Jung Ho-yeon’s ‘Squid Game’ Success Is More Than Just Beginner’s Luck

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Squid Game” may have been Jung Ho-yeon’s first foray into acting, but you certainly wouldn’t know it. Already a supermodel with campaigns for Chanel, Fendi, Hermes, and Tory Burch, Jung took the world by storm when she played North Korean defector Kang Sae-byeok on Netflix’s record-smashing dystopian drama series. And it’s only the beginning. Next up, the star is set to film Alfonso Cuarón’s Apple TV+ limited series “Disclaimer,” whose buzzy ensemble also includes Cate Blanchett, Kevin Kline, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Sacha Baron Cohen. Prior to winning her first SAG Award earlier this year, Jung spoke with us about her whirlwind “Squid Game” experience and offered tips for nailing emotionally demanding scenes.

At first, Jung didn’t see herself in Sae-byeok.

“When I first met Sae-byeok, I didn’t really see any similarity [to my own] personality or my situation. I had to find—even if it was just a small piece—something [about her] that was similar to me. The first thing I found [was that] I was a model internationally. I lived in New York, which was a place I wasn’t used to. Sae-byeok, she lives in South Korea, where she’s going to be living the rest of her life. That kind of loneliness and those uncomfortable feelings, having to deal with the situations she’s faced with, were quite similar.”

Noh Juhan | Netflix

Jung learned on the job.

“I call the ‘Squid Game’ set ‘Acting Academy.’ We have a lot of [actors] with different backgrounds—with different expressions of the same situation. Watching the monitor backstage, one actor can react one way to a situation, but another actor can react differently to the same situation. I watched [Lee Jung-jae, who plays Seong Gi-hun,] a lot. He has a [habit] of stretching his hands before the director says action. I think that’s because, when you’re stiff, the hands are the first thing to be awkward.”

She kept her castmate Lee Yoo-mi close while filming their climactic scene.

“The time between Ji-yeong [played by Lee] and Sae-byeok is quite short, but it didn’t feel [that way,] because we spent a lot of time outside of set having coffee or having dinner together. We spent a lot of time sharing our stories, not just as our characters—as me, as her. We became good friends. That time had an effect on our characters’ relationship in the story. That helped a lot. I think it’s important to have a belief in your scene partner so you can be free while you’re acting; you can concentrate on the situation.”

Modeling prepared Jung for her acting debut.

“Starting my modeling career, I think I was 17. [Because of that,] I have a way of dealing with my anxiety. I have my way of getting rid of the pressure quickly. That helps. Being surrounded by many people and doing your thing, you have to have concentration. I got used to that because of my modeling career. That’s very effective for acting.”

She may not appear on “Squid Game” Season 2, but she’s excited for what’s to come.

“Things are happening—so many things that I can’t talk about. In the end, I’m just going to do what makes me have fun and [projects] that I enjoy. If I can enjoy it, then I think that [audiences] who have similar taste as me will enjoy it.”

This story originally appeared in the Apr. 7 issue of Backstage Magazine.