Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae unpacks the finale and addresses a potential season 2
Squid Game (TV series)
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Squid Game.
In less than a month, Squid Game has taken over the world. Since its Sept. 27 release, the Korean survival drama has emerged as Netflix's biggest series launch ever, become the first Korean series to hit No. 1 in the U.S., and topped the charts in all 94 countries where the streamer has a top 10 list. Those are impressive numbers, but more importantly the show is breaking barriers for international entertainment and helping bring Korean representation to the mainstream.
For Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae, who plays the down-on-his-luck gambling addict Seong Gi-hun, a.k.a. Player 456, he never anticipated the series would reach this kind of global audience. "Never. Never in my dreams," the South Korean actor tells EW, speaking through a translator. "I never expected this to become this popular also in the Western world, such as the European region and the United States. I'm very grateful for the response. I would love to actually get a chance to talk with more people and have interviews with a lot of people all over the world, but I'm currently filming my next project, so sadly I don't really have the time to meet with a lot of outlets. But thankfully today I got to see you like this, so I'm very happy."
Below, in one of his first interviews with an American outlet, Lee breaks down what the Squid Game finale ending means for Gi-hun, whether there are plans for a season 2, why Gi-hun is the most challenging role the seasoned actor has ever played, and more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What first attracted you to playing Gi-hun and being part of this series?
LEE JUNG-JAE: First of all, I really wanted to work with director Hwang [Dong-hyuk], so I was very happy when I first received the offer. And secondly, when I read the script, it was very fun. I noticed that in the script each and every character were very well crafted and depicted, not only my role, Seong Gi-hun, but also other characters were very well described in the script. Of course the games are fun and very intriguing, but I noticed myself having questions about what would happen to these characters towards the end of the narrative. Will they survive? Or will this person remain as a good guy until the end, or will he turn bad in the middle? These are questions that you naturally come to pose.
So of course the games are great, but that's related to a lot of visual effects, so in the script phase it was rather difficult to visualize how the games would look like in my mind. So I really focused on the story itself. When I looked at the scripts alone, I felt that the characters were very vivid and that there was a lot of room for the audience to resonate with them.
What was it like getting into the mind of Gi-hun?
Gi-hun, the role that I played, is a very nice guy. He's a kind guy with a very good heart, so he's a good person, and perhaps because he's so good, that's the main reason why he he wasn't able to earn a lot of money. It was very challenging for me to take on this role. It was a very hard character to play. You would know since you've watched the show, but in a game where you have to put your life on the line and you have to win at any cost in order to survive over others, this situation is very draining, but Gi-hun still remains very optimistic and he's willing to offer helping hands to people who need his help. The fact that he has to play this life-threatening game and has to deceive and hurt and betray others and corner them to death, all these things that he had never done before, would have been very emotionally challenging for Gi-hun — at least that's how I expected this to be for him. That's probably the reason why he doesn't do so well in some games, because he's so good.
But his character also changes towards the end of the show and in the final episode. I think the fact that he decides not to board the plane and go see his daughter shows that he has changed, but at the same time he still has that good heart inside him and that he feels that this brutal game has to stop once and for all to prevent any additional contestants from being sacrificed. So this character's psychology is very complex, and it also goes through multiple changes, frequent changes, so that's why I think this made Gi-hun's character maybe the most difficult one that I have played so far.
Did you know from the beginning that your character would be the one to win the game and make it out alive?
The full script was out so I read it until the end. I knew that he was going to be the final survivor. But although he gets his life back after winning the game, his life is never the same. So when I read the script, I thought that it would be great if I could really express his subtle feelings well on the screen.
Since Gi-hun survives, would you want to be a part of the second season if Squid Game is renewed?
Of course. Because I've received so much love and support from [viewers], of course I have to play him again if there is a season 2. But at this point I don't know anything about how the story is going to turn out, or how the characters are going to change, or if there is going to be any new characters adding to the series. I don't know anything right now. And I also don't know whether if Gi-hun's role was still be the main role or like a minor role on the side. But whatever it's going to be, of course I would have to say yes.
What was the most challenging scene for you to film?
That would have to be the final scene [of the games], because of many reasons. But out of the games, I would have to pick Dalgona or Honeycomb because I had to express with very minimal movement. I couldn't exaggerate my movement while I had to express the escalation of the tension with the passing of time. That was really tricky.
Also in the earlier part of the show, up to the point where he goes into the arena, there are scenes that indirectly show what kind of a person Gi-hun is and why he's so desperate to attempt to join the games, and those scenes have to be very realistic and convincing and also very interesting, because we all know that once the games begin, it's super-fun and immersive, but up until that point the scenes are mostly an introduction of Gi-hun's character, so I have to make sure that the viewers are not bored until the games begin. Trying to act with these thoughts in mind, that was kind of tricky as well.
What made that final scene difficult for you?
That would be because Gi-hun is very hurt because of all these games. And he knows he has to admit the fact that he deceived others in order to survive himself, so he's very disappointed in himself and in Sang-woo [Park Hae-soo], his close friend, because he betrayed him. These two characters are fighting against each other with their life on the line when they're childhood friends, so the scene itself is very heartbreaking. It was very emotionally tough. Secondly, I remember that when we were filming that scene when the two were fighting, it was in winter, so the weather was very cold. In Korea the winter is very freezing cold. I remember filming that scene for about four days in the rain with the sprinkler, so it was very emotionally and physically tough.