Lee Jung-jae interview: ‘Squid Game’
“Director Hwang is definitely a genius and he probably has a lot of ideas for Season 2 so I’m really looking forward to it and I want to ask him what’s going to happen,” admits leading man Lee Jung-jae. He portrays Gi-hun (otherwise known as Player 456) on the global phenomenon action drama “Squid Game.” Netflix just officially gave the green light for the show’s highly anticipated second season, with Lee attached to return as the heroic Gi-hun to fight another day and possibly take down the whole system too. “I’m trying not to ask,” he says, adding for our recent webchat, “I want to feel that excitement reading the scenario page by page, so I’m waiting for him and I’m not asking him any questions!” Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“Squid Game” was conceived by Hwang Dong-hyuk, who not only created and produced “Squid Game” but also wrote and directed all nine episodes. Lee stars alongside newcomer Jung Ho-yeon as destitute North Korean refugee Sae-byeok, Park Hae-soo as the calculating Sang-woo, Oh Young-soo as fragile old man Il-nam, Wi Ha-jun as undercover cop Jun-ho, Heo Sung-tae as the villainous Deok-su, Lee Yoo-mi as the stoic Ji-yeong, Anupam Tripathi as migrant worker Ali and Kim Joo-ryoung as the delightfully unhinged Mi-nyeo. The drama thriller centers on the story of 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).
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Every game featured in the series is based on a traditional Korean children’s game (like Red Light Green Light for instance), but in this “sinister amusement park,” the consequence of losing a game is a painful death. Who will be the winner, and what is the purpose behind this game? Of the 456 participants from all walks of life who are locked into a secret location to play Game 1, only a handful are left to play Game 6. Netflix premiered all nine episodes of the dystopian 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. After all of its commercial success, “Squid Game” may dominate at the Emmys this year, following its three surprise wins at the 2022 Screen Actors Guild Awards, where Lee won Best Drama Actor, Jung won Best Drama Actress and the series stunt team proudly shared in the stunt ensemble prize. Young-soo has also recently tasted victory, claiming a Golden Globe in the competitive catch-all Best Drama Supporting Actor category.
Withe “Squid Game,” director Hwang has crafted a kaleidoscope of terrifying life-or-death games, all impeccably designed and executed by his team of artisans and technicians. His searing critique puts a glaring spotlight on the failures of modern capitalist society, by bringing together the downtrodden masses to fight for survival while masked wealthy elites gleefully watch them perish for sport. Audiences have also become so attached to the characters portrayed over the nine riveting episodes, particularly chief protagonist Gi-hun, who manages to scrape through each game and ends up walking away from the deadly compound in one piece, albeit bruised and battered. He eventually decides not to turn his back on the carnage he witnessed while in the competition, indicating in the final minutes of the season finale his intention to return.
Perhaps the most emotional arc of the season was the relationship between Gi-hun and the seemingly feeble old man Il-nam (Oh), who are ultimately paired up during the deadly marble game in the sixth episode (“Ggangbu”). Gi-hun takes advantage of Il-nam’s supposed dementia to cheat his way to survival, and we assume that Il-nam is shot dead when Gi-hun limps away from him in despair, with tears in his eyes. “I still remember that moment really clearly, I think it was really heartbreaking to see that relationship between the two,” Lee reveals. “They start to rely on each other, trust each other, so it all developed seamlessly in that order. Then, in the marbles episode, he feels very sorry to take advantage of Il-nam being unable to remember, because he has dementia, but he still has to take advantage of that in order to survive. He had this mix of emotions and despite Il-nam actually realizing that he has been tricked, he says it’s OK and he gives him a hug. When he gave me that hug, I felt a whole rush of emotions.”