Force to be reckoned with

Force to be reckoned with

July 4, 2024


From Squid Game to Star Wars, Korean actor Lee Jung-jae tells DQ about using the Force in Disney+ series The Acolyte and joining the legion of Jedi masters.

A screen star in Asia for 30 years, Korean actor Lee Jung-jae only found global fame in 2021, thanks to international Netflix sensation Squid Game.

In writer and director Hwang Dong-hyuk’s dystopian survival thriller, he plays Seong Gi-hun, one of 456 cash-strapped players vying for the chance to win 45.6bn won (US$3.3m). Their path to glory involves a series of children’s games, but they soon to discover that failing to win will cost them their lives.

More than 10 years in the making, Squid Game became a worldwide phenomenon when it debuted on Netflix in 2021. A second season is now due to land on the streamer this December, with Lee reprising his role in a story that remains a closely guarded secret.

But as if starring in one mega franchise wasn’t enough – Squid Game also has a reality spin-off – Lee is now appearing in a show set in a galaxy far, far away, as one of the leads in the latest Star Wars series to arrive on Disney+.

Lee Jung-jae shot to global fame as the star of Squid Game, which is set for a second season (pictured)

Set before the events of the so-called Skywalker Saga (the original film trilogy and the prequel trilogy), The Acolyte follows the investigation into a shocking crime spree as respected Jedi master Sol (Lee) is pitted against a dangerous warrior (Amandla Stenberg) from his past. As more clues emerge, they travel down a dark path where sinister forces reveal all is not what it seems.

Described as a wise, highly respected Jedi master who is strong in the ways of the Force, Sol has a deep sense of compassion and will defend those who cannot defend themselves. He is a powerful warrior with intense emotions, and faces up to a familiar threat when he uncovers the identity behind the mysterious Jedi killings.

The eight-part series, which is now streaming on Disney+, with episodes released weekly, comes comes from writer and director Leslye Headland. The cast also includes Manny Jacinto (The Good Place), Dafne Keen (His Dark Materials), Charlie Barnett (Russian Doll), Jodie Turner-Smith (Anne Boleyn), Rebecca Henderson (Westworld), Dean-Charles Chapman (Game of Thrones), Joonas Suotamo (who played Chewbacca in the recent Star Wars films)  and Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix).

At the Monte-Carlo TV Festival, DQ caught up with Lee to find out how he is adapting to being part of the Star Wars universe, his experience filming The Acolyte and how it compares to being part of the Squid Game phenomenon.

The Korean actor now leads the cast of Star Wars series The Acolyte, playing Jedi master Sol

What is it like for you to have become part of the beloved Star Wars universe?
Since the 70s, Star Wars has influenced a lot of people around the world, whether the audience or many filmmakers. And after The Acolyte, there will be still a lot of Star Wars TV shows that will keep going on. It means the Star Wars history will continue and it will remain forever – and it means Master Sol is part of that big, never-ending universe.

I was quite nervous when I had to interpret Master Sol because there is a great Star Wars fandom around the world, so I really wanted to be good in what I was doing and also to represent Master Sol in a good way, meaning a good interpretation of the Star Wars universe.

Star Wars productions are usually very technical in terms of sets and special effects. How did you prepare to step into that world?
I also thought it would be a challenge, but compared with what I thought – of course, at first I thought I would have to act in front of a blue screen because of the background, or a multi-screen – there was less CGI. All the backgrounds were actually drawn, the sets were visible, everything was created for real. Even the aliens, they were interpreted by actors who had special make-up, they had masks and there was also an actor who was very tall, more than two metres, so he was there in costume. Everything was there, so I was very surprised. It was very helpful for me to act in that way.

The Disney+ show also stars Dafne Keen and Charlie Barnett, among others

Can you compare joining the established Star Wars universe to being a part of Squid Game, which you were part of from the beginning and have seen it grow into a global phenomenon?
I feel more nervous when it comes to joining something that has already experienced great success all around the world because you have to think more about it. There were already a lot of Jedi that existed previous to mine, there were a lot of characters and you have to follow along with all the stories. My character is an extension of the existing characters and stories, so I have to follow this extension. It has to be natural.

Compared to that, Squid Game was something new, so we had a great freedom to create the characters and to create the environment. Star Wars has a base we already know; it has almost 50 years of history and it has such a huge storylines that you can simultaneously have a lot of shows going on all together, produced at the same time. When I heard that, it was quite a big surprise, because I was on set and, on another set next to ours, they were shooting another Star Wars show at the same time.

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