Warning: This article contains spoilers for “Squid Game”.
It could be that the survival and relentless track of “Korea’s Next Top Model” helped prepare model-turned-actress Jung Ho-yeon for the fictional battle to the death arena of “Squid Game.”
“I didn’t think I had grafted my competitive, determined versions of ‘Korea’s Next Top Model’ onto the character of Sae-byeok,” the ‘Squid Game’ lead actress told NBC Asian America. “But thinking about it now, maybe I still have those aspects in me, which helped me understand the role. And I grew up to accept that part of me too.
Jung, 27, became the star of Netflix’s first record-breaking hit, which features hundreds of players competing against each other in a childhood game series with dark twists and turns for a $ 38 million cash reward. Describing Kang Sae-byeok, a North Korean defector with a knack for pickpocketing and love for family, Jung said she had no fear of taking on an unglamorous role or having to behave in a lousy way for his foray into acting.
“To tell you the truth, people might think that going from a model to a North Korean defector would have been difficult on the surface. For me, the focus was not on the external but internal side of things, to fully understand Sae-byeok’s life, ”said Jung, whose number of Instagram followers fell from less than a million. to more than 20 million after the premiere of the series.
“In a way, I think Sae-byeok lived her life to the fullest, so her desperate need to win was different from others, and she didn’t necessarily have to win the cash prize.”
Jung, whose character died in the penultimate episode before qualifying for the games’ final round, asked if Sae-byeok should have won the entire competition.
“Sae-byeok was desperate for the cash prize and maybe wanted to win, but thinking about the life she led until it took to be surrounded by all the corpses made me hesitate to say it, ”she said. “In a way, I think Sae-byeok lived her life to the fullest, so her desperate need to win was different from others, and she didn’t necessarily have to win the cash prize.”
To prepare for the role, she said she watched documentaries and rehearsed the North Hamgyŏng Province dialect of Sae-byeok. Jung also took martial arts lessons to prepare for action scenes with his casting partners, including Heo Sung-tae, who stars as villainous Jang Deok-su and attacks Sae-byeok in the first episode. .
Unlike the violent and suspenseful storyline, she said the vibe on set was light, recalling memories like waltzing with Heo before filming a brutal scene.
Lee Yoo-mi – who plays Ji-yeong, Sae-byeok’s ball partner in episode six – was Jung’s first reading partner whom she frequently consulted to play.
Jung said she believed their constant conversations built the chemistry between the two, leading to the climax of the Marble Game scene, where Ji-yeong lets Sae-byeok win the match, thus letting her live.
“Ji-yeong and Sae-byeok’s time may have been short, but from the start to filming this scene, there was the time we spent as Yoo-mi and Ho-yeon, so during this short time, we were able to represent that connection, ”she said.
To get into the character, Jung said she wrote many diaries as if she was Sae-byeok to create a rich story of her family separation, including details such as how she would have looked on the day. where she last saw them or the last words they would have shared.
“I tried to write it down as much as possible to understand its character,” Jung said.
In the process, she found similarities between her cheerful character and Sae-byeok’s stoic nature.
“For me, I have a bright face, whereas Sae-byeok is more withdrawn and distant,” Jung added. “Although we expressed ourselves differently, I could understand where she was coming from.”
Jung said she wanted to accurately describe her character, and the most difficult scene for her was when Sae-byeok tried to hide her pain from a piece of glass stuck in her side.
“It was when Sae-byeok could show his weakest points,” Jung said. “Her approach to life is so desperate, isn’t she?” So I wanted her to appear as much as possible herself when she was alone.
Jung made his debut as a season four finalist of “Korea’s Next Top Model” in 2013, having taken modeling classes since the age of 15.
Even as her career progressed, as she walked for events like Seoul Fashion Week, Jung said she wanted a change and decided to go abroad.
She landed a contract with Louis Vuitton and made her international debut in 2016. Since then, Jung has paraded for luxury brands such as Chanel and Gucci.
“I constantly repressed my loneliness. It wasn’t until after entering the real world that I became more steadfast.
Louis Vuitton named her last week as its final global ambassador.
Her desire to act came after she experienced another ‘crisis’ in her overseas modeling career and felt lonely, she said.
“I didn’t have anyone to share my good or bad news with,” Jung said. “I constantly repressed my loneliness. It wasn’t until after entering the real world that I became more steadfast.
But again, she used it to kickstart another phase of her career.
“I turned to a lot of movies and books in the hopes of learning more about humanity, which led me to play the part,” she said.
She said that one of her favorite movie performances was Amy Adams in the Oscar nominated drama “Doubt” and that one of her favorite novels was “The Vegetarian” by South Korean writer Han Kang, winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Award.
Jung has appeared in a few music videos, but officially continued his acting career after joining Saram Entertainment, a Korean arts agency specializing in artist management and film production, last year.
The first audition script her company sent out was for “Squid Game,” which she remembers reading in one sitting all night long.
“Apart from the time I spent eating, I remember reading the script,” Jung said at a South Korean press conference.
At the same press conference, director Hwang Dong-hyuk said, “We have seen several auditions for this role and have struggled to find a suitable actress. [Jung’s] the audition tape came out of nowhere, and instantly I knew the role would be hers. She had the look, the looks, the voice and even the acting tone of the person I was looking for.
Jung, who was in New York for fashion week at the time, flew to Korea for an audition.
“After an in-person audition, I knew my instincts were right,” added Hwang, who immediately put him in the role.
Jung said his days on the set were like extended acting lessons.
“For one show, I played a variety of emotional streams, action scenes, and accents,” she said. “Gaining so much experience like this as a beginner is rare. “
She said she always thinks about the advice she’s received from veteran actors, who have often told her that the way she lives life will affect her acting.
“I think I know what that means now,” Jung said. “Everything I have and what I’m going to experience, even in the smallest way, will influence my acting.”
One of those experiences included her youth in “Korea’s Next Top Model”.
“I think there are many sides of me,” she said. “In my early twenties, there was a side of me that was envious and ambitious. As I gained more experience, there was a side of me that grew to accept, understand, and respect others.
Now, she cherishes the work she creates in conjunction, and not in rivalry, with others.
“I’m going to put in more energy than I’ve ever used before, and I’m going to get there.”
“I have gained a deep respect and esteem for the people I work with,” Jung said. “The cultural industry alone is huge and not something that is created based on my own success. It is the sum of all the energy of people who work hard to do the best job.
Jung said she thinks this is just the beginning and is excited for the next step.
“Now I just have to give my all to move forward,” she said. “I’m going to put in more energy than I’ve ever used before, and I’m going to get there.”