Im Ji-yeon is an actress that’s full of surprises. Behind the scenes she’s a friendly and upbeat actress with no possibility of being haunted by raging demons. So, it’s surprising—and sometimes disturbing—but always impressive when you see her play TV characters who seem drawn from the depths of hell. Her character in the Korean drama Lies Hidden in My Garden is no exception. In that Korean drama she plays the mystifyingly complex and traumatized Sang-eun, a character viewers may alternately feel sorry for and be terrified by.
“After reading the original novel and script, I became captivated by the character of Sang-eun and ended up taking on the role in the production,” said Im. “Unknowingly, I found myself falling in love with Sang-eun, and that’s why I wanted to do my best.”
Based on a novel by Kim Jin-young, the beautifully photographed drama features two women whose lives are very different but whose fates get tangled up in a murder. One of the women, played by Kim Tae-ri, is rich and sheltered, while Im’s character is poor and abused. What these women do share is a daily reality—comfortable in one case and miserable in another—that they have little control over.
The varying perspectives that propel the drama plot mean viewers can’t always trust what they’ve already seen. The more viewers learn about Im’s character the less they’re sure they really know her. She is unpredictable, yet engaging, which makes it hard for viewers to look away. Part of what makes her unpredictable is the difficult life she’s lived, a life in which she learned not to trust anyone. Sang-eun is a creature of conflicting emotions, which is why Im wanted to embrace the challenge of playing her.
“I tried to strip away everything that Im Ji-yeon possesses and make it a blank slate, “ said Sang-eun. “Then I made efforts to embody Sang-eun. To capture the multitude of subtext in just one line, I analyzed it to the extent that it would fill several notebooks. I hoped to portray the arduous life she has lived through every aspect of the performance.”
The plot of Lies Hidden In My Garden features many twists and turns, prompting viewers to continually reassess her character’s motivation. As intense an experience as playing Sang-eun was, Im doesn’t see any one character being more difficult to embody than another.
“Every role comes with its difficulties, but at the same time, I felt a connection to them,” said Im. “I always approached each role with a sense of urgency, dedicating myself to studying and understanding the character to become that person. As a result, by the end of each role, I found myself loving the character deeply and feeling like I had become that person more than anyone else.”
Im had her first feature film role in the 2014 Obsessed, which earned her a Grand Bell Award and a Baeksang Arts Award nomination. She starred in the film The Treacherous and the TV drama High Society for which she won an APAN Star Award and a Korea Drama Award. She also appeared in The Glory, for which she won a Best Supporting Actress TV award at the 2022 Baeksang Arts Awards. She first remembers wanting to act when she was young and her mother used to take her hand to bring her to watch plays or musical performances.
“Because of that, I naturally started thinking, ‘I want to be one of those people playing on the stage.’ As a result, I naturally nurtured my dream of becoming an actor, believing that I would become an actor and stand on stage someday.”
The award-winning actress will soon play a police officer in the TV drama The Killing Vote with actors Park Hae-jin and Park Sung-woong. The tale of good and evil is based on a popular webtoon serialized on Kakao Webtoon and KakaoPage. She also has a leading role in Revolver, a film which co-stars Jeon Do-yeon and Ji Chang-wook.
“Revolver depicts the story of a former police officer who turns his life around and enters prison, only to be released with one sole purpose in mind,” said Im. “I will be taking on the role of Jung Yoon-seon, a former police officer who accompanies and works together with the main character, played by Jeon Do-yeon, in pursuit of their shared objective. I’m excited to create a new chemistry with her. Please look forward to it.”
Lies Hidden In My Garden is a Genie TV drama, which is available on Viki.com in the US.