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Im Soo-hyang doesn’t let the critics bother her: Having just wrapped hit drama ‘Graceful Family,’ the actor is ready for more

Nov 22,2019
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Im Soo-hyang [PARK SE-WAN]
Actor Im Soo-hyang rewrote history for cable channel MBN, but it was a new chapter for her career, too.

Im’s recently wrapped up MBN-Dramax series “Graceful Family” finished with an 8 percent viewership rating for its last episode on Oct. 17 - a number never reached by any program on the channel. It was a major transition from her last hit, JTBC’s “My ID is Gangnam Beauty,” in which she played a timid college student with a low self-esteem maturing through unfair situations that she had to go through because of her looks. With “Graceful Family,” however, Im was nothing but a straightforward, candid millionaire who brought a sense of catharsis to viewers.

“I didn’t know that it would be seen so much,” Im said, when asked about her recent drama.

Born in 1990, Im made her debut in 2009 with a small role in the film “4th Period Mystery” and gradually made her way up the ladder with bigger roles. “Gangnam Beauty” shot her to stardom after she found just the right character for her. The introverted Mi-rae who grows little by little from her first day of university was like seeing Im bloom into the actor she is. Her latest character, Mo Seok-hee, may not have been the easiest for her to play, but she came alive through a lot of effort.

Ilgan Sports, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, sat down with Im to talk about the success of her drama and her blooming career as an actor. The following are edited excerpts.



Q. It must feel so good to have achieved a record with “Graceful Family.” Tell us, how do you feel?

A. I really didn’t expect it to do so well. I’m just so grateful for the love we got. We thought that it would be a success if we got 3 percent [ratings] and a massive hit if we had 4 percent. MBN hasn’t had that high of ratings for its dramas before. But I guess word of mouth spread and it happened.



How do you feel now that it’s over?

I actually can’t really take in the fact that it’s over, because I used up so much energy for this and I was almost just flat out of power. I felt the need to rest. I put in a lot of mental energy because I wanted to pull it off well, and it’s gotten me wanting to take a break. But I’m actually not the kind of person who takes breaks. I like working, and so this feeling probably won’t last that long.



“Graceful Family” had a lot of twists in each episode. Did you feel that too?

I felt there was always a moment of catharsis at the end [of an episode]. And the character was just really charming from the very beginning. She’s a millionaire, but also with some cute sides that I think the viewers got to like. I was worried a lot, but I’m thankful for how everything turned out.



It was really interesting to see such a different character from “Gangnam Beauty.” How did you feel about the difference?

“Graceful Family” really was different from “Gangnam Beauty.” I think [with “Graceful Family”] I saw a female protagonist like none other. It made it novel, and it made the whole drama feel like you’ve seen it somewhere you actually haven’t. She felt familiar, but uncanny - and that was the appeal of the work.



How did you cope with the difficulties you faced during filming?

Mostly the good reactions from viewers, and the supportive comments on the internet - those things are what gets us actors going. It’s really rewarding to see good compliments after working hard and seeing it pay off. But honestly, I didn’t really get to take all that feeling inside. There were just too many things to care about from head to toe, and the role was just quite demanding. The journey was challenging, but it’s definitely fulfilling.



So does that mean “Graceful Family” is your new No. 1 work?

I think No. 1 works will keep coming (laughs). I think “Gangnam Beauty” was a turning point for me. But I’m not so sure about No. 1 work, though. From a very personal point of view, I only see the things I could have done better.



But it does seem like you take on the jobs that are quite challenging. Is that so?

It is. Like when I was doing MBC’s “Windy Mi-poong” I was cast by an emergency call, then with KBS’s “Lovers in Bloom” I tried a daily drama. Then with “Gangnam Beauty,” I took on the role of a woman who became beautiful through plastic surgery. Some of the roles that were quite demanding and were obviously left untouched by others turned out to be the right ones for me. If I had drawn a line for myself saying I couldn’t, then I wouldn’t have done all these great characters. I would have missed the opportunities. I was afraid, but I think it’s right to do it if the character, the work and the script is good - and as long as you have people who trust you. Thinking about it in a simpler light broadened the spectrum of my work.



