was still a bit lost during the first two episodes or so because I hadn’t fully digested my role so I had to put in a conscious effort to control the tone of my voice or emotions but I started feeling comfortable after that. And the director and writer left a lot up to me to decide so I increasingly felt comfortable. Then at certain scenes, for example, where I realize that my father was reading to me instead of my brother, I immersed myself into the role to an uncontrollable point.
10: So that may be why but it seems like the Park Min-young we know has improved a lot as an actress as well. For example, it didn’t seem like you cowered in the scene with veteran actor Kim Kap-soo.
Park: Mr. Kim Kap-soo wasn’t the godly senior actor I usually see him as when we shot that scene but just the high-ranking government official that he is in the drama. And Yoon-hee was someone who is always sure of herself. Mr. Kim Kap-soo is also just such a cheerful person. So for that scene, we’d glare at each other while drinking tea when the camera is rolling but as soon as it stops, he’d say, “Okay, let’s one-shot this.” (laugh) And then he’d really wait until I one-shot the hot tea. So it wasn’t what I used to say but these days, when I’m asked who is closest to my ideal man of the ‘Jalgeum Foursome,’ I’ll instead answer that it’s Mr. Kim. (laugh) I didn’t have to cower or feel uncomfortable because that’s the sort of atmosphere we filmed the drama in.
10: So you had a lot of fun working on the drama, you did some acting that even you yourself are convinced of, and was loved by viewers. And thanks to that, you said you were able to overcome certain obstacles — what are they?
Park: For me they are… several things. You need to have a certain amount of popularity or be recognized by people to an extent to play the roles you want but I lacked in that aspect so there were problems that stemmed from that. At the same time, it’s a result of my own laziness and conceitedness so I couldn’t blame anyone else for it. I learned the lesson that if I were to go back to those times, I would not make the same choices but back then, I felt lost. I knew in which direction I should go but was scared whether I’d be able to. So it was from Yoon-hee that I acquired the courage to give things another shot. Ultimately, Yoon-hee was in the same state as I was, constantly having to overcome one obstacle after another. And I believe that anyone in their twenties would fully relate to her position. Us people in our twenties have yet to become complete beings. And because of that, we will have to go through much trial and error and think about whether to compromise with reality or charge forward with achieving our dreams.
10: Like you say, going through trial and error and getting met with crises is something that everyone in their twenties experiences. What’s important is whether you lose your courage or not.
Park: It was probably the gloomiest period of my life during which I had lost confidence and depressed. I hadn’t felt that way even during puberty. It was a time that I spent worrying over the most basic questions such as whether I’m walking the right path. That’s how psychologically devastated I was.
10: Was that around the time your SBS TV series “Princess Ja Myung Go” ended its run?
Park: After it. There’s actually a lot I gained through “Princess Ja Myung Go.” It was the first time I acted in a close-to traditional drama after having mostly played the role of a bubbly or coy high school student. And that’s why it took a long time for me to prepare for it. My tone of voice or pronunciation had worked as advantages to my roles as a high school student but as obvious shortcomings for a historical drama so I had to work on strengthening my voice and wording. I also practiced the traditional pansori for a long time and on my pronunciation like anchorwomen do. So I may have had a tough time with the drama psychologically because I shot it for six months after going through such training but I learned a lot in terms of acting. I think I was presented with the large gift of getting to play Yoon-hee because of my experience with “Princess Ja Myung Go.” It’s just that I was shocked back then because more people turned their back on the drama than I expected and I wondered whether it was my fault. I don’t know… I won’t go back to being stupid and think that my next project will do well just because this one [SungKyunKwan Scandal] did.
10: So that’s the way you thought back then?
Park: I had been quite lucky then. None of my work had been failures up till that point. “I Am Sam” may have seen low ratings but I got to play the main female character although it was only my second project and even received an award for it. Everyone was also always praising me about how pretty I am. Then I appeared in “Korean Ghost Stories: Gumiho” which was a single-episode drama but it saw ratings of 21 percent. That’s why I think I naturally came to presume that “Princess Ja Myung Go” would do well too so I was even more shocked when it didn’t. It wouldn’t have affected me as much if I had been ready for it somewhat but it hit me harder because I wasn’t. So I did have a bit of a hard time back then but I settled with the fact that I at least got to work on a good project with good people. The problem started after that. A few projects got flopped after “Princess Ja Myung Go” and it distressed me greatly. I thought I had nothing to lose since “Princess Ja Myung Go” was not popular but I started thinking maybe there was. Things kept happening to the projects I really wanted to work on so I became increasingly dispirted which led me to doubt myself and think ‘Can I really do this?’ Then I moved agencies and a lot of things changed, so I told myself I’d start on a clean slate and took on drama “Running, Gu.” It was after I was convinced that I was okay with starting all over again and I would have no expectations. I just wanted to gain good experience and really did not expect the show to see high ratings since it was meant to fill in empty time. Thanks to that, I had fun filming it and while I warmed up like that, I was handed the script for “SungKyunKwan Scandal” and got the part for Yoon-hee through the final audition. Since I had no expectations, the acting was fun and my mind became abundant enough to bear through the physical exhaustion I felt from the filming. That’s why I can now say confidently that I’ve become as strong as Yoon-hee.
