[August 2015 – Singles] Lee Guk Joo – Interview

Allure - Lee Guk Joo

edit: I got the magazine title wrong. Sorry.

Your book “I’m a Fine Chick” [t/n: translation might make it sound she’s bragging, but the word “fine” in the Korean context is really to be taken as “being OK”, “being nice”, “being someone good”. It’s not about her looks.] is an essay. Why a book and not a TV show?

I received offers to do a reality TV documentary. However, it meant having cameras following me around for a few days, every time I’d meet someone I’d have to ask them if they want to be filmed, and I felt it would be troublesome. I rejected the offer because I didn’t want to harm other people. A year ago, a writer that I know approached me first with the book idea. I thought about it for a week. It wasn’t like “should I do it or not?”, it was like “how can I reject it in a nice way”. I was very busy, so I thought the time dedicated to worrying about this book would be better spent by getting more sleep and taking care of my health. In the end, I thought to myself “being busy means having people being interested in me, so when someone comes looking for me, let’s do it”. Instead, I asked the publishing company to pair me up with a writer who could listen to my story.

On the cover, it’s written “made by Lee Guk Joo” and “adapted by Yang Ji Eun”. [t/n: basically, Lee Guk Joo says that Yang Ji Eun made sure it was readable.] She’s a writer I worked with a few times on TV shows. I thought “she has a good personality so I won’t be uncomfortable”. We worked together, but we didn’t think of it in terms of “making” and “adapting” but “embelishement”. And it’s not just about the written part. She also cared much more about the book structure or the design. It’s our first book, so she and I put our hearts into it.

It took a year for the book to get published. I heard you were so busy that you couldn’t meet the writer in person often so you’d communicate through phone calls and voice messages. I left message mostly early in the morning or late at night. When we had time, we talked over the phone. I was worried that people would lose interest in me while we were working on the book. That would have made this book useless.

Communicating through spoken words is very different from communicating through written words. Wasn’t it difficult or embarrassing to talk about your inner thoughts with a stranger? There were many things that made me cringe when I read spoken words written. When I told my stories to the writer, I got to organize my thoughts and then I made the modifications. People who read my book say they feel like they hear my own voice. I paid attention to how my personality was expressed through this book.

How did you come up with title “I’m A Fine Chick”? I wondered what someone like me who has been living only for 30 years could talk about. I talked about it with the publishing company staff and I said half to myself “people around me know how feminine I am, but men don’t know it and it’s upsetting. I’m really a fine chick” and it was like a bang. This is how the word “fine” came out. Even when I tried to find another title after that, there was no other word to express who I am as a gagwoman with a “strong” image and as someone feminine.

It’s organized by episodes titled by themes that start by “yeon” [연] like “acting” [“연기= yeon-ki], “dating” [연애= yeon-ae], “connection” [연결=yeon-kyeol], “young guy” [연하= “yeon-ha”]. “Chick” [‘년’= nyeon] and “yeon” [‘연(緣) = link, connection] have a similar pronunciation, so I went for a mix of my story with “I’m a Fine Chick”. As I’m living my life, the important things for me are connections, the fact that I was a rehearsal maniac more than just relying on my skills, I was a college student in fine arts who drew with a pen, I dated too, I’m an entertainer…

Once you matched stories with themes starting with “yeon”, wasn’t it hard to find something to say? Toward the end of the book, there’s the “Octopus Soup” [‘연포탕’= yeon-potang] chapter and there can be the misunderstanding that I forced myself to put it there because I had nothing else to talk about. The writer also asked me if the word “yeonpotang” wasn’t too random and I said it wasn’t. It’s a dish I really like and I thought it would look less natural if I didn’t talk about it. From the beginning to the end, I managed to talk about topics starting with “yeon”.

It appears that you tried to put a lot of your inner self into this book. I revealed pictures of things like a hairband on my bathroom countertop, and even the toilet paper piling up in front of the bathroom door. In my home, there are tissues within reach when you open the bathroom door. There are hairbands in every corner. I bought hairbands to carry stuff like the remote control, my cell phone and I leave them a bit everywhere because I hate having to stand up when I lied down to watch TV but want to tie my hair up (smiles). I told this story to the writer with no particular intention, but she said it was nice because it was like life tips, so we put it in the book.

Last year, you said in the program “Roommate” that being famous so suddenly was a scary situation hard to deal with I tried my best to make people laugh, but there were times when I asked myself “who will actually enjoy seeing me?”. I always think that fame doesn’t last long. Compared to last year, my popularity probably went down, so I’m determined to enjoy it and not complain. I work even more because I want to savour the love I’m receiving right now. I’m doing shows that I know I can be good at as much as I enjoy doing them or I’m doing programs with people I like. Especially with people I’m close with. Working with them gives me strength.

Your celebrity friends like gagwoman Jung Juri, Sistar’s Hyolyn, Hong Jin Young, wrote the recommendation. They’re people I became close with when I was very busy. Because of these people, I drank a lot of alcohol on my free time despite my busy schedule (smiles). Hyolyn is the one who suggested first we’d have a drink together and she contacted me at dawn. I would have had only 2-3 hours of sleep before going to work, but I thought to myself she would never contact me again if I didn’t go. That time, Hyolyn and I talked a lot and that was the opportunity for us to become even closer.

Which one do you like better: stay at home or go out and meet your friends? Seeing my friends is now a better way for me to recharge my batteries than getting a few more hours of sleep. When I was a kid, I was considered as someone with no charm. Once, I met a gagman-sunbaenim in MBC’s lobby and I told him “please buy me just one drink”. Since I had struggled to get to drink with them, I brightened up the atmosphere as I drank every drink the sunbaenims offered me. I drank 6 bottles of soju, so I was out of my mind (smiles). Now people call me and invite me because they want to be friends with me and they want to talk to me which shows how much charm I have today.

