Most Emmy nominees start their day off right and early with the good news. But when a lamp burned brightly in the background of the video call from his home at around 1:30 a.m. in South Korea, Lee Jung-jae had saved the most dramatic part of his day for last.
So is “Squid Game,” the Korean survival drama that became a global phenomenon when it premiered on Netflix in September. Lee, 49, was nominated for his first Emmy Award for his role as Seong Gi-hun, the gambling addict and protagonist of the candy-covered horror series about a tournament of children’s games played to the death.
Its nomination, for Best Leading Actor in a Drama, was one of 14 “Squid Game” picked up Tuesday, when it made history by becoming the first non-English-language series to earn an outstanding nomination for drama series. (It was Netflix’s most-watched series ever, according to the streamer.)
The series’ surprising success catapulted Lee, who is considered one of the most successful actors in South Korea, to worldwide fame, earning him Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations. (He won the SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama.) Lee began his career as a model before starring in a number of popular Korean films, including the erotic thriller “The Housemaid” and the gangster drama “Deliver Us from the House”. pissed off.” His directorial debut, the spy thriller “Hunt”, which he also produces, will be released in South Korea next month.
In an interview with the help of a translator, Lee discussed the series’ surprising success, why he thinks it will resonate worldwide, and his hopes for Season 2. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Good – very early – morning! How has your life changed since you were on the biggest show in the world?
It’s not that my life has changed drastically, but I feel very excited and happy that “Squid Game” is getting so much love and support, and that so much more audience now knows who I am.
Did you ever expect it to get this big?
No no never. The director did say he would like the show to become popular in the United States, but we never imagined it would become this big worldwide.
The show is a specific critique of capitalism and inequality in South Korea. Why do you think it resonates worldwide?
It addresses the issue of this growing global trend of the widening gap between rich and poor, and this phenomenon is not unique to Korea – it is something that the international community is collectively going through.
Did you become desensitized to the violence as the series progressed, or was it still a shock to be immersed in it during each episode?
The show is less about the physical violence, but more about the psychological violence where people try to cheat on each other. The visual violence that occasionally cropped up was only used to intensify that conflict. While I was filming, I tried to focus more on that poignant side of the psychological aspect of why people were pitted against each other when they were very close to each other as friends.
Your character chooses to continue through the game to the end, despite knowing that it will require you to give up his morals to do so. If you were in his circumstances, would you make the same choice?
It takes a lot of courage to get back into that brutal game, so I might hesitate for a moment. On the other hand, considering how many people would be sacrificed if that game went on, I think I’d make the same choice to go in one more time to stop them.
Netflix recently announced that the show has been renewed for a second season. Do you have specific expectations of Seong Gi-hun?
When I was reading the script for season 1, there were so many twists in the plot that it was hard to expect where the story would go. I’m looking forward to something similar for season 2. I really want to know what’s going on with my character, but I try not to ask the director questions because it’s better not to have heads up so I can play it intensely.