Interview with Kim Soo-Mi, the 'Queen of Ad-Lib'
She became one of the most popular faces in the 80s thanks to her role in the prototype for modern Korean TV Dramas, 전원일기 (Lifetime in The Country), but before reappearing in the comedy 오! 해피데이 (Oh! Happy Day), Kim Soo-Mi kept a low profile. She did star in a few Historical Dramas, movies (Im Kwon-Taek's 창 (Donwfall) and a few others), the occasional Miniseries here and there, but nothing major. And, most importantly, the image she portrayed in the landmark TV Drama, which aired for almost 20 years (1980-1998), was too difficult to get rid of.
Faced with the nightmare of early retirement, the veteran took a blind plunge into the film business once again, by chance. This time, she did it with a completely new image. Like older greats such as the late Kim Mu-Saeng and Oh Ji-Myung changed their image thanks to a Drama or a Sitcom, Kim Soo-Mi rejuvenated her moribund career thanks to a quick cameo in the comedy starring Jang Na-Ra. Sure, it was nothing more than a vehicle for the young and spunky TV Drama star, trying to make a few bucks off her 15 Minutes (which, judging by the ratings for her latest 3-4 TV Dramas, are almost up) in the limelight, but people were quite surprised to see the veteran pop up, swear a storm, and quickly fade out. Who was that? You mean... that was old 일용엄니 (Il-Yong's Mommy) from 'Lifetime in the Country'?
People in the industry quickly got what was going on: hidden by her explosive personality was a mountain of comic talent ready to emerge, along with an almost reckless ability to generate laughter thanks to her perfectly timed ad-libs. Known as the 'Queen of Ad-Lib' in Korea, sort of a female counterpart to people like Im Hyun-Shik, Kim was able to start a second career, this time mostly in comedies, with the help of her up to then undiscovered talents. A few films, Sitcom and TV Dramas later, and she's become one of the most popular faces on TV and the big screen. Netizen recently mentioned how her personality was so strong the other stars of the 3rd Season of the cult sitcom 안녕, 프란체스카 (Hello, Francesca) suffered as a result.
Now the old broad who couldn't make it in the movies has become part of history, her latest film 가문의 위기 (Marrying The Mafia 2) becoming the most successful Korean comedy of all time. It's only ironic that someone who had to play an old mother when she was 19 (at the beginning of her role in 'Lifetime in The Country') became even more popular as a veteran ajumma with a great youthful spirit and sense of humour.
She sat down for an interview recently, discussing her career in the past and the present, the reception to her latest work, and more. Here's some interesting snippets:
Press: 'Marrying The Mafia 2' has now reached the 5.5 Million tickets sold.
Kim Soo-Mi: I knew it would do well, but I never expected this kind of success. I can only be thankful.
Press: How did you end up in 'Oh! Happy Day'?
Kim: Director Yoon Hak-Yeol wrote a sitcom I was on, a few years ago. Since we were pretty close all that time, there was really no reason for me to turn his sudden offer down. Not much burden was involved, really. The most important thing for me is people: there's nothing more important than the relationship between people.
Press: Then because of connections and relationship with other people there must have been a lot of work you couldn't refuse to do for you.
Kim: If it weren't for that, why would I have worked on that film (laughs). But then again, because of 'Oh! Happy Day' people kind of went 'Ah... so Kim Soo-Mi also stars in movies now,' so that made me think.
Press: You started acting as a TV Star in 1970 after an open invitational 'Talent contest'. Was there any particular event which made you start your acting career?
Kim: I just debuted. Back then, if you went to places like Myung-Dong, you could always find people who would give you name cards with 'Director' written on it, asking if you were interested in films. But back then I really didn't think about it. I was really interested in culture, I wanted to study literature. I did pass the entrance exam, but then again I didn't have enough money for tuition fees. When I was a 고3 (3rd year of High School) my parents passed away, so the situation at home wasn't very nice. Then I started thinking about working for something like a year, doing part time jobs here and there to pay for college. That was when the opportunity to enter an open talent exam came. I passed it, and that was the beginning. I started acting, but after a year I hadn't earned enough money for college! (laughs). After 2 years of hard work, I did have enough money, but then I started thinking: 'Maybe I have some talent for acting, maybe I can make it too." And back then I received a lot of 'New Actress' awards, that was when the idea and desire of seriously making this my profession came to mind. Since I always had a high interest in literature, I read a lot. The things I like the most are reading books and traveling.
Press: What do you prefer: Movies or TV Dramas?
Kim: I like movies. When shooting, you have more time to work on the scenes and I like that, plus you often shoot on location in the outskirts, which is something I like even more. It was the same in 마파도 (Mapado), we shot it with the mindset of someone going on Summer vacation, so it was fun, and I really like travelling a lot anyway. But tell me any other line of work where you can enjoy yourself as if you were on vacation, while at the same time working. There's a lot of people who dislike going to the countryside to shoot, I just love it when we leave Seoul to shoot.
Press: You starred in 위대한 유산 (The Greatest Expectation) as Kim Seon-Ah's mother. That scene where you confess your past to Kim Seon-Ah, I really liked it. Particularly that line where you went: 'With looks like this, you think men would just ignore me?'. I just fell off my chair (laughs).
Kim: That was all ad-lib. While you're laughing, it still has that bittersweet feeling emerging from the dialogue. In 'Oh! Happy Day' the 'swearing ajumma' was one of my creations as well. The script was nothing like that. Director Yoon just went: "Since you just came out to shoot for an evening, have fun with it."