Actress Jeon Do-yeon stars as a Korean housewife imprisoned in France for carrying drugs in her latest film “Way Back Home.” (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
Even after winning the Best Actress Award in Cannes in 2007, celebrated actress Jeon Do-yeon says she still struggles with self-doubt.
“I think that is why I work hard,” the 40-year-old actress said in an interview with reporters in Seoul, Wednesday. “I don’t think I ever started something with confidence. My close friends tell me, whenever I tell them I feel insecure, ‘You’ll be fine, you know you’ll do fine. You are just saying this.’
“And I usually end up doing fine, I usually pull it off. But that doesn’t mean I am confident while I’m at something. I consistently doubt myself and my abilities.”
And yet, she somehow pulled it off again. Jeon’s latest film, “Way Back Home,” topped the box office chart on Wednesday, the day of its release. In the movie, Jeon plays an ordinary Korean housewife and the mother of a young daughter who is imprisoned for two years on Martinique Island after being caught carrying cocaine at the Paris Orly Airport.
Poster of "Way Back Home."
The drama, directed by Bang Eun-jin, was inspired by a true story that took place in 2004. Jang Mi-jeong carried a bag filled with cocaine to France, thinking it was a bag of diamonds. She had been reportedly asked by her husband’s friend, whom she had known for more than 10 years, to transport the diamonds for pay.
“Director Bang used to be an actress and had been researching and writing the script before I got involved,” Jeon said. “So the way she viewed my character was different from the one I had in mind. Her approach was more emotional whereas I tried to remain relatively objective.
“The Jeong-yeon (the name of the character in the movie) I wanted to show was a woman who grows up from the very difficult experience,” she continued. “In the beginning of the movie, she is just a naive woman who easily falls for what people say. And she becomes stronger by the end of the film.”
“Way Back Home” is the first movie in which Jeon plays a mother since the birth of her daughter in 2009. She won her Best Actress Award in Cannes for playing the emotionally distraught mother in Lee Chang-dong’s 2007 drama “Secret Sunshine.” Jeon said her experience being a mother should reflect rather naturally in “Way Back Home,” though she didn’t specifically use it in order to relate to her character.
“I think I wasn’t feeling too confident because I hadn’t had the experience raising a child when I was shooting ‘Secret Sunshine,’” Jeon said. “I wasn’t sure what was right and what was wrong when playing a mother role. It was weird because director Lee Chang-dong said he wanted me to play the role mainly because he saw this ‘maternal instinct’ in me. But he had never even seen me playing with any child. I guess every woman has it, and very often they are unaware of it until they get to realize it.”
Jeon married a businessman who is nine years her senior in 2007. She said her life has been easy and comfortable for the most part, but being married is one of the toughest challenges she has faced.
“I had wanted to be married, and finally got married,” she said. “But I think I only had fantasies about marriage at the time. I learned about all the responsibilities that come along with it after I got married. I didn’t know they existed and was literally shocked. I thought, ‘why had I never thought about this before?’
“Being an actress requires you to focus on yourself,” she continued. “And being married conflicts with that. You are not just you, but you are a wife and a mom. I am an emotional person and hit my highs and lows very frequently. And being married conflicts with that, too. It’s like this: You just want to focus on one thing, or your own feelings and emotions, but you have to think about whether or not your child went to kindergarten that day.”
Being a mother, on the other hand, is both a humbling and challenging experience, she said. Her biggest interest and first priority is always her child, the actress added.
“I think I get to grow up as a person by being a mother,” she said. I realize how flawed and incomplete I am as a human being when I am with my daughter. She is mostly very well behaved. Whenever I go away for a shoot, she asks me how many nights I won’t be home. When I tell her three nights, she asks me if I can come back after just one night. But she wouldn’t ask me not to go at all. And I’d feel bad.”
Her next project is “Hyeopnyeo,” a period drama and martial arts flick directed by Park Heung-shik. In the upcoming movie, scheduled to hit theaters next year, she stars as a swordswoman during Korea’s Goryeo kingdom (918-1392). Her co-stars in the movie are actress Kim Go-eun and actor Lee Byung-hun.
“I think I can be myself the most when I am working,” she said. “And I can’t only concentrate on myself like that when I am not working. So I can’t complain about other things that I have to deal with about my work, such as what you need to sacrifice for fame.”
In spite of her high-profile career as an actress and her many achievements, including six Best Actress awards from home and abroad, Jeon said she does not consider herself as someone successful.
“I think I still have a long way to go to be successful,” she said. “I assume that a successful person would feel like she or he has done a lot, and achieved a lot. I don’t feel that way about myself yet. I think I am still in the process of reaching that level.”
By Claire Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)