Nobody wanted to do "Squid Game".  Now that makes history

Nobody wanted to do “Squid Game”. Now that makes history

“It’s miraculous. I thought it was impossible to do the show and now we have 14 nominations. It’s weird and surreal,” says “Squid Game” creator Hwang Dong-hyuk, here with the actor Lee Jung-jae at left.

(Angella Choe / For The Time)

For a very long time, nobody wanted to make “Squid Game”. No one, that is, but creator-writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk. Then one of Korea’s biggest stars, suave box office champ Lee Jung-jae, signed on to play the show’s dirty, compromised hero, and the deeply symbolic, meticulously crafted, bare-handed commentary on the chasm. Between the Haves and the Have-Nots has taken off, becoming Netflix’s most popular series to date.

It now has 14 Emmy nominations, including for Writing and Directing Hwang, Acting Lee, and for Series Drama. It’s the first foreign-language series to receive nods in one of those categories, as well as many others.

“The Oscars are more global; the Emmys are very American. I am very grateful to them for opening the doors to non-English content for the first time,” said Zoom’s Hwang.

“I think the show has resonated with global audiences because we have a lot of visual aspects in addition to language – we have symbols, the design, the setting, the wardrobe – I think it’s which has caught the attention of global audiences who don’t. know Korean. And also the theme, the gap between the rich and the poor and the competition, the conflict in our society, is very universal,” adds the director.

The author with multiple blockbuster feature films under his belt says he was on an island with producers, writing Season 2, when the Emmy announcement broke; he immediately called out “JJ” (Lee) and other nominated artists such as Park Hae-soo and HoYeon Jung. Afterwards, he joins Lee for a chat with The Envelope.

Like Hwang, Lee beams on the camera of the video call, delighted with the many nominations spread among those who worked on the series: “I watched the announcement live and I was so excited to share this happiness with the cast and crew. I was also delighted to visit LA again and experience these moments of joy with [them]. I think that’s the end of our celebration of “Squid Game” Season 1. ”

Lee Jung Jae

Lee Jung-Jae plays the main character “Gi-hun”

(Angella Choe / For The Time)

The sympathetic anti-hero

Part of this celebration of the series’ first season took place at Netflix’s FYSee space on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles a few weeks before the nominations.

Those who only know Lee as his Gi-hun persona would barely recognize the dapper sophisticate sitting with excellent posture in a small greenroom. Although he recently flew to America and once again returns to the ever-spinning hamster promotion wheel for his series, he is graceful and well-prepared. He looks like the guest of honor at a yacht club in a vaguely naval blazer. Beside him (with a performer behind them), Hwang says with a bit of fatigue showing that “Squid Game” took about seven months to shoot and they’ve been promoting it for nine months now.

Not that they’re complaining. Despite the long road, the two are still enjoying the success of the show that Hwang conceived more than ten years ago and could not be realized for years. And now season 2 is in the works.

“When I first sent the script to Jung-jae, rather than asking him questions, I was just happy to hear that he was interested because in 2009 so many actors had said ‘No,'” Hwang said with a laugh. “So I was just happy to hear what he had to say and focused on listening to him and his concerns.”

A man yells in frustration at a Korean arcade.

Gi-hun in an arcade in Episode 1.

(Well Juhan/Netflix)

Among these concerns was the sometimes ugly status of the hapless protagonist Gi-hun as an “anti-hero”. Jung-jae wondered if Gi-hun would be able to resonate with the audience. So there were different adjustments I made, like a scene where Gi-hun shares his fish with a stray cat. No matter how broken he is, how flawed he is, he still has that goodwill at heart.

Hwang cites another moment that convinced him the character would work. “There’s a first scene where you see Gi-hun when he lost his money and he doesn’t have much left to buy a present for his daughter, so he goes to this place where you can choose the dolls in the machines,” the director said. “You see him being incredibly happy, holding and hugging the boy who is doing this for him. As soon as I saw Jung-jae perform this scene, I was completely convinced that people were sure to fall in love with this character. To see that pure, childlike joy in this middle-aged man, I could imagine Gi-hun being himself after joining the game as well. No matter how flawed he was – he would keep stealing the money from his mother – people would see this purity and beauty that he holds within him.

