[Interview] Jung Yu Mi is More Like Hyang Gi Than She Realizes
Jung Yu Mi may have been the less famous ′Jung Yu Mi′ but, she′s been finally making a name for herself. She earned her fame, along with the nickname of ′Oppa Babo (a fool for him)′ through SBS′ A Thousand Days’ Promise and won the New Star Award at the 2011 SBS Drama Awards.
She’s been on the receiving end of a slew of offers from various dramas and advertising companies, and upon wrapping up her drama, has been interviewed by various media outlets, but has always kept her cool.
When we met her before the drama awards and inquired what magic she would be working on the red carpet to outshine Soo Ae (an actress who is well-known for her stunning red-carpet looks), she replied, “My friends are more excited about it than I am. I might wear a plain dress because I’m not comfortable with exposing my figure. I’m so thrilled because this is the first time attending a year-end drama awards ceremony. I’ll just enjoy the event.”
We speculated she would be like Noh Hyang Gi in the drama A Thousand Days’ Promise, a girl who grew up without adversity, but seemed somehow to have cultivated endurance and strength inside.
Am I weak? I have undergone enough ordeals
Jung Yu Mi visited CJ E&M center for our interview, but confessed that she wanted to see someone else at CJ. It was Kim Won Suk who jointly produced KBS’ King Sejong The Great and moved to CJ from KBS.
She politely asked if she could meet him and showed her smile when she sat with Kim. The producer said, “I knew you would succeed. I enjoyed the drama.” Jung replied, “I missed you. You’re going to cast me whenever you start your new piece of work, aren’t you?”
Kim said, “She played the role of Jang Young Sil (Lee Chun Hee)’s woman in the drama. She portrayed the character destined to an unlucky fate well, even though she was young. When she played a woman who was sold to China after splitting up with Jang Young Sil, I saw a mixture of emotion in her eyes. It might be because she had undergone hardships in China. We cast her even though she was a newcomer because she had an acting career in China.”
Actually, Jung made a debut as the heroine in the Chinese TV series Five Star Hotel (2007) before being cast in King Sejong The Great.
In early days of her debut, her agency said, “The role is a female lead of large-scale Chinese drama, so take the role.”
So Jung dutifully went to China by herself, and shot the drama for a year.
“Many people tried to stop me from appearing in the drama. Since I was well-received for my performances in the film Dancing Princess and Hwang Jin Yi, I′d received casting offers for leading roles of various dramas and films. They said, ‘Why are you asking for trouble in China when you’re doing well in Korea?” But anyhow, I went to China to take on the role of female lead, the daughter of a hotel president, at my agency’s suggestion. But when I got there, I had to face terrible hardships every day. I think I might be able to write a book on the hardships I went through at that time,” Jung said.
Even though the role was the daughter of the hotel’s president, it was far from being just a simple role of just lounging around as a luxurious and elegant heir to a wealthy family.
She had to act in action scenes where she wandered around remote areas of Asia while being chased by assassins due to competition over ownership of the hotel. She had to jump from towering cliffs without a stunt double and deal with everything by herself, relying on just an interpreter, as there was no Korean staff.
Jung chatted away, “I was under pressure, so I quickly learned Chinese. I learned how to swear first.”
“I like extreme sports. I really enjoy bungee jumping and riding roller coasters but it was hard to get accustomed to the Chinese filming environment. When I shot [a scene where I had to] jump from 20-meter high cliff, all I received was a life vest. And one time we shot in the high reaches of Tibet, which are 5,000-meter high. At first I was okay, but after one week, I kept throwing up whenever I read a slightly long line and I had a terrible headache as if being hit on my head with a hammer. I made up my mind while choking back tears that I would never come to this place even if I was given 100 million won as an appearance fee,” she confided.
But despite all the struggles, Jung did her best to keep her pride as a Korean actress in the piece, and was rewarded by being cast as the female lead opposite famed Hong Kong actor Leon Lai in the upcoming Chinese movie, Nobleman′s Path, along with actress Gao Yuanyuan.
“It was so tough I thought I was going to die, but it was a good experience when I look back. I earned name recognition in a short time, like Jang Nara and Chae Rim sunbaenim (senior), and I got the opportunity to work with the nation’s big stars, like Leon Lai and Gao Yuanyuan. At first when I heard that I would act opposite Leon Lai, I thought he would be another Hong Kong actor with the same name. (laugh).”
