The girl behind the gumiho: Interview with Shin Mina
Before Shin Mina put on a white dress and started chomping down on cow like it was going out of style, no one ever imagined a gumiho could be so cute. Sixteen episodes later, My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho has come to an end, slaying us all with its mythic love and epic dimples.
Playing one half of the Hoi Couple with her Woongtastic co-star Lee Seung-gi, Shin Mina has set a new record for fandom: I’m pretty sure she’s got as many girls crushing on her as guys. In this interview two days after wrapping the drama, she reveals the myth behind the legend, and the girl behind the gumiho.
Note: This is a translation of responses culled from a few different interviews. They call the drama a melo (melodrama) a few times, not as a strict genre classification, but because it turns sad in the later episodes. Throughout the interviews she calls Seung-gi by the formal “Lee Seung-gi-sshi,” which he does as well (Mina-sshi), in case you were curious about what they call each other. I know I was. Seung-gi noted on his show Strong Heart that he sticks to formal names and jondae with her, refusing to call her noona. Swoon.
Many people were left confused at the ending: is Mi-ho a human or a fox?
“I think the writers left it open-ended on purpose. Mi-ho isn’t human yet and is still a fox with one remaining tail. The Samshin Grandmother made her the promise to let her live in the world if she found love, so that’s her, keeping her promise. In the end, Mi-ho is a fox. Because she has one tail left, she’s not a gumiho, but an il-miho [il = one].” (Laughs)
“It’s been two days since we wrapped, but it doesn’t feel real yet. Now that my sleep time has extended, I’m starting to realize that it’s over. Now that this project is done my heart feels a little strange. I don’t know if it’s because there were so many sad scenes at the end, but I’m sad, and I miss it…I have all these complicated feelings,” she laughed.
Were there any difficulties while filming the drama?
“I had to cry so much in the finale. I really had no time to sleep, or read my lines. The Hong sisters, the director, and the actors all wanted to be our best, so we filmed many takes. Because there were so many emotional scenes, we were so exhausted, but we were so absorbed in expressing our emotions that we forgot to sleep—that’s how focused we were.”
People are saying that this is their rediscovery of you.
“I think there were really very little expectations for me. Lee Seung-gi was preparing for My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho for a while, and it was an ambitious project for the Hong sisters. So I think there were a lot of expectations for the lead actor and the writers. That’s why I’m feeling the full effects of this warm reaction now, and I’m grateful. I think the Hong sisters created such a three-dimensional character for me. I’m thankful for the ensuing popularity and recognition.”
You said at the initial press conference that you were worried about the character. How did you want to portray Shin Mina’s gumiho?
“The popular understanding of a gumiho was a scary human-liver-eating creature. I wanted to change that image. Mi-ho seems a little dim, or just naive, but I thought if I portrayed her that way in the beginning, later she would eventually become more pitiable. I worked hard, but the writers made Mi-ho lovable and pitiable.”
What kind of ending did you want?
“At first I thought it would be nice to have a sad ending. I thought it would be good to end with Mi-ho’s tragic sacrifice. But as we went on, everyone wanted a happy ending, and the audience was so happy when Dae-woong and Mi-ho ended the show smiling together. So now I don’t feel unfulfilled in any way.”
A lot of new trends were born.
“I heard that Mi-ho’s sayings like ‘mating’ and ‘bubbly water’ have become popular phrases now, and that people do love’s finger guns at each other. I even heard DJs copying Mi-ho on the radio, so it made me happy to know that so many people like her.”
“Mi-ho has a child-like purity, and was really more human than most humans. Some of her lines, like ‘mating,’ made me wonder if I could really say those things. But strangely as I repeated the lines, they became trends, and they became Mi-ho’s character. So eventually I got used to her language.”
In order to portray Mi-ho, did you add any mannerisms yourself?
“‘Ah, tasty!’ [ma-shita] is something I added. I really just ad-libbed that like an idiot, but the writers liked it, so they added it often. I didn’t think of it calculatingly—I just thought that if I were Mi-ho, I would over-exaggerate like that.”
Are there any similarities between Mi-ho and yourself?
“Mi-ho’s style of expression is really exaggerated and very honest. I tend to be honest in my expressions as well. In that way, we’re similar. But I’m not honest to the point of stupidly saying everything.”
What is the real Shin Mina like, as a woman?
“I can be blunt, but then at times I can be coquettish too. Sometimes I’m unresponsive and cold. Other times I over-exaggerate my expressions like Mi-ho. With my close friends, I like skinship so I’ll stick to their sides, but then other people have told me that I’m very cold and indifferent. I have no definitive: ‘that is me.’ ”
It seems difficult to not get greedy over ratings.
“When we first started, Baker King Kim Tak-gu was such a high wall to climb. When we premiered, they were already past the 30% mark. So we thought that even the low teens would be great for us. When we heard that our premiere got 12% from TNS, we were so happy. We never knew we’d surpass 20%. But more than ratings, there was so much love, that ratings just felt greedy at that point. I heard that even our reruns got good numbers. I’m so thankful for everyone’s love.”
Even the director fainted from exhaustion. Were you okay?
“The director collapsed once during the fourth episode. But I’m healthy—I’m totally fine and I could shoot another drama right now. During the shoot it was so difficult that I thought I would get sick immediately after, but I’m holding out okay. I ate a lot of good food before the shoot, and learned how to play badminton to keep in shape, so I think it helped me stay healthy.”
Do you really like beef?
“During the shoot I ate a lot of really good beef. I do actually like beef a lot. I did grow a little tired of it in the middle, but I love beef so much that I managed to get over it.”