For all the series’ rugged exterior — hundreds of people slaughtered, life-and-death decisions, betrayals and humiliations — the protagonist’s humanity anchors “Squid Game.” Lee says he sought Hwang’s advice to fine-tune the balance between Gi-hun’s dire circumstances and his optimism.

In low, calm tones, Lee says, “I had to ask a lot of questions about his emotional state and how much, in terms of the emotional spectrum, I needed to represent. Am I portraying things seriously or lightly, is he just erasing them? For example, after literally seeing people die in front of him, Gi-hun has to go back to the dorms and enjoy the food. ‘How much can he really appreciate food? What kind of character is he in that sense? ”

The answers were what most actors were hoping for: Messy.

“If Gi-hun was only good, he would have been one-dimensional and superficial,” Hwang explains. “At the game of marbles, he wanted to survive so much that he was ready to deceive [elderly contestant] Il-nam and takes advantage of his dementia. I feel like it could be any of us.

“What really sets him apart is that he regret. He learns from it. I wanted the audience to see him in Episode 1 and Episode 9 and think they’re completely different people because he learned something.

Although Hwang described the series’ harsh criticism of a socio-economic system that sets up such devastated winners and losers, Lee sees the peeling off of some of the layers of the characters with essential goodness inside as the real series post.

A man examines a small prop on set as the cast and crew look on.

Director Hwang examines a prop for one of the “Squid Game” challenges as actor Lee Jung-jae looks on as player #456 looks on.

(Well Juhan/Netflix)

“While sometimes it’s violent, while sometimes it requires them to literally take over other people’s bodies, in the most extreme situations there is always something, as humans, that we must not lose sight of,” the actor explains. “Director Hwang did such a good job of writing this so intricately into the script.”

While Lee is now inextricably tied to the “Squid Game” tapestry (both acknowledge that Gi-hun will be back in Season 2), his casting was even longer than one might assume from the narrative. de Hwang that “so many actors” had turned the show down. Lee is not just an actor in Korea; he’s a superstar who’s starred in many of the country’s top-grossing movies. It’s like no one in Hollywood signed on to your brutally raunchy TV show about capitalism, and then Tom Cruise jumped on your couch at the thought of being on it.

Hwang says that Lee “and I are about the same age, and since I was around 20, he really was the biggest and hottest star Korea had ever seen. Many times I thought to myself , he said with a sigh, ‘What must it be like to be born like him?’ For about three decades, as he shone on screen in charismatic roles, there was something that I saw in him when he played these flawed characters that really stood out, that I found extraordinary. humor. I thought it would be the perfect mix to bring Gi-hun to life.

Hwang Dong-hyuk

Creator Hwang Dong-hyuk

(Angella Choe / For The Time)

A surreal delight

So where does Gi-hun go from here? “That’s the biggest challenge of Season 2,” Hwang says. “He starts where we left off at the end of the first season. So the fact that I can’t wear that level of character arc is a huge challenge. Without giving away any spoilers, there’s this line Gi-hun says in the last episode: “I’m not a horse and I’m curious who did this to us.” It’s going to be about this trip and Gi-hun proving that we really aren’t horses; we are all human. And the fact that we all care about goodness, the essence of humanity.

After the flood of Emmy laurels, Lee is typically sunny about returning to Los Angeles for the ceremony with her fellow nominees — including one of her direct competitors.

Per Zoom, he says, “Of course I watched a lot of shows; I love them,” specifically mentioning “Ozark” and “Succession.” “Especially Jeremy Strong – I’ve seen him, in fact, at many awards. Not long ago I visited Cannes, the film festival, and I saw him there as well. We We were so happy to see each other again, we were shaking hands. I think his performance is amazing. So grounded. You can really tell he pours his heart and soul into the work he does.

Hwang, meanwhile, still struggles to relate the terrible struggles he had to get the show done to his current position.

“Looking back to 2009, when nobody wanted to do the show, I didn’t expect it at all,” he says. “It’s miraculous. I thought it was impossible to do the show and now we have 14 nominations. It’s weird and surreal. I think the creative journey of ‘Squid Game’ is more dramatic than the show itself. -same.

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