Thanks to her proficiency in Chinese and Japanese, filming the movie Nobleman′s Path went swiftly.
When we praised her as ‘a prepared hallyu star,’ she said, “You can learn languages fast when you′re on the spot. I began learning Japanese because I like films by Shunji Iwai and Japanese dramas. I studied Japanese through self-study, attending a language institute, and taking private classes, but I’m still not good at it.”
On working with Leon Lai, she said, “He is good at Korean, so we talked in Korean. When I felt blue, he would comfort me, saying, ‘Don’t bother yourself with such words.” I also played the character of ‘Oppa Babo in the movie as well, I wonder how the Chinese audience will react.”
Nobleman′s Path, the sequel of Shanghai Grand, will be released in the Chinese-speaking regions in the first half of this year. Jung attracted attention in the mainland as she took played the rival in love of the character of Chinese top actress Gao Yuanyuan, the co-star of Jung Woo Sung in the movie, A Good Rain Knows.
”I like Yang Sang Guk”
Good opportunities came upon the young actress unexpectedly. She was cast in a series of hit dramas including MBC’s The Jewel Family, Dong Yi and SBS’ A Thousand Days’ Promise.
The role of Noh Hyang Gi was supposed to go to another actress but was handed to Jung Yu Mi upon the first actress′s refusal to take the part.
“There were many twists and turns before I ultimately joined the cast. When I auditioned for the role at first, I was told that my voice was weak and my face was broad, and ultimately I failed to get the role. But to my surprise, they contacted me," said Jung. "After the first shoot, I heard the director sent the video clips to playwright Kim Su Hyun, and I was worried that she would point out my flaws. And as I expected, the playwright said, “That’s not Hyang Gi” in regards to my clothes. So I realigned things and shot again. And I was so happy when Kim told me “I’m glad that you’ve done better than I thought” after the last script-reading.”
After the first episode aired, the scene where Jung practiced Pilates became a hot topic, topped the list of the most searched words. That was the moment she found out what it means to be popular.
“I debuted with a commercial in 2003 and appeared in many works, but there are many people who confuse me with the actress Jung Yu Mi, star of the film The Crucible. Actually, I got a phone call from someone who wanted to cast her," said Jung.
"But now I am so happy that many people recognize me and try to reach out to me. And I’m glad that my grandmother who I really love, who is living in Busan, earned a nickname of ‘Hyang Gi’s Grandma.‘ She may be feeling proud of me, as she called me and always supported me, saying ‘You did a good job," added Jung. "Oh, and a middle-aged woman fan who bumped into me grabbed my hands and said, ‘I hope my son meets a girl like you. I’ve been loved by many people so I think I have to work harder.”
To our comment that “You must have grown up in a sheltered environment like Hyang Gi because you are an only child, she replied with smile, “No, I’m very independent.”
“When I was kid, both of my parents worked, so they were usually out. I changed schools several times. I used to be reserved, but my personality might have become more extroverted to get accustomed to the changing environment,” Jung said.
She went to the department of theater and film of Hanyang University at the suggestion of her high school teacher. She said she wanted to meet Choi Ji Woo, who is an older alumnus of Deokmun Girls High School in Busan.
“My teacher talked about Choi Ji Woo and said, ‘Be an actress like her.‘ I feel proud of her, but I’ve never met her in person. I want to work with her someday,” she said.
On her days off, she said she relieves stress by watching Japanese TV dramas or KBS2’s Gag Concert. The guy she is eyeing is comedian Yang Sang Guk. She convulses with laughter while watching his sketch Seoulmate using his Busan accent.
“Maybe because I’m from Busan, I empathize with Seoulmate. I often watch Comedy Big League in which my friend Kang Yu Mi who has the same name as me," said Jung. "We became close when we appeared in Dong Yi, I hope she wins in Comedy Big League.”
Jung was exactly like Hyang Gi, who is affectionate and considerate for others.
Jung said with a big smile, “The year of 2011 was an unforgettable and lucky time. I hope I can keep doing well in 2012. Hyang Gi will pray that everybody that I know accomplish their dreams and be prosperous in 2012.”
Photo credit: Kim Byung Kwan
Jung Yu Mi
Birth: February 23, 1984
Body: 167cm, 45kg
Debut: Commercial Model for Lotte (2003)
Award: 2011 SBS Drama Awards, New Star Award