What was most impressive about the Gong that 10Asia met with was her attitude which did not contain an ounce of doubt when it comes to loving and being loved. We may live in times where it is getting increasingly difficult not to doubt the love and interest one shows you but Gong was a woman who does not run away from it thinking it is excessive nor accept it as being natural and instead knows how to be thankful for it. Below are excerpts from the interview.
You played the role of a female character who received an unrealistic amount of love from two men. How was the experience? Were you happy about your character Goo Ae-jung?
Kong Hyo-jin: I liked her a lot. And rather than being like a straight arrow or weed, I’d compare her to a wild flower that somehow blossomed on a freeway. And I could tell why she’s loved and why she’s attractive. I mean, to start with, she has such a good heart. She also won’t let herself get dragged into trouble and is thankful for even the smallest things she has while staying calm about everything that happens to her. Of course, I’m sure it comes from the experience of living ten years as a celebrity with an undesirable image. (laugh)
You’ve worked with a lot of male actors before but I think the energy you got from working with Cha Seung-won must’ve been very different.
Kong: It was an energy I had never felt before. To start with, I’d worked mostly with actors my age outside of “Snowman” but Cha was, how should I put it… A macho. (laugh) A very cute macho. I was very nervous about working with him at first because he’s an adult and he’s much more experienced than me. But we become comfortable with each other very quickly. There are actors that are hard to get close to, because they’ll try to be charismatic. But he was just someone who naturally oozed charisma. He was like Dokgo Jin, to me. And he still seems like Dokgo Jin to me.
I had felt this before too but it was through “The Greatest Love” in particular that I felt that you were an actress with a good sense of balance. It seemed like you focus most on the actor that is standing in front of you, rather than focusing on your own acting. And that’s why I think that’s why the drama was able to be balanced even with a somewhat excessive character like Dokgo Jin.
Kong: You’re correct in that I’m someone who does my acting depending on my scene partner’s acting. Because I have to listen to the other person’s lines to remember my own lines. That’s actually what dialogue is about, right? But I think Cha would probably be able to do his acting even if I weren’t there because he memorized everybody’s lines, not just his. He’s someone who can start acting out his own line even if he were cut off midway but I’m someone that needs to hear the line before mine to act out mine so we’re completely different people.
Director Kim Tae-yong said you’re an actress who is great at concentrating in particular. That you have the ability to be in the moment, even if you don’t know what’s going on completely.
Kong: Well this may seem like a cliche answer but you can’t get scared the moment the camera starts rolling. Instead, I get this momentary energy when I think to myself, ‘Everyone look at me. Look at how good I am.’ I place faith in myself and believe in myself. Listening to music and the sort only gets me more nervous because it pulls my mood down. So I’ll just sit at ease and then the moment we go into shoot, immerse myself completely momentarily. If Dokgo Jin was in front of me and I loved him, I wouldn’t be able to help myself from looking at him with loving eyes because I really love him, not smile using my mind and facial muscles. And I’ll believe that what I’m feeling in my heart will get delivered to viewers through my muscles in a quiet yet proper way. I think that the moment I need to do some acting, that I need to do something about the acting, is when the unnecessary details start coming in.
But I’m sure you can’t help yourself from having such thoughts when you’re acting because you want to do well. So how do you stop yourself?
Kong: Well there have been times where I’ve read my script and have thought I’ll probably have to wail for a certain scene but the scene doesn’t turn out to be sad once we film it. So if I feel that wailing is too much, I’d change it to me holding back on my sadness. I trust in myself. That what I’m doing is right, that my emotions are making the right judgement. I don’t force myself to do things.
Kong: In “The Greatest Love,” Dokgo Jin told Goo Ae-jung about his condition to her for the first time before she goes into her press conference, right? And in the script, it said that Goo will cry a lot but it wasn’t working for me once we got on set to shoot the scene. It also wasn’t like he was standing in front of me with his head shaved so I just didn’t see him as someone who was going to die. (laugh) And it was because I felt that it didn’t make sense to hear his story and feel sad about it so quickly. I felt that I wouldn’t believe it, that he was lying. So I stuck to my judgement and didn’t cry. Of course, I had also wondered to myself whether I had made the right decision or not.
Do you think a lot about such scenes you wonder about even after you’ve shot them or do you just forget about them?