Do you like taking risks?

I like to take risks and make something out of it. Of course, “Gangnam Beauty” had a very clear message. And like that, there has to be a clear motivation for me, because that makes it worth the risk.



You debuted in 2009, and this is your 10th year working. How do you feel?

I don’t really look back at the past, but it did feel touching to be congratulated by the fans. There aren’t a lot of colleagues from the theater department [at Chung-Ang University] who are still acting, and I’m one of them. I think I’m fortunate to still be doing something in such a competitive entertainment field. It made me feel that I shouldn’t lose my goals. I keep reminding myself of how desperate I was, when I took the train from my hometown to Seoul every weekend to study. I would stay up all night then take the first train back home.



When did you first start studying in Seoul?

I started going back and forth from Seoul and Busan when I was in middle school. I went to Anyang Arts High School and I moved to the capital region. I lived with my older brother.



So you’ve practically lived your life for acting?

I have never dreamt of anything else. There were times when I thought I wanted to quit because it was so hard, but nothing ever really made me as happy as I was while acting. I think I have a happy job. If you look around you, there isn’t anything that’s easily done. We all struggle, but it’s up to you to enjoy the happy moments within. I feel happy when I’m acting, and I’m grateful for that.



Do you look at the comments people write about you online?

I do look at the comments and the reactions I get. I look at it because I want to know, but I don’t want my family or friends seeing them. I actually shout at them if they do. I don’t think anyone’s safe from hateful comments. You can’t cater to everyone’s needs, and everyone has different tastes. The reason I read them is because the good things give me energy, and there are some meaningful assessments as well.



What’s the biggest thought on your mind these days?

How will I heal myself and get myself back on my feet again? Being in the entertainment industry, so many things happen and it’s crucial that you keep your mind on the right track. But it’s also a repetition of delving into a character, then breaking up with them again and again. I’m doing this job because I fulfilled my goal and I’m happy doing it. So I want to keep doing it well and keep my mind focused.

I do try to take in the criticisms, but it does hurt. But if in the past I was hurt by the one bad comment out of 10, nowadays I’m starting to look at the nine good comments.



How do you picture your 30s to turn out?

I want to live my 30s like a teenager - someone who is responsible, but also has the emotional room to laugh at leaves passing on the street. I used to think that being mature quickly was a good thing. But looking back, it wasn’t just all good. I was a student who had a lot of worries, but now I want to live my 30s full of energy.

BY HWANG SO-YOUNG [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]



임수향 ”터닝포인트는 '강남미인', 인생작은 ing”

"행복하게 살고 싶어요."
배우 임수향(29)이 MBN 역사를 새롭게 썼다. MBN·드라맥스 수목극 '우아한 가(家)'의 최종회 시청률이 8%를 돌파하며 개국 최고 시청률을 갈아치운 것. JTBC 드라마 '내 아이디는 강남미인'(이하 '강남미인')에서 웹툰과 싱크로율 높은 소심녀 미래를 연기한 데 이어 '우아한 가' 모석희 캐릭터로 사이다 재벌녀 매력을 장착했다. 넓은 연기 스펙트럼을 입증하며 꽃길 행보를 기대케 했다. 임수향은 "이렇게까지 많은 사랑을 받을 줄 몰랐다"면서도 "너무 행복하다"고 환하게 웃었다. 취중토크는 이번이 처음이었다. "평소 너무 솔직한 편이라 어디까지 말해야 할지 모르겠다"고 긴장한 모습을 보였으나 점차 편안한 분위기 속 이야기가 오갔다. 자연 친화적인 것을 좋아하고 명상을 즐기는 20대 청년 임수향. 행복하게 사는 게 목표라면서 집에 있을 때가 가장 좋다고 했다. 강아지 세 마리와 동거 중인 그녀는 외로울 틈이 없다면서 강아지, 친구들과 함께하는 일상의 행복 에너지를 뿜어냈다.