Lee Seung-gi said that kissing you was the best kiss of his life. But you seemed to not think it was anything special.
“Did I say that? I must’ve said that early on, about the first ‘kiss,’ when we exchange the fox bead. After that, when Mi-ho and Dae-woong really like each other and kiss, I got lost in Mi-ho’s feelings and liked it as much as her. The audience really waited a long time for Mi-ho and Dae-woong to kiss, but as much as they waited, they really liked the first kiss. From Mi-ho’s point of view, it was a moment of endless happiness for her, I think.”
Shin Mina’s best kiss scene of her life is?
“The fox-bead exchanging kiss with Dae-woong.”
How was the chemistry with Lee Seung-gi?
“We had to shoot really fast, so it would have been difficult if we didn’t work well together. But we clicked right away from the beginning, so I was really comfortable.”
Mi-ho seems like an unprecedented choice for you.
“It was so fresh and fun. The story was fresh, and I haven’t had many projects working with actors younger than me. Other than Byun Hee-bong, Sung Dong-il, and Yoon Yoo-sun sunbae-nim, I was the oldest. I have a hard time lowering my speech so I used jondaemal, but the younger cast members treated me like a sunbae, which was new for me.”
You still use jondae with Lee Seung-gi?
“Yes. We still use jondae. Lee Seung-gi-sshi calls me ‘Mi-ho-sshi.’ If you ask him why he doesn’t call me noona, he says that he’s acting in a melo, so he doesn’t think it’s right to call me noona. I call him ‘Seung-gi-sshi’ or ‘Dae-woong-sshi.’ Dong-joo Teacher (Noh Min-woo) calls me ‘Mi-ho-nim.’ ”
How close are you, really?
“We were really close. Before I’ve worked with sunbaes and oppas, but Seung-gi is younger than me and debuted after me…so I could freely ask him to run lines with me. We were comfortable with each other, so our reactions were good and I think that’s why people love the Hoi Couple.”
“Before we worked on the drama together I just knew him as an um-chin-ah [엄마 친구의 아들] [A shortened slang term to mean that perfect so-and-so son that your Mom is dying to introduce you to, common moniker for Lee Seung-gi.] He’s been voted the number one celebrity to have as a son-in-law. But he’s not just nice. He’s funny, he’s kind, and he’s a really charming person. He’s younger than me, but there have been times I’ve almost called him ‘oppa’—he’s got a dependable side like that. He told me not to worry about ratings and just trust in him. It really seemed like I should trust him…” (Laughs)
You’ve acted in a melo with Korea’s top um-chin-ah. Does it make you want to be in love?
“Even if it’s not in this project, I do want to be in a relationship. (Laughs) Because it was a melo we expressed so much love and affection, that it somewhat satisfied me. Dating…I always want to.” (Laughs)
Besides Lee Seung-gi, you’ve worked with Joo Ji-hoon, Won Bin, Rain.
“It’s nice but it can be a burden too. They’re all so popular. But then there have been lots of times that their fans have supported me too, because I worked opposite them. Because of their support, I think my image has improved, and although it’s rare, I think there are those among their fans who have become my fans too. I think there are many good points too. But because they’re so pretty, and there are so many ‘flower pretty boys’ out there, it can be a burden. How can their skin be so pretty? Lee Seung-gi and Noh Min-woo were especially like that.”
You’re called the CF Queen. What do you think is your secret to receiving the CF industry’s love?
“Even when I think about it, it’s not like I had a hit movie or drama that landed me a lot of CFs—it’s puzzling. If I recall, in the past year I had a lot of public appearances for the unveiling of new products. So then I had a stylist dress me for all of the events, which then led to the media dubbing me a fashionista, leading to a CF boom and a flood of offers. I think all those elements happening together landed me in the spotlight. Also I debuted at a young age, so I think people were surprised by my more mature image. I started shooting one or two like that, and then eventually, it led to this.”
As an actor, is there a worry of being upstaged by your image as a CF star?
I don’t want to be carried away by those worries, so I work on a lot of projects. With CFs I take with me ways to express myself and I have a lot of hunger for those projects too. I’ve worked on them diligently, and I plan to do so in the future as well.”
You expected a heart-wrenching melo?
“I’m now in the latter half of my twenties, so I thought I had somewhat matured. As a woman I wanted to express heartbreaking sorrow, and I wanted to show a more mature image. So I chose Gumiho, but then the character developed into the opposite of what I had envisioned. At some point I realized that I shouldn’t create an image of a role. It went in a direction I hadn’t considered. I thought I was at an age where I could no longer be cute and young. But it was so fun to play. So I learned that I shouldn’t limit myself.”
You earned confidence from playing a gumiho.
“I don’t know if it’ll happen, but I even thought that I want to try a full-on comedy. I wasn’t really a bubbly person before, but I felt the strength of a fun, lively set. And I had a hard time expressing myself directly. But Mi-ho’s directness made me realize that it’s beautiful and healthy to express your emotions. I want to try a role that messes me up.”
What does your family think of your rising popularity?
“Before, my grandparents’ friends used to just know vaguely that their granddaughter was an actress. But once they saw my face in this, and their grandchildren like the drama, my grandparents are hearing a lot about me now. My niece talks about stories she hears in kindergarten about Gumiho. My family feels some new self-respect because of me, which makes me feel…like I’ve accomplished something. With dramas the reactions come so fast, that you can feel it on your skin.”
She loves beef AND Seung-gi. Girl after my own heart. Miholicious!