Artwork by Laura Strohbusch

Interview by Lauren Ro @blauring

The newly-anointed SAG and BAFTA winner on loving Neil Diamond and staying in bed all day

Yuh-Jung Youn is obviously not the same person as Soon-ja, the wiseass grandma she plays in Minari. But sometimes it seems like she could be—like when she was spotted puffing on her e-cig on camera during a digital press tour. “Oh, you can see me?” Youn said to writer Amy Kaufman. “Yes, I am way over 70, so I can do whatever I want in my house."

Does Youn maybe always do whatever she wants? She’s certainly earned the right: At 73, Youn is an icon of Korean cinema, a reality cooking show co-host, a sartorial savant, and, now, an Oscar nominee. To confirm our suspicions, we called her up to hear about the art of doing what you want, when you want. And Youn delivered, starting with her only-in-Asia e-cigs and ending with eternal love and Outlander.

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Youn as the femme fatale in Kim Ki-young's Woman of Fire (1971).

Smoking relaxes me. Between my heavy schedule, if I have time, I smoke alone. It soothes me. Everybody thinks I'm vaping, but I'm smoking a cigarette. It’s called IQOS. Only Japan and Korea have this exact one.

Staying in my bed the whole day is my pleasure and my hobby. I like to watch TV or just doze, not thinking about anything—it’s whatever I want to do. I'm sorry to say that I’m really enjoying quarantine, because I can rest. I don't have to see anybody. I can just stay home 24 hours a day and stay in bed, my favorite place.

I drink lots of wine. Not every day, but if I want to relax after shooting, I have white wine.

Outlander has everything. My friend kept teasing me about it, so I'm embarrassed to tell you, but I enjoyed Outlander very much. The funny thing is, I don't like time travel, and I don't like violence or sex scenes, but somehow I fell in love with Outlander. I've finished all five seasons.

I’m really enjoying quarantine, because I can rest. I don't have to see anybody. I can just stay home 24 hours a day and stay in bed, my favorite place.

Don’t spend money on drinking, drugs, or gambling. Spending money is not smart. I mostly buy dinner for good friends, we have wine together, or I buy clothes for myself. That’s the kind of thing I spend money on. I'm very old fashioned and buy expensive clothes that I will keep for 30 or 40 years. I still have clothes that are 40 years old.

I can hold grudges. If somebody did something bad to me or was rude to me, I will never forget. But if somebody's nice to me, I will also never forget. This means people think I'm a very dangerous woman who never forgets.

My two sons have brought me this far. I became a single mother and after that, I think I really became an actress. I'm not a person who fell in love with the theater or the movies; I just accidentally became an actress. When I was 21, I had big fame through my first debut movie Woman of Fire (1971) and thought I was a really good actress at the time. Later on, I got married, then divorced, and became a single mother. In order to survive and feed my two boys, I took any role. And that’s how I have this career—because of my two sons.

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Youn at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

My script is my bible. I practice a lot for a role to memorize the lines thoroughly. Some people think the line is not important, but to me it's very important. That line for that role is the character’s thinking and her attitude and her everything. So if I memorize it thoroughly, I can just play it this way or that way freely. That's my mission. On set I always have my script. And my cigarette.

I love Neil Diamond. It's very strange. When he was very famous in the ’70s, I thought he was too cheesy, so I didn't like him. I preferred Simon & Garfunkel or The Beatles. But I accidentally heard a Neil Diamond song and all of a sudden, now that I’m over 70, I started to like him again, so I bought some of his albums. All my friends are professional pianists or violinists, so I go to their concerts. They think I really enjoy their music, and they think I'm very knowledgeable about the music, but I'm not. I'm just enjoying their performances. I prefer pop songs.

I don’t karaoke. I'm not a typical Korean, because I cannot sing. I’ve actually never been to karaoke at all.

Love is like a car accident. You meet some guy—you bump into each other—and then you think you’ve lost your mind, and you go blind. It will go away, and of course sometimes it's painful and it hurts, but you will outgrow it and become a mature person after that. But if it lasts forever, that’s the dream. Maybe that’s why I love to watch Outlander, because she goes back in time 200 years and their love story is still between them. It stays forever.