“This is unbelievable, is this really happening to me?” declares Korean actress Lee You-mi about her initial reaction to receiving her first career Emmy nomination for her unforgettable role on the Netflix blockbuster “Squid Game.” For our recent webchat she adds, “I just never thought that my name would be on the Emmys list I was just really pleasantly surprised and I thought this was like a dream.” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“Squid Game” was conceived by acclaimed feature writer/director Hwang Dong-hyuk, who not only created and produced “Squid Game” but also wrote and directed all nine episodes. Lee portrays Ji-yeong (otherwise known as Player 240), a young woman just released from prison after killing her abusive step-father in retaliation for his murder of her mother. The actress co-stars alongside leading man Lee Jung-jae as central hero Gi-hun, rising star Jung Ho-yeon as North Korean refugee Sae-byeok, Park Hae-soo as the calculating Sang-woo and Golden Globe winner O Yeong-su as old man Il-nam, all of whom join Lee as first-time Emmy nominees this year. The ensemble also features Wi Ha-jun as undercover cop Jun-ho, Heo Sung-tae as the villainous Deok-su, Anupam Tripathi as lovable migrant Ali and Kim Joo-ryoung as the delightfully unhinged Mi-nyeo.
The series is about down-on-their-luck people in dire need of money, who each receive mysterious invitations to join a dangerous life-or-death version of their childhood games in order to win a cash prize of 45.6 billion won (equivalent to about 38 million US dollars).The games depicted on “Squid Game” are adapted from traditional Korean children’s games, but in this dystopian fable, if and when you lose a game, you die. The show sets up this riveting roller-coaster ride for audiences, who are kept guessing throughout each nail-biting episode who will be the winner and what is the purpose behind the deadly competition, with the 456 participants eventually culled to a lucky few who remain to play the final game in the season finale. Netflix premiered all nine episodes of the South Korean thriller on September 17 of last year, after which it became a word-of-mouth sensation and the streaming giant’s most popular series launch ever, topping Netflix charts in over 80 countries. Director Hwang is now writing the show’s second season, perhaps one of the most highly anticipated follow ups in years.
In “Squid Game,” particularly in Lee’s submitted episode “Ggangbu,” Ji-yeong forms a bond with Sae-byeok (Jung) during the high-stakes game and ultimately sacrifices herself in order to ensure Sae-byeok’s survival. Lee shines as the voice of reason and as a woman willing to put herself in a life-or-death situation in order to attain what she really wants more than anything else: meaningful human connection. Right before Ji-yeong is eliminated, Lee delivers one of the most heartbreaking moments of the entire series as she smiles through tears as a gun is pointed at her head before the lethal shot is fired off-camera.
Her story is ultimately so tragic because her intentions weren’t to win or survive. All she wants is to connect with Sae-byeok, and it’s her elimination that ultimately saves her friend. “When you look at ‘Squid Game,’ a lot of the things happening were because people want to survive and people sometimes hurt others on in order to survive,” Lee opines. “She thinks of others before she thinks of herself,” she says, adding that “the reason why fans love her so much is because I think everyone wants and needs a person like that; a person who is not selfish and cares about others and thinks of others.”
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