Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Emmy nominee Park Hae-soo is just one of the 14 nominations Netflix’s Squid Game received this week, with the Korean series becoming the first-ever non-English language show to be nominated for Outstanding Drama Series.
Hae-soo, who earned an Emmy acting nod alongside co-stars Lee Jung-jae, who is nominated for lead actor, Oh Yeong-su for supporting actor, is currently starring in Netflix’s crime series Money Heist: Korea. With another upcoming Netflix series The Accidental Narco on the horizon, there seems to be no stopping for the Yaksha: Ruthless Operations star.
Park Hae-Soo’s acting career began on the stage, appearing in numerous musical theater projects as well as Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. Following his critically acclaimed Prison Playbook, Hae-soo worked his way to global superstardom with the Netflix-acquired international series Squid Game, playing Cho Sang-woo, who goes to deadly lengths to win the game.
Hae-soo spoke with Award Focus about his love of game shows, researching his villainous character, and how he feels being recognized around the world.
Award Focus: You must’ve played some of the games that are featured in Squid Game such as red light green light at an early age. Which game in the show were you most talented at growing up and how did it feel to revisit those on this series?
Park Hae-Soo: Well first of all, I have never imagined growing up as an adult playing these games, especially for a series like Squid Game. As a child, I loved playing marbles and I was quite good at it. In fact, the red light, green light game I played as an adult before Squid Game. When I was training to become an actor, that was actually a game we would play to train our skills as actors.
AF: What drew you initially to the Squid Game series?
Hae-Soo: I loved the originality of the script, the explosive energy on the pages, and all the intricate stories of the characters. All of these aspects drew me to the show. Of course there was the fact that I would be able to work alongside actors like Lee Jung-Jae and other great members of the cast. On top of that, I had immense faith in director Hwang’s vision. There is a sense of playfulness and whimsicalness to this whole story but you could still see this narrative occurring in real life given the realistic themes.
AF: While the story of “Squid Game” encapsulates the rawness of mankind in the face of survival, your character Cho Sang-Woo is one of the most realistic characters of the show. What was your process in creating this character?
Hae-Soo: Just like you said, I feel like Cho Sang-woo is a character you would see in your life as well. I believe thathe is the most grounded character of them all.
As you see in the story, he tries to take his own life in episode two and he is then invited back to the hell of Squid Game and I think he was able to confirm his desire for survival only when he was stuck inside the game.
Sang-woo believed that surviving in the midst of that kind of competition is the only thing that is worthy. In order to prepare for that character, I looked at the people in everyday life. Specifically, people who would think like him.
AF: Your portrayal of Sang Woo is very layered, what attributes did you find most fascinating about Sang Woo?
Hae-Soo: Sang-woo holds a lot of hurt. He was so near death. He has experienced so much failure and loss. However, he is not someone who lets that be shown to other people. I was drawn to that aspect of him and I wanted to learn more about him.
There is also his relationships and different dynamics that he has with different characters such as Gi Hun and Ali that intrigues me. He definitely harbors jealousy and envy inside of him. These attributes drew me to him, because I was able to imagine so much more about him and that resonated with me. So those were the areas I dove deep into in order to develop the character.
AF: One of the most emotional scenes is when Sang Woo and Ali are duped into playing marbles against each other. What is like being on set shooting such a heavy scene and how did you prepare?
Hae-soo: Ali and Sang-Woo meet for the first time outside the convenient store where Sang-woo gives Ali 10,000 korean won because he did not have the money to travel back home. On the surface, it looks like a sign of good will, but underneath it shows Sang-Woo’s sense of elitism. That emotion and dynamic sets us up for that explosiveness in episode six. You see those bombastic emotions really build up and I believe the choices that Sang-Woo makes are based solely on reason and logic.
AF: How have you felt during the global fascination with Squid Game and now being a part of the Emmy race, following history wins at the SAG Awards by your costars?
Hae-Soo: First of all, we never imagined it would be this huge of a success, and for it to be recognized around the world. The fact that we were able to participate in the awards race, now looking forward to the Emmy campaign, brings me so much joy.
The fact that I was able to come to the United States with my fellow cast members is just unbelievable. I am extremely grateful. As a Korean actor it is immensely humbling that we have been recognized by fellow actors all around the world. Seeing the amount of support and interest in our show is amazing.