My Name Is: Im Joo-eun
With MBC’s horror-thriller Hon being lauded as a well-made drama and its unknown lead actress garnering a lion’s share of the attention, Im Joo-eun has made a definitive leap to the big time. Here’s a look at the actress and how she beat out more than a thousand competitors to make such a splash in her first leading role.
Last March, a group of rookie actresses who had undergone an acting test took part in a question and answer period in front of MBC directors, who were acting as judges in the third round of auditions for the female lead of MBC’s special miniseries Hon. Out of 1,058 candidates, the final group comprised 14, and Im Joo-eun demonstrated comparatively solid acting skills. One director tossed out a question to Im, in a joking way, “If you want to be the lead in a horror drama, won’t you have to lose some of the fat in your cheeks?” Im Joo-eun didn’t hesitate for a second before calling out, “I’ll run 2 kilometers every day.” Immediately, she added, “Is that too little? Then, I’ll run 10 kilometers!” At her unexpected but determined attitude, everyone laughed. Two days later, director Kim Sang-ho ended his deliberations by choosing the large-eyed new actress for the lead role in the 10-episode drama.
At 22, she became “the second Shim Eun-ha” in her first lead role
“I found out I had passed the final test while riding the bus to school. My first thoughts were, ‘Wow, what do I do now? Where do I start?'” She didn’t just lose some fat in her cheeks, she dropped 5 kg. She went to script readings daily at the broadcast station, and took acting lessons from actor Kim Yeo-jin, who was introduced to her by director Kim Sang-ho. She even started going to action school, and her manager was amazed at her packed schedule. But the pressure of taking the lead role of a miniseries wasn’t easy to shake. “I really can’t express those feelings in words. It wasn’t my first time acting, but this was a miniseries and there were all these descriptors attached to me like ‘the next Shim Eun-ha’ and ‘the next Lee Na-young,’ and that was a lot of pressure.”
On top of that, her character Yoon Hana had to deal with the trauma of witnessing a friend dying in her childhood, as well as the death of her twin sister and even her mother. She shared a terrible fate with the criminal psychologist Shin Ryu (Lee Seo-jin), as she gradually realized her possessed spirit and came up against a murderous evil force. Crying, screaming, and acting violent emotions with her whole body was a difficult task. “When I had a violent scene, I couldn’t even eat, and I would sit inside the car for four or five hours, reading the script to get into the mood. When I reviewed the scene to come afterward, or an emotional scene from a previous episode, I’d find myself crying over and over. Haha.”
“I hope I take on future roles that are more difficult than Hana”
Filming every day without rest would certainly have been difficult to endure for a 22-year-old new actress, but Im Joo-eun recalls the experience, which is like an actor’s equivalent of a Spartan training, with a smiling face: “Actually, the director instructed me in every hand movement and eyelid flicker like [Anne] Sullivan teaching Helen Keller, so I’m in trouble in the future!” However, Im Joo-eun, who began her career as a model in middle school based on a profile picture and crossed into acting with MBC’s 2007 drama Merry vs. Daegu Battle as the reckless student Ah-mun, then played mysterious young girl Su-jung in CGV’s Nymph of a Lamp, possesses a quality rare in an actor of her age that leaves an unforgettable impression.
“Now that Hon is over, instead of a horror or romantic comedy project, I’d like my next role to be something with a strong ‘drama’ feel. I’d like a character that allows me to show her inner character more. And I hope that she will be even more difficult on me than the role of Hana.” A large twinkle shines in those bewitching eyes, set in that face that doesn’t actually resemble anyone enough to be called “the next” version of someone. And to this ambitious new actress, who worked through all those nights and who looks forward to assigning herself even more difficult homework, the word “Cinderella” does not seem nearly as fitting as the term “promising tree.”
My Name Is…
My name is Im Joo-eun. 林珠銀.
I was born on January 7, 1988.
I’m the youngest, with an older brother and sister. My sister is 26, my brother was born a year after, and then me, but I’ve never been babied as the youngest. I’m also not a very talkative type.
My parents both work so we’re all pretty independent. However, when I was appearing in Hon, my sister would check every episode’s viewership ratings and let me know of the articles that came out. My brother woke up early every dawn when I was leaving to carry my bags for me. Also, he doesn’t tell me but I hear about how he goes around bragging. Haha.
When I was younger, my nickname was “Prince.” Until I was in kindergarten, my hair didn’t grow very long so I kept it short, and as I hung out with my brother all the time, I had bruises and scrapes on my legs so I looked like a boy. My oppa friends still tell me to call them “hyung.” Haha.
I attend Dongdeok Women’s University, and I’m in the broadcasting and performance department. My classmates are already in their fourth year, but because I have taken time off to act, I’m only in my second semester of my second year. However, I find so many classes very interesting that I really want to attend school properly. Even when I was filming MBC’s Merry vs. Daegu Battle in 2007, I hardly missed any classes.
The most fun thing I did at school was a performance of All Shook Up last year in a musical workshop. I was so into it that I even told my management not to schedule other work for me during that time. I played Natalie and although I wasn’t a great dancer or singer, there were a lot of people who came to see it, and the performance as a whole was fun.
I was given no script for the “Youth Investigates Life” segment of MBC’s King Saturday, where I came out as “That Girl.” The PD only told me vaguely to go along with the flow. So I just had fun, without thinking to show a particular character or side of me.
Merry vs. Daegu Battle was simply fun. It was fun filming the high school scene with a group of others, grabbing hair and fighting. The scenes with Ah-mun’s family were fun. And it was even fun while I waited around for up to ten hours to film.
I really deliberated a lot over the acting in CGV channel’s movie A Nymph of a Lamp. It was hard on me, thinking I was so inadequate, and the director saw that. It helped a lot when he said, “When I cast you it wasn’t because I thought you were the best actor, but because your Su-jung had the smallest gap between strengths and weaknesses. I picked you already figuring in your weaknesses, so don’t feel too burdened.”
In Hon, when Hana becomes possessed, I was concerned over needing to act out with tics, but because the director worked it all out on set, I was embarrassed of how I’d worried. I paid a lot of attention to the change from my personality before and after becoming possessed, but later on that became fun, so I came to enjoy it.
My hair had been long enough to reach my waist, but I cut it short as I began filming on Hon. To be honest, I think I look better with long hair, but my friends are split half-half about it. On top of that, at the wrap party, director Kang Dae-sun came up to me and said, “Adding extensions to your hair in the second half was a mistake!” so now I’m even more confused. [Laughs]
The most difficult thing in the world is making a choice. Since I’ve worked since I was young, I can do things like signing contracts on my own, but because I have such an indecisive personality, if you ask me what I want to eat, I have a hard time answering.
What do I think when I see my face in the mirror? Um… I know my face isn’t beautiful but I think it’s rather flat. I hear that I remind people a lot of other people, which makes me think it’s pretty ordinary.
The person who has most influenced me is my father. From when I was young, he has always had good talks with me about having life goals and things like that. When my whole family gets together every New Year’s Day, each person makes up a mind map and every time I think, “We did this last year, why do it again?” In the end, though, I find it helps to make a life plan.
I don’t actually have a lot of ambition or strong concentration. People say that having too much ambition makes things hard on yourself, but I don’t know. And I’m scatterbrained.
However, I am an emotional person. I cry right away, laugh right away, and experience mood swings, so if I’m ever caught up in worries, I can’t tell other people but I just dig a hole in the ground for myself. But at some point, I brush myself off and rise back up.
Originally published September 8, 2009
Written by Choi Ji-eun