You’re close with many celebrities and there are always many people around you. Is there someone you don’t get along with? I don’t really like friends who say “oh there’s a guy at the bar” and they’re busy seducing him. I even think it’s better to be honest and say “I like this guy” and ask my friend(s) to help me out.

It seems that you would choose friendship over love. No. Of course, it’s love. Even if I’m single, I’m not hurt when my friends are dating. If it’s real friendship, you must be understanding. Ahn Young Min whom I’m very close with is currently in a relationship and she doesn’t contact me. When I’m dating, I’m so into my boyfriend that I don’t contact them either (smiles).

Your motto is “the chick who is meant to make it will make it, the chick who isn’t meant to make it won’t”. In my book, what I’m trying to say is that even if you aren’t supposed to make it, you will make it, if you work hard for it. I mean “give up on your flaws”. Trying to fix flaws isn’t the way to go. You can’t become as pretty as Jun Ji Hyun just because you do plastic surgery. In a group of 10 people who had plastic surgery, not even half of them are satisfied of their decision. They fix and fix it again. It would be nice if you can live and be satisfied with the plastic surgery you did or if you can just acknowledge who you are, stay away from plastic surgery and embrace the other qualities you have.

You also said on TV that you received a few offers to do plastic surgery. I was even offered up to 200,000,000 won to have jaw sugery performed on me. A friend of mine is a mom now and she said it was a 1,000 times more painful than giving birth. The complex I have about my looks wasn’t that serious for me to go through this pain.

It seems that your parents play a huge part in the fact that you’re confident about yourself. My parents never told me “lose weight”, “you’re ugly”. Not even once. My parents were hurt when they saw the way my face and my body, my looks made people laugh. They were like “what’s wrong with our daugther?” (smiles). On the contrary, it’s something I acknowledged fast. I had no other choice if I wanted to survive in the broadcast world. Some gagwomen do get hurt as they wonder “still, I’m a woman, should I really put on this kind of makeup?”. Looking at my friends when they felt this way, I’d say “let’s try it! You’re the one stressing yourself over it. Just tell yourself “I’m ugly and I’m a fatty” and acknowledge it”.

So you did hate this kind of makeup. You were quite ashamed and you didn’t want to do it. However, a man that I was interested in came to the set one day. I was worried and thought to myself “how can I be funny like this in front of him?”, but I made up my mind and I just did it. And it was like an explosion. Once filming was over, we went out for a drink and that guy told me “you were very charismatic today”. I heard the word and I thought “even if I can’t be a beautiful woman, I’ll become a charismatic woman”. As a gagwoman, I work hard to make people laugh and I think this is my best charm.

Jung Juri is the same age as you. She got married not long ago. However, there’s nothing about marriage in your book. It’s probably because I should experience it first before talking about it. It’s not the case, so I couldn’t write about it. If I get married, I want to be more loyal to my family than to my work. I want to cook nice meals for my husband. There’s a question gagwomen ask each other. “If your husband tells you not to do this job, what will you do?”. And I answer that I won’t do it anymore, of course. My parents have a good relationship and I was raised in a happy family, so I want to meet a bright man like me.

To become a nice person, you must make the right choices. What are your criteria when you make a decision? What I want to do, what makes me move forward, even if it’s just a little, that’s what is important. Many people are stuck between what they’re doing and what they actually want to do. The time you spend worrying, use it first to do the things you want and if the outcome isn’t good, you just go back to where you were.

Come to think of it, you also spend 9 years without being famous. When I was in college, I was an instructor at a prive art academy and I earned already more than 1,000,000 won. The reason I became suddenly a gagwoman who earned nothing is because I enjoy making people laugh. People didn’t know it, but I was famous among gagmen. People who said I was ugly would say “that chick can act?”, “she’s crazy?” [t/n: the word she uses is “tto-la-ee” which means “crazy” but there’s a negative connotation]. For gagmen, calling someone “crazy” [tto-la-ee] means that you’re funny and it’s a compliment. I put up with everything for 3 years because of this compliment and I put up with it for a year as I did my own segment. And I took a break for 10 months. I wanted to do something, so I shot a parody video of Lee Hyori, miss A. It became a hot issue and I started getting interview requests and I started working on gag programs again.

There are always people saying “a woman must be pretty”, “a woman whose weight is over 45kg isn’t a woman”. I often ask people to get me a blind date. If someone acknowledges my look in the appropriate way, I’m confident that my charm can be attractive. Af first, people don’t have big expectations, so they’d go “wow” when I doll myself up just a little. That’s why I tell thick or unpretty people to just own their strengths and try harder.

I heard you’re very into fashion. I’m thick and I’m even tall, so I call myself “sexy biggi/fatty”. My face is “weak”, but I’m tall, so I show my legs a lot. I wear short skirts and even if my knees hurt, I always wear heels. You must suffer to be pretty. [t/n: I guess it can be translated as “pride feels no pain”?]

It’s your first book, so is there anything you’re regretful about? Because I created what I considered as my first and last book, I’m very satisfied. There are many pictures of me in the book. If you buy the book, even if you hate seeing my face, you will have to see it no matter what. When would I be able to show so many pictures of me to people? (smiles) I give this book a perfect score, but I’ll be thankful if people give it even 70 points.

Singles
Translation: @thesunnytown – thesunnytown.wordpress.com

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