Kong: I think about them quite a bit. (laugh) Things such as was I acting too calm? Did I laugh too much here? But I don’t think being enthusiastic in every scene is the way to go about acting because it’ll tire out even the viewer. Plus you can’t emphasize what you want to emphasize.
Like so, there are moments an actor needs to tune himself or herself to their characters but I think there must’ve been moments that your real self and Goo overlapped.
Kong: Those moments… came about quite often. Especially in the final episode. Because I just felt so happy to be with my man. I had become completely possessed with the person who loves Dokgo Jin. So much that I was asking myself if I’m going too far with being happy. I was so happy.
I’m sure you’ve been told a lot that you’ve become pretty while working on this drama.
Kong: It’s because I’ve learned the tricks to acting coquettish starting from when I worked on “Pasta.” I’ve learned a variety of skills including the angle that makes the actress look most loveable when looking at the actor and then to look straight into his eyes yet sort of look away when he looks at you… (laugh) And Cha Seung-won was so tall that I was always looking up at him which I think is an angle which made me look particularly pretty.
It’s not often that a tall actress will get to work with a tall actor.
Kong: That’s right. Dokgo Jin was tall enough to make my neck fold back when he hugged me. And our ‘recharge’ sessions would always take place at home but it’s not like I could wear heals at home (laugh) so I benefitted a lot from him. Plus he looks so masculine that I in comparison looked fair-skinned.
Kong Hyo-jin: Yes, I know, right? I think so too. I think such habits exist within me because I’m the oldest in my family, the oldest daughter and I’m blood-type A. I have to look after my younger brother, Seung-beom… I practically raised both of them. (laugh) So I think that’s why but I’ve gotten extremely used to looking after guys. And I guess that vibe somehow gets passed onto the men I work with. I make them perceive the fact that as I gradually open my heart to them, I also see completely through them.
I guess you’re not that scared of guys.
Kong: I think I try to act like equals to them, regardless of age, once I get close with them. (laugh) Even Cha Seung-won used to say to me, Goo Ae-jung, you’re sneaky! Don’t make that face! And that I look at him as if I know everything. Then I’d respond, “Come on. How would I know that…”
How sneaky! (laugh)
Well when you were filming “Memento Mori,” which was basically your debut project, you quite innocently said, “I don’t know!” when asked if you would continue to act. It seems like you weren’t serious about becoming an actor back then.
Kong: I was told I’d get paid three million won so I went thinking of it as a part-time job. But I was asked to pull all-nighters all the time and wouldn’t let me go home when I wanted to. And I’d go to the director and say things like, what time will this finish? Don’t you think I’ll show on the screen in the size of a fingernail? I don’t think people will see me if I hide behind the pillar. (laugh) I used to think the head of production was the person who feeds people and wondered why the producer always sits around in fishing chairs while wearing shorts. I really was not interested in movies nor actors.
So how did you come to decide that you would take up acting as a job?
Kong Hyo-jin: Well when I saw other kids pull all-nighters while filming the movie, I told myself wow, I should never play the main character. Plus they had agencies and were getting attention while I wasn’t. So I just wanted to get the movie done and over with and go back to living my normal life. But when “Memento Mori” got released, people started asking about me and showed interest. And that’s when I started getting calls from agencies. I’m the type that whether it comes to tennis, piano or studying, I had never felt the desire to be complimented by doing better. I always told myself, this is good enough, this is okay. But for the first time, I wanted to be better. There was a surging of such desire within me. But the face of mine that showed on the screen was so ugly. I had always gone on set after sleeping after eating ramen. I got shocked over how ugly I was. (laugh)
But once people realize new desires or resolutions, they start worrying over the methodical aspect to them. And since you hadn’t undergone proper acting training, I’m sure the time came when you could no longer hold out with the refreshingness you presented when you were young.
Kong: That time came for me around the year 2004 or 2005, after I wrapped up “Sang Doo! Let’s Go to School” and starting filming “Heaven’s Soldiers.” You could call it the time I was in dilemma or a slump. I wasn’t getting the projects I wanted to do and I was getting only the boring and unsatisfying projects. What do I do? Ah… I guess people don’t want me. But I’ve been good with what I’ve done so far, I had been thinking, when people started telling me I need to try harder. And that too by people who were closest to me. But I had been so carefree with my life that I didn’t know what I should do. I was thinking, what do I learn from where? Do I have to change my pattern of acting? And that’s about the time I was given movie “Family Ties.”
