63rd Monte-Carlo TV Festival: Lee Jung-jae on His Role as a Jedi Master and the Totally Different S2 of 'Squid Game'
BY Yako Molhov
Lee Jung-jae was one of the many stars that attended the Monte-Carlo Television Festival this month. The South Korean actor who became internationally known for his role in 'Squid Game' is an iconic figure in both cinema and television in his home country. It was the globally successful Netflix series that first catapulted Lee Jung-jae’s career to an international level. Starring as Seong Gi-hun (No. 456), a financially struggling father who participates in a deadly survival game, his outstanding performance earned him an Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series, a first for a non-English speaking actor.
Lee Jung-jae’s latest television role is in 'Star Wars: The Acolyte' where he plays a Jedi Master. This suspenseful series premiered on June 4th with the first two episodes, exclusively on Disney+. In 'Star Wars: The Acolyte', an investigation into a series of shocking crimes pits a respected Jedi Master (Jung-jae) against a dangerous warrior from his past. As new clues emerge, they embark on a dark path where sinister forces reveal that not everything is as it seems...

The Korean actor talked to journalists at the Festival, revealing details about his role in 'The Acolyte', the new season of 'Squid Game' and the similarities and the differences between Korean and Hollywood productions.

Regarding his new international fame after the success of 'Squid Game', Jung-jae commented that he has shot many TV series and movies in South Korea but they were not really well known abroad. "Thanks to 'Squid Game' I was exposed to this sudden success. Leslye Headland, who is the creator of 'The Acolyte', wanted to work with me, we had a meeting and I was cast in the series. 'The Acolyte' gave me this great opportunity to meet with you and attend the Festival; if I have another opportunity in the future I would be really happy to meet you again... right after 'The Acolyte' you will discover season 2 of 'Squid Game'".

Talking about the differences and similarities between South Korean TV series and big Hollywood productions like 'The Acolyte', Jung-jae told TVBIZZ that "I think the way we shoot is exactly the same, maybe in Korea we don't really deal with the background, the Star Wars universe, I would say Hollywood and Korea they share a lot of things related to how you shoot on a set. Star Wars is a little bit of an exception, for example regarding the artistic side, the costumes, the props and the CGI. Star Wars has a long history, it began in the 70s and Star Wars (franchise) has a complementary development - technical developments were made, year after year, that was something that was surprising to me. In terms of the filming and creative (processes) it is the same".

In terms of the growing popularity of Asian actors and productions, the 'Squid Game' star commented that Asian content has been loved for a long time but before it was more about Japanese, Hong Kong, Chinese movies but "everything is part of a general flow, now we have all the social networks, we have the internet and at that time we didn't have all these, thanks to them everything exploded. Before it were the real cinephiles who loved these Asian movies and content but now the reaction is more global... It really helped and I feel quite lucky that we are in this era where you have the internet and I benefited from that. In Korea and in Asia you still have these hidden treasures so I really hope you will be able to discover all of them. I hope that all the great European content will be discovered by Korean people and that we will have more and more exchanges in the future".

'The Acolyte' is his first English-speaking role and the actor shared that "it was very difficult because actually my tongue is used to speak Korean, my muscles were not used to (speaking) English... only in a short amount of time I had to learn how to pronounce English correctly so it was so difficult that in one month it was hard to swallow, to eat. After a month I got used to it, during the shooting it was OK... I had two dialogue coaches, they had a great sense of humor so we really laughed a lot."

As far as his first contact with the Star Wars universe is concerned, Jung-jae shared that "I watched Star Wars when I was in elementary school and it was a big shock at that time because of the big scale, the story, the characters, the design - everything was really impressive. I became a fan and each time I saw a Star Wars movie or a series, I was all the more impressed by the development, the evolution of the great saga. It was not a dream to be in Star Wars because I would never have imagined that one day I will be in a Star Wars (series). When my agent told me that I might be in a Star Wars series, I was very surprised. Then I had a Zoom meeting with Leslye Headland and after I was cast, when I learned that I would play a Jedi, I was even more surprised and nervous because I didn't know how I would depict him. I wanted to depict him more realistically, to have a more realistic approach. I viewed him as being more human, having more human expressions, emotions and when I told that to Leslye, she agreed, shared the same view. My biggest challenge was how to depict the human expressions through this Jedi character".

Jung-jae also commented that he tries not to be too influenced by the (opinions) on social networks and the internet because it creates pressure and nervousness but when you have adequate pressure, it's not always something bad, it could be a good motivation. Playing a Jedi can be heavy as a burden but in order to avoid that, he trained even more; also prepared his English dialogue well, because he knows there are high expectations from a lot of people. He didn't want to disappoint them.

As far as his character in 'Squid Game's upcoming season 2 is concerned, the actor said: "nowadays we are all linked with the non-disclosure agreements so I cannot tell you a lot about season 2... When we made season 1 the director told us that there won't be a season 2 but facing this huge worldwide success, it was not possible not to make a season 2 so he wrote the script, I didn't know he would be so quick, he gave me the script and when I read it for the first time I realized how much the script was completely different from the first season. It is really deep and there are a lot of new characters and you can see all the rivalry, the competition between all of them. The expression of the emotions of these characters is quite incredible. You will not be disappointed and I think you will enjoy season 2 even more".
Born in South Korea, Lee Jung-jae began his career on the fashion runways before transitioning to the screen. Discovered by a designer, he was propelled into the modeling world before discovering the realm of acting in 1993 with the drama series 'Dinosaur Teacher', In 1994, he landed a role in the film 'The Young Man', earning him the Best Actor award at the Blue Dragon Film Awards, making him the youngest actor to receive this distinction. Lee Jung-jae went on to star in a string of successful films, including 'An Affair' (1998), 'Asako In Ruby Shoes' (2000), 'The Housemaid' (2010), 'The Thieves' (2012), 'The Face Reader' (2013), 'Assassination' (2015), and 'Deliver Us from Evil' (2020). On television, he appeared in series such as 'Feeling' (1994), 'Sandglass' (1995), 'Air City' (2007), and 'Chief of Staff' (2019).
Share this article: