The Korean action-thriller “Squid Game” became one of Netflix’s biggest breakout hits in 2021, followed by an unprecedented run for a foreign series at a number of 2022 awards shows, including the Critics Choice and SAG Awards. In an exclusive nine-and-a-half minute FYC video shared with Gold Derby by Netflix, we get some more backstory about how this show came together, as well as see some new behind-the-scenes footage (watch above).
“Squid Game is hard to describe in a few words,” says lead actor Lee Jung-jae, who became the first Asian actor to win the top male acting award at the Screen Actors Guild earlier this year. Lee plays Gi-hun Seong, a divorced jobless man, living in poverty, who is roped into playing a game of life and death that will make the winner insanely rich. “It was full of shocking revelations that kept surprising me,” Lee adds.
“Once you’re on the set, it’s like being in a trance,” says his castmate Jung Ho-yeon, the model turned actress who goes under the name “Hoyeon.” She won the corresponding female actor prize at the SAG Awards, becoming the first Asian actress to do so. She plays Sae-byeok Kang, one of the youngest players in the deadly games, but one who is just as tough as the others, as she tries to find her own way to win.
“I first started developing the idea back in 2008 and 2009,” says the show’s writer and director, Hwang Dong-hyuk, although he hadn’t originally envisioned “Squid Game” as a series. Even though he originally saw it as a feature film, he admits that it was difficult not having any direct references to lean on while transforming his idea into the show.
“We went through a lot of contemplation and a lot of meetings,” he adds. “We had to create something that the world has never seen before.” While that ended up being one of “Squid Game’s” greatest strengths, it was also quite scary for the creator. “One wrong step and it could have become a nonsensical piece that would fall off a cliff.”
He says that concern was shared by his entire staff, but everyone involved felt that the results became their “proudest achievement.”
Director Hwang also had a lot of respect for what Lee brought to the role of Gi-hun. “Jung-jae is an actor with an incredible range. He has played characters that are as easygoing and silly as Gi-hun,” but he also notes how Gi-hun becomes more serious as the show goes along. “He becomes a completely different person at the end,” though Hwang had seen Lee play similar “stoic, intense roles,” and knew he could handle both aspects of the character.
Lee considers Gi-hun to be an “optimistic person who is willing to ride out hardships to the extent that he seems very cheerful and almost innocent on the outside.” This meant that Lee had to approach the character with a certain duality.
“Director Hwang told me the inspirations for Gi-hun’s situation,” Lee says. “I did draw on my own interpretation of Gi-hun, but my focus was more on working closely with Director Hwang to bring onto the screen what he envisioned for the character.” That made creating the character a “highly collaborative process,” and he adds that he was “grateful and happy that he offered this great role to me.”
Actor Anupam Tripathi, who portrays Ali Abudl, one of the few non-Koreans playing in the deadly “games,” talks about filming “Red Light, Green Light” and how that was the first time he acted opposite Lee. He says he was feeling nervous about making a mistake, and Lee told him, “Please do whatever feels right for you,” which helped Tripathi immensely. “I could feel that he accepted me as a fellow actor.”
The video features quite a bit of behind-the-scenes from shooting some of the series’ bigger action pieces, including the unforgettable “tug of war” in Episode 3, where the stakes in the game start getting far more serious as the number of players dwindle.
Lee goes on to commend the show’s technical crew in production design and visual effects for how they created some of the bigger competitive games like the twisted game of “Red Light, Green Light” that kicks off the competition. “The first game had to be perfect in order for the audience to see how great the following games were.” (As the actor speaks about that particular game, we get to see some on-set footage from filming that sequence.)
The show’s production designer Kyoung-Sun Chae — who won an award for “Excellence in Production Design” from the Art Directors Guild (ADG) — describes what went into designing that very first game. “We wanted the space to exude a rather uncanny, sinister feel like a bloody fairy tale. The focus was to make the arena seem authentic and fake, and therefore, confusing, at the same time. The goal was to blur the line between what’s real and what’s fake, and between life and death.”
“The true message of Squid Game,” Hwang concludes, “was to have the viewer question themselves [and] if it was possible to live in a society where one succeeds not by stepping over someone, but if we can succeed and live together.”
Look for more behind-the-scenes stuff from “Squid Game” in the coming days.
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