I think that marked the birth of the female grown-up Kong Hyo-jin and was the turning point to your acting career which ultimately led to your appearance in “The Greatest Love.”
Kong: I did not have the talent nor charm to appeal to the opposite sex and I knew it would be difficult for me to be portrayed as someone’s ideal woman because the image of me being wild and strong-minded had become fixed. So I was thinking that I’ll probably have to find satisfaction in being a cool woman that people want to be like. But it’s true that I had been working on creating a new image through TV series “Thank You” and movie “M.” And Yu-kyung in “Pasta” wasn’t supposed to be the character she turned out to be but I changed a lot of things about her.
What was she supposed to be like?
Kong: A very determined woman. A boy-like girl who worked really hard with a towel tied around her head. She was supposed to fight with the chef a lot and be rebellious but… I just didn’t do any of it. I’d be going back to being my old self if I portrayed her as a cool and straightforward girl. But this worried the director. He said she was too weak and is no match to the chef. But of course she wouldn’t. She was the youngest in the kitchen. Isn’t it normal that she’d feel like dying when she gets scolded because she’s scared and that she would cower? That’s why I didn’t [fight the chef] although I could and was asked to a couple more times. As if I couldn’t. And that’s how I, in my own way, succeeded in making her into the character I wanted her to be.
It was a stubbornness that came from conviction right? You knew there was no need to do more.
Kong: Yes because people wanted to see what they were used to. Hence they were trying to make me show the image they had of me when they case me. But it took little time to adjust this. The director said that it seems like I’m right after editing and placed his faith in me after that. The reason the level of satisfaction I got from “Pasta” was high for me was because I got to create and show the character I wanted to portray. And I was happy that the public liked it. That’s why I’d been thinking I would like to take on another character that’s like this when I was handed “The Greatest love.” I’m so happy that people now consider me as an actress that can play loveable characters as well.
I think the character you played in movie “Crush and Blush” was quite dramatic, a rare character for your filmography. This was a big decision for you, right?
Kong: It’s my favorite movie. And it was a character and movie worth the gamble so I started on it with the determination that if I’m going to do it, I might as well astonish everyone. I told myself, I’ll wear a strange coat, strange shoes, and give up on trying to look pretty! I’ll reveal all of my weaknesses! (laugh) And maybe that’s why but I felt like I was entitled to more compensation for it. I’d write responses like, “Who are you! I’m Kong Hyo-jin!” when I see bad comments written about me on the Internet. So imagine how happy I must’ve been when I won the award for best actress for “Crush and Blush” at the Korea Film Awards. I cried. (laugh) I was so happy because it felt like the world was finally telling me, okay! You win! I hadn’t been able to get the poster changed because director Park Chan-wook chose it. I would’ve tried to change it if it was director Lee Kyung-mi I could talk to about it, saying how it’ll affect a woman’s life. Imagine seeing that red face of mine hanging up this big in front of theaters! But it freed me completely. I became indifferent to everything after “Crush and Blush.” I had revealed myself completely. What would I be scared of? (laugh)
But I think your boyfriend Ryoo Seung-beom might’ve reacted a bit differently.
Kong: Seung-beom loves that movie. He complimented me for a while over it. And he’s actually stingy when it comes to compliments. So he finally started to acknowledge the fact that my acting is a bit better than his. (laugh) And from then on, he started to bring the edits of his movies to me to ask for my detailed advice and wrote down everything I’d say. (laugh) He had completely disregarded my acting for such a long time, saying things like I taught her the A to Z of acting. Even when he came to the set of “Family Ties” for a cameo appearance, he told me, “Hyo-jin, you have to act in more of an adult way” to which I’d respond, “What would you know about my acting when it’s your first time here today?” and bickered on and on. We didn’t talk about each other’s acting in the past that much but from a certain point on, we’ve come to be the most critical observers of each other’s acting.
But that’s when you two had briefly broken up so how was it that you came to recommend that he play the role of the ex-boyfriend in “Family Ties”?
Kong: Because it’s fun. He had to play the role of the ex-boyfriend fighting with me and it had to be someone who could leave a strong impression no matter how brief his appearance was so I thought nobody could be better than him. I told him I thank him a lot after the movie came out. And that the movie improved by about 30 percent because of him. Not because of his acting but because of his presence. (laugh)
Kong Hyo-jin: I got a call from my agency one day saying that the head of my fan club had said a man named ‘Hongkonggong’ was pretending to be my dad. So I text messaged my dad to ask if it was him and he said no at first but then said he was ‘HONGKONGGONG’ in English. The last place my dad did business in was Hong Kong (laugh). So he’s revealed his true identity and is very active on my official website. You know how fans send food to the set of movies and dramas right? My dad said he paid 200,000 man won this time!
