Many expect musical actress Kim So-hyun-I
to be a primmer. After all, her educational and vocational backgrounds outshine most musicians of her age.
Kim, 33, made her debut as Christine in the smash hit musical "The Phantom of the Opera", followed by lead roles in other popular shows like "Jekyll and Hyde" and "Dae Jang Geum
". Her elite educational background - a graduate of Seoul National University's College of Music - also would have reinforced the image.
But in reality, Kim is very down-to-earth in person, she said.
"I think the stereotypical image of me was created simply because the shows in which I played pretty noble women were more popular with the audience", said Kim in an interview last week.
"I'm quite bubbly like Sandy from musical 'Grease'."
But regardless of how she is in reality, she was probably meant to shine through these roles.
Kim's portrayal of the tough yet lovely Eliza Doolittle in the premiere of the Korean production of "My Fair Lady" won her Best Actress at the Korea Musical Awards last year.
The actress said, humbly, that the award was unexpected and too early for her. But she admitted that it definitely made her feel recognized in the field.
Since her debut in 2001, Kim has always felt like an outsider in the musical industry, due to her background in classical singing.
"Now that I've won the award, I feel like I'm now really on the starting line as a musical actress", she said.
Since the awards, Kim has returned to "Jekyll and Hyde", in which she starred in its Korean premiere in 2004. Some would wonder why the actress chose to repeat the role of Emma, which is less significant than her previous characters.
"Now I feel that the scenes that I'm in or my presence in them is much more important than how big the role is", Kim said. Kim said she is able to bring out a more mature interpretation of Emma now that she was four years ago.
Until her debut piece "The Phantom of the Opera" (2001), Kim said she never thought of becoming a musical actress. Before the audition, she was an opera singer preparing to go to the United States to further study classical singing.
The role of Christine - which she landed in an audition she participated in impulsively - completely changed her life, Kim said.
The actress still remembers the cheers that she got from the viewers on her debut performance. This made her shift focus to musicals.
"I found the charm of musicals in their popularity, that it is closer to the public than operas. And surprisingly, I never get tired of my career", she said.
Through trial and error, Kim has realized that these luxurious female roles are the ones that suit her well. Her attempts to find a different image through taking tough and even evil roles in such productions as "Mad Kiss" (2007) and TV drama "King and I
", (2008) were unsatisfactory both to the audience and herself.
"I realized that there are certain roles that I can play better, just as my voice is more suitable for classical shows. So I decided to work harder on reinforcing my strengths", she said.
Kim considers herself a workaholic. Indeed, piece after piece, she has worked non-stop since her debut.
There are downsides to focusing on her career, however. Late working hours and her efforts to stay fit have not allowed her to relax. Her parents are also pushing her to get married.
But the actress feels that now is not the time to rest.
"For now, I want to work more and make myself known as Kim So-hyun-I
, rather than someone's wife or mother", she said. Kim said she also plans to try other things like operas, popera (popular opera) albums and even getting a Ph.D.
"Life is long but short, and I want to pursue everything that I want", Kim said.
"Jekyll and Hyde" featuring Kim So-hyun-I
runs through Feb. 22 at LG Arts Center in Yeoksam-dong, Seoul. Tickets are from 40,000 won to 120,000 won. For details, call (02) 556-8556.
By Koh Young-aah