-드라마가 잘 되어 기분이 좋죠.
"이렇게 잘 될 줄은 몰랐어요. 예상치도 못한 큰 사랑을 받아서 감사할 따름이죠. 시청률 3% 나오면 대박이겠다 싶었어요. 4% 나오면 초대박이라고 생각했어요. MBN에서 드라마로 그 정도가 나온 적이 없었으니까요. 근데 입소문 효과를 톡톡히 본 것 같아요."

-끝난 게 실감 나나요.
"끝났다는 건 실감이 잘 안 나는데 이번엔 에너지를 너무 많이 쏟아서 약간 방전되기 직전이었어요. 휴식이 필요하다는 생각이 들었어요. 잘 해내고 싶은 마음에 집중과 고민을 많이 했던 작품이라 그런지 쉬고 싶더라고요. 근데 또 잘 못 쉬는 성향이에요. 일하는 걸 좋아하기 때문에 쉬고 싶은 마음도 얼마 못 갈걸요."

-'우아한 가'는 매회 반전이 있어 좋았어요.
"마지막에 늘 사이다가 있었죠. 그리고 이 작품은 캐릭터부터가 매력 있었어요. 재벌녀인데 뭔가 부족해 보이는 모습 때문인지 시청자분들이 호감으로 봐주셨어요. 걱정을 많이 했었는데 다행이란 생각이 들어요."

-전작 '강남미인'과 이미지가 달라서 1회부터 매력이 있었어요.
"칭찬을 들으니 나도 모르게 입꼬리가 계속 올라가네요.(웃음) '우아한 가'는 '강남미인'이랑 결이 달랐어요. 여태까지 없었던 여자주인공 캐릭터였어요. 그래서 더 새로웠죠. 드라마 자체가 어디서 본 것 같으면서도 없었던 느낌이었어요. 익숙한데 익숙하지 않은 그런 묘한 매력의 작품이었죠."

-그런 상황에 큰 힘이 된 건 뭔가요.
"반응이 좋으니 힘이 나죠. 좋은 댓글이 올라오고 응원해주니까요. 배우들은 그런 거로 힘을 내요. 열심히 했는데 인정받고 좋은 평가가 나오니 얼마나 힘이 나겠어요. 그런데 이번엔 그 반응을 오롯이 즐기지 못했어요. 머리부터 발끝까지 신경 쓸 게 많고 역할 자체도 벅차고 어려웠거든요. 정신적인 여유가 없었어요. 하는 과정은 쉽지 않았지만 끝나고 나니 성취감은 확실히 있는 것 같아요."

-인생작이 바뀌었나요.
"앞으로 인생작이 계속 나올 거예요.(웃음) 터닝포인트가 된 게 '강남미인'이라고 생각해요. 인생작은 아직 잘 모르겠어요. 주관적으로 보면 아쉬운 것들만 보이거든요.”

-누구나 쉽게 하지 못하는 선택을 많이 하는 것 같아요.
"그렇죠. MBC 주말극 '불어라 미풍아' 때는 긴급투입, 종영 이후 곧바로 KBS 1TV 일일극 '무궁화 꽃이 피었습니다' 도전, 그다음은 '강남미인' 성형미인 역이었죠. 한 번도 안 해봤고 역할 자체가 부담감이 커 남들이 보면 의외라고 할 수 있는데 도전한 것들이 잘 됐어요. 만약 스스로한테 선을 정해놨으면 이 작품들을 못 했을 거예요. 좋은 작품들을 많이 놓쳤겠죠. 물론 두려운 마음이 있지만 캐릭터와 작품, 대본이 좋고 나를 믿어주는 사람들이 있다면 하는 게 맞다고 생각해요. 심플하게 생각하니 작품의 폭이 넓어졌어요."

-도전을 즐기는 편인가요.
"리스크를 딛고 해내고 싶다는 생각이 강해요. 물론 '강남미인'은 작품이 주는 메시지가 정확하게 있었어요. 그런 것처럼 동기부여는 확실히 있어야 해요. 그래야 도전 의지가 생기니까요."