10: Does that mean you’re sure you won’t be swayed by how well or badly your projects do from now on?Park Min-young: That’s right. It happened when I became conceited after “High Kick,” thinking that I had become popular. But I came to realize that it was actually the show and my character that were popular, that I was nobody, and that the public will turn their backs on me if I don’t try hard. So I won’t think that the popularity I regained through “SungKyunKwan Scandal” is about me. It’s about the show being popular and how people loved my character Kim Yoon-hee. And if at this point, I don’t put an effort into showing what kind of person I am, I’ll become forgotten again. I also came to realize that not everything is in my hands, that it’s not just a matter of me doing a good job with my acting. In times where the public’s taste changes every second, if you keep repeating the style of acting you think they like best or stick to the image of you that you think they like the most, they will also be the first ones to notice it and get sick of it. That’s why I chose to take on film “Cat” (tentative title) as my next project.
10: I heard it’s a horror flick. What kind of character will you be playing?
Park: It’s a psychological horror film about a murder surrounding a cat. My character comes across the lead for the case by chance and solves the case with the investigator. And she is an extremely ordinary person yet has claustrophobia. So she’s basically completely the opposite from the roles I’ve played so far. And female characters are usually depicted as being simple-minded in horror films, just screaming away, but this character was more round, the type that is hard to see in such movies so I thought the role would be worth the challenge. I actually do have to start getting ready for it more quickly because there’s only two weeks left before the movie cranks in. I don’t know if it’s good but my cellphone broke as well so I’ve lost all the contacts I had and haven’t been able to respond to text messages because I don’t know who the senders are. I guess I’ll slowly practice to become lonely this way and then reappear in front of people all bright and cheerful in February.
10: You took on this film because it’s round as well but there have been many cases where actresses have not been consumed in such a way in Korea.
Park: What can you do. I’ve been born in this era and if that’s what they want, all I can do is to do my best within that. Then one day I’ll get to play a character like Yoon-hee. I think that these days, if I’m given one, I can only try my best with that.
10: And not ask for more?
Park: Then I should write my own projects. (laugh) All I can do is to act one thing but do a job that is good enough that the audience will notice a subtle difference because it’s not like everyone is judged equally for same types of characters. Even if I may play the same character as other people, I want to hear that mine is alive and moving.
10: But what creates that is what’s outside the script, isn’t it? That may be the true capacity of the actor.
Park: Hmm, I think bringing the character to life is up to the actor. When I worked on “High Kick,” I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing so I just did everything my way. When I was told to run, I ran with all my might. But then I was told that I ran in a posture that no actress had ever run before. And the writers revised the script so that I was the fastest runner in the country. That’s when I learned that it’s up to the actor to take what they have and bring it to life when they’re given the opportunity to. There are definitely characters I’ve succeeded in doing this and those that I have failed. But I think I pulled it off somewhat with Yoon-he. For example, when it was written on the script that she eats, I’d chomp away at the food. I wouldn’t pretend to be pretty but instead chomp on kimchi and stuff my mouth with seaweed broth. I wanted to start with the smallest details.
10: Are you certain you’ll be able to love all the characters you play?
Park: I’ve loved all of them so far. I have and I will even more in the future. I can’t stop anymore — my acting has to improve a lot. I can’t stay a new actress forever. Acting is about showing the end result so it’s not like people are going to acknowledge me for simply putting in a lot of effort. I need to show some sort of result, like the ratings for “SungKyunKwan Scandal” to make people think I’m improving. And it’s also the only way I’ll become an actor that keeps in tune with viewers.
10: Your twenties has been full of ups and downs, making a fancy debut, going through a slump, and then gaining popularity again. But this has helped you to gradually mature. What sort of actress do you want to be when you’re in your thirties?
Park: I’m good at mapping out the near future but I’m not too sure about after that. When I’m 30… I just hope to be doing what I like best.
10: So it may not be acting?
Park: I don’t know, how would I know. Nobody knows. Right now, I’m the happiest when I’m acting but I may be passing by a gallery one day and decide that I’m meant to be an artist. I’d feel sorry for myself if I had to press that desire down and pursue acting which I like second-best. I’m still in my twenties which gives me more than enough reason to explore more and I’m already trying my best so if I decide that I’m not a great actor, I may not stay an actor till then. If I feel the happiness that I do now, I’ll probably want to become a great actress and if not, I hope I’ll get to do something that’ll make me happy. It may be raising a child. (laugh) Who knows.
Reporter : Wee Geun-woo eight@
Photographer : Lee Jin-hyuk eleven@
Editor : Jessica Kim jesskim@, Lee Ji-Hye seven@