With its catchy writing and realistic portrayal of the nation’s entertainment industry – where actors often take their own lives because of groundless and malicious rumors spread online – “The Greatest Love” hit it big.
Behind the success of the series is actress Gong Hyo-jin, who has been praised for her natural acting skills. Thanks to the drama, she garnered the nickname of “reigning queen of romantic comedy.”
Gong is not a conventional beauty, but she knows how to draw in the audience. Her shy glances with her counterpart, viewers say, cause butterflies.
Her start wasn’t very romantic, however. She debuted as a troubled teenager in the 1999 horror film “Memento Mori” and often portrayed tomboy or strong female characters until she appeared in the drama series “Pasta” (2010) as a novice cook who falls in love with a chef. That drama gave her the nickname “Gongvely,” a combination of Gong and lovely.
The JoongAng Ilbo sat down with Gong to hear about her life as an actress and her future and dreams.
Q. The drama series was a huge hit. How do you feel?
A. I didn’t know how popular it was when I was shooting the drama but now I know. I think I’m lucky (to have landed a role in the drama series).
Your character, Gu Ae-jung, is a scapegoat. The media, public and even her peers often blame her for everything. But actress Gong is different. All articles, reviews and even blog posts praise you and your acting in the drama.
I really appreciate it. There were headlines like “An actress with a magic touch” and “An actress who makes her counterpart stand out.” I felt flattered.
What’s your secret to success?
I think I was lucky. There was once a time when the screen was dominated by actresses who are far from typical beauties and that was when I debuted. As you know, (the entertainment industry) is one where everyone competes with one another. I think I was able to survive because of the way I look. They say I look like a girl next door.
What do your characters share in common?
They are straightforward and they don’t hide their feelings.
What do your characters share in common with you?
I think I’m close to my characters. And I think it is one of my greatest assets.
You’ve been acting for a decade. Did you have a turning point in your career?
I think I wasn’t that passionate about my work until 2003. I thought of myself as a person who became an actress by luck. But I came to realize that I needed a change as an actress. And that was in 2006 when I landed a role in “Family Ties.”
Director Kim Tae-yong is my mentor. He also directed my first film Memento Mori. After Family Ties, the drama series “Thank You” helped me realize that I have a passion for acting.
(In Thank You, Gong played a single mother who cares of her HIV-positive daughter and a grandfather who struggles with dementia. -Ed.)
How do you cope with a career slump?
I just wait until I find a role that suits me. Sometimes it takes such a long time and it makes me nervous. Nobody wants to be forgotten by the public. But it’s better than making a wrong decision, I think.
What does the little tattoo on your index finger mean?
It means peace. For many actresses, getting a tattoo on their finger is sort of taboo, but I did it because I’m preparing for a future when I have to live my own life not as an actress. I want to put distance between actress Gong Hyo-jin and ordinary person Gong Hyo-jin. I believe that’s how I can lead a happy life in the future when I can’t be loved by the public.
The public makes stars but they also easily turn away from them. Do you love the public?
I love them, but I don’t believe in them. Their love lasts about two months. So I always try to enjoy their love to the fullest extent and prepare for the next chapter.
What made you become an environmental activist? You’ve published a book about the environment last year.
The biggest pleasure for actors is doing a film or drama series and being loved by the public, but there are times when you can’t do what you want. When I was feeling empty, I started to grow plants.
Watching them grow and bloom was a simple but great joy. I also spent more time with my dog and taught him several tricks. He was changing before my eyes. That’s how I got interested in the environment.
What do you do for the environment in your daily life?
I recycle. I also reuse plastic bags and drive a small car.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope the public still expects something from me.
What are your plans in the short-term?
I want to go hiking or take a break at the beach. Ah! I also want to learn how to play the piano.
By Sung Si-yoon, Kim In-goo [firstname.lastname@example.org]