-2009년에 데뷔해서 올해로 데뷔 10년 째더라고요.
"그간의 시간을 생각하지 않는 편인데 팬들에게 축하를 받고 나니 감회가 새로웠어요. 연극영화과 동기 중에 지금까지 연기하는 친구들이 많지 않아요. 그중에 내가 한 명인 거잖아요. 경쟁이 치열한 연예계에서 활동을 이어나가고 있다는 게 천운이다 싶어요. 초심을 잃지 말아야겠다는 생각을 다시금 했어요. 주말마다 기차 타고 서울로 올라와서 연기 공부하고 밤을 새우고 첫차 타고 갔던 그 간절했던 마음을 잃지 말자는 생각이죠."

-연기 공부를 시작한 게 언제인가요.
"부산에서 서울을 오가기 시작한 게 중학교 때에요. 고등학교는 안양예술고등학교를 진학해서 수도권으로 유학을 왔거든요. 친오빠랑 함께 살았죠."

-살아온 인생의 절반 이상을 연기를 위해 살았네요.
"이 꿈을 꾸고 난 다음 다른 꿈을 가진 적 없어요. 힘드니 연기를 그만둬야지 그런 상황은 있었지만 이것보다 행복한 게 없었어요. 행복한 직업을 하고 있다고 생각해요. 주위에 보면 안 힘든 건 없는 것 같아요. 모두가 힘들게 살지만 그 안에서 행복을 느끼며 사는 건 각자의 몫이잖아요. 연기할 때가 제일 행복하고 행복함을 느낄 수 있기에 그저 감사해요."

-댓글을 자주 보는 편인가요.
"댓글이나 반응을 자주 봐요. 궁금해서 보는 건데 가족들이나 지인들이 보는 건 원하지 않아요. 도리어 왜 보냐고 화를 내요. 악플이 없는 사람은 없다고 생각해요. 모두에게 맞출 수 없고 각자 취향이란 게 있잖아요. 그럼에도 댓글을 보는 이유는 나쁜 반응보다 좋은 얘기가 힘이 되고 그 와중에서도 의미 있는 비판이나 예리한 지적들이 있기 때문이죠."

-때론 쓴소리가 불편하지 않나요.
"평소 주위에 많이 물어보는 편이에요. 가끔은 의미 없이 좋다는 얘길 듣고 싶지만 대부분은 그걸 원하고 물어보는 게 아니에요. 보완해야 하는 것, 이상한 점을 고치고 싶어 물어보는 거죠. 좋은 건 그냥 나가도 되지만 좋지 않은 건 안 되니까요. 고치면 고칠 수 있으니 그 부분에 대해 신경을 쓰는 거죠."

-요즘 가장 큰 고민은요.
"어떻게 나를 다시 잘 달랠 것인가, 치료할 것인가에 대한 고민이 있어요. 사실 연예계는 사건, 사고도 많고 멘탈 관리도 잘해야 하는 직업인데 배우는 역할에 몰입했다 헤어지는 것의 반복이에요. 내 꿈을 이룬 케이스고 행복하기 때문에 연기를 하는 거잖아요. 멘탈 관리를 잘하면서 하고 싶어요. 비판을 수용하기 위해 노력하지만 그만큼 상처를 받는 거라고 생각해요. 그래도 예전엔 10개의 댓글이 있으면 1개의 나쁜 말에 꽂혔는데 요즘은 9개의 긍정적인 글을 보기 시작했어요."

-특별히 꿈꾸고 있는 30대가 있나요.
"30대 같은 10대로 살고 싶어요. 낙엽을 보고도 까르르 할 수 있는 10대 감성을 가진 책임감 있는 어른이요. 어릴 땐 철이 드는 게 좋다고 생각했어요. 근데 지금 생각해보니 철이 드는 게 좋지는 않은 것 같아요. 학창 시절 고민이 많고 약간 성숙한 학생이었는데 파이팅 넘치는, 에너지 넘치는 30대를 보내고 싶어요."
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