Squid Game has become one of the more successful streaming hits in recent memory. The South Korean drama credits its provocative premise and a terrific cast of characters, becoming one of the increasingly rare crossovers that satisfied casual TV viewers and critics alike.
For many fans, Kang Sae-byeok, played by Jung Ho-yeon, is the best. Her backstory is one rarely seen on screen and exemplifies the show’s social commentary about the deteriorating effects of capitalism with a level of humanity that is depressingly relatable.
As sad as viewers were to see her character die near the end of Season 1, Ho-yeon was happy while filming the demise of Kang because of the journey she undertook to fully personify the role.
In a show full of memorable characters, Kang Sae-byeok is tragically endearing
When she joined the cast of Squid Game, there was no way to know Ho-yeon would portray Kang so well. The show was the first time she had acted in any professional capacity. Before then, she made waves as a big-name model in South Korea.
Ho-yeon started modeling at 16 and appeared on season four of Korea’s Next Top Model before building an international reputation after walking the runway for the likes of Louis Vuitton and Jeremy Scott. She transitioned to acting after hitting a rough patch as a model.
The audition process was nerve-wracking for Ho-yeon. But Jung won the part and put in a dynamite performance. Now it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever playing Sae-byeok outside of a Halloween costume.
The character starts out reserved in the early parts of the season. But she begins to open up to some of her fellow prisoners about her background as a defector from North Korea. Hoping to reunite her family members by winning the game, Sae-byeok becomes one of the most interesting Squid Game characters.
Despite her lack of experience, Ho-yeon knew how to prepare for the role. She worked with a speech coach to nail the accent and watched North Korean documentaries to understand Kang’s path further.
The show sent her career on an entirely different trajectory. Ho-yeon is making moves to stay grounded as her star ascends. But we’ll see her in more roles shortly. She will make her movie debut in the upcoming A24 film The Governesses and will star in Alfonso Cuaron’s Apple TV series Disclaimer alongside Cate Blanchett.
Jung Ho-yeon’s understanding of Sae-byeok helped her find peace with her death scene in ‘Squid Game’
Ho-yeon spoke to Sandra Oh for an episode of Variety‘s “Actors on Actors” series. Their conversation touched on many topics such as the representation of Asian people in media, self-care, and how to manage a career.
During their talk, Ho-yeon revealed that Squid Game was mostly shot in sequence. This is uncommon because it takes an incredible amount of resources to align schedules among the entire cast and shuttle a production back and forth between locations used multiple times. But show creator Hwang Dong-hyuk did it this way so each actor understood where the story would go.
This method helped keep things light on set. “Maybe we were too much making jokes about that. So we didn’t feel that intense. We were more joyful to be intense,” Ho-yeon said.
Shooting Squid Game in chronological order may have also affected how Ho-yeon felt while shooting her death scene. It was a tragic moment for the audience, but she was fully at ease during the filming. Ho-yeon described it as “the most comfortable scene I ever had.”
It sounds like something an actor would say about a show they were happy to be leaving. But her emotions came from the pride of feeling like she explored every shade of Sae-byeok up until that point:
“It’s because I’ve been living with my character over a few months, and then there is a time that I have to let her go, and I kind of feel like I can happily let her go, because I can understand. Maybe not fully, but I’m the one who can understand her most in this world, so I know her stress, and I know how her life was [such a] struggle and hard. So it wasn’t that bad or sad.”
Sandra Oh has a similar feeling with her role on ‘Killing Eve’
Oh saw some of her experience fleshing out her character in Killing Eve in Jung’s approach. It takes a lot of creative stamina to inhabit the right state of mind for a role. You can’t know if you’ve made the right decisions until you’re well into production.
Being a multi-year show, Oh spent more time with Eve Polastri. Even though the show lost its way after the first couple of seasons, she still found meaning in her work to get there.
“I really felt pleased that I saw an image of myself as Eve from the very first season, and I saw an image of Eve in the fourth season, and I felt they looked like two different people. Because people do change. People can change. This character has changed,” Oh said.