(laugh) I’m guessing your positive attitude comes from such love as well. But when it comes to art, there are people who believe that certain things can only come from pain. And to some actors, it also serves as their source of energy.
Kong: That’s how it is with Seung-beom. He says that actors have to carry a time-bomb-like sadness and loneliness within them. But such things really don’t exist within me because I’ve lived an easy, well-rounded life. Even when I was filming “The Greatest Love,” one of my greatest fears was that I’d lose my positive energy. That I’d form this weird attitude to defend myself. Because the excessive charisma you sometimes see in actresses comes from them telling people not to mess around with them and to protect themselves. I’m scared that I’ll become more spiteful with age, not easy-going. And it’s what I’m most heeding attention to. Even my personality now has changed a lot from when I was in my early twenties.
In what way?
Kong: I used to be bad at turning down or rejecting things. I used to be positive to a senseless point. I would say okay to everything, even if it would be a hassle or was a loss for me. And mid-way, I had to do things even if I didn’t want to, because I had to. But I’ve come to be able to draw the line and not look back on my decisions. From the smallest decisions such as taking a photo or signing an autograph to big decisions. And it may mean that I’ve become cool-headed but sarcastic as well. I’m no longer in my twenties though. I’m a grown-up. I’ll need to fight harder for my life, I’ll become more of an adult and I’ll experience more things. People will look forward to more, be let down more, and I’ll be put in more embarrassing situations. That’s why I’m at a time where I’ve come to think a lot about what’s more important in life.
Aren’t times like nowadays the scariest? When people love you?
Kong: I thought the world would change after I won the award for best actress for “Crush and Blush” but nothing happened. (laugh) And I was thinking, why am I not in high demand, why am I so unlucky, but I’ve changed my mindset. I’ve decided to put away my worries regarding things that won’t happen to me right away and just enjoy the moment. I’ve been lucky and I want to believe that I’ll stay lucky. Of course, I’ve been through a period of recession but because of it, I know how to react and have found ways to go about it. I’ve come to realize that whatever happens does not affect the general situation of things so having a cool and tough attitude rather helps me be confident. I also want to live more of my own life. Ah, I wish the Jisan Rock Valley Festival would start soon! The Chemical Brothers are coming!
Speaking of which, you were chosen as the actress who goes well with rock festivals the best.
Kong: Wow, really? That’s amazing! I recently took first place in a poll asking which celebrity you’d want to be family with. (laugh) I think going to rock festivals is the most exciting time of the year although I can’t enjoy it fully drunk because I’m not good at drinking alcohol.
But don’t you have to start filming your movie soon?
Kong: I’ll start filming a movie called “Love Fiction” with actor Ha Jung-woo in about a month’s time so I guess I’ll try to tell my agency to leave those dates empty. (laugh) I think this movie will be a lot of fun though. I fell in love with it as soon as I read the script. I’ll show you what being coquettish is about! And I’ll be shooting a bed scene as well, for the first time.
Do you want to become a good actor or a good person? Or do you think the two can co-exist?
Kong: Well if I had to choose between marrying at a suitable age then living a stable life and doing everything I want to do as an unmarried actress… I might change my mind but I think I’m slowly leaning more toward the latter. I keep thinking that I want to be recognized as a good actress and make my name known more. It won’t be able to do well at both. Although it may be possible. Ah… What do you think would be good? It’s really hard to me to answer that question right now.
It definitely seems like you want to achieve more as an actress now though.
Kong: Yes. For sure. I think the reason I can’t give you an answer right now may be because I’m scared of choosing wanting to be a good actor over wanting to be a good person. Because before, I would have 100 percent chosen the latter. I had a bigger desire to be a good mother, a good wife and live a healthy life. But these days, I’ve been wondering what it will be like if I filmed a valuable movie that the whole world will take notice of even if I may have a bit of a hard time. That’s why I’m hoping I’ll get to work on a movie that’s that powerful. A movie that’ll make me want to gain more with confidence, a movie I can completely throw myself into.