The star of Netflix’s most popular series is the first Asian actor to win in this category.
“Squid Game” continues to take the world by storm, with star Lee Jung-jae becoming the first Asian actor to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
The South Korean star of Netflix’s most popular show ever accepted the award in person on Sunday night.
Lee’s lead performance in the international hit action drama was nominated against Bob Odenkirk for “Better Call Saul,” Adam Scott for “Severance,” Jason Bateman for “Ozark,” and Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong for “Succession” (the latter of which won for 2020 in the category Best Actor in a Leading Role in a Drama Series).
In “Squid Game,” the charismatic actor played the flawed Seong Gi-hun, who, after being unable to pay off all his debts, was kidnapped and manipulated into competing in a competition with real life-or-death stakes. The last contestant standing wins a seismic cash prize.
Lee’s Emmy win is not only historic, but may prove to be a turning point for recognition of non-English language projects. While works like “Parasite,” “Drive My Car” and “Worst Man in the World” are recognized in award categories outside of the category designated for international films, acting talent does not.
The ubiquitous “Squid Game” helped change that, as Lee and co-star Jung Ho-yeon won their first Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Male and Female Actor in a Drama Series earlier. this year. After Monday’s Primetime Emmys, the show already had one acting award under its belt for Lee You-mi, who won Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series at the Creative Arts Emmys last week, becoming the first Korean woman to win the category this year.
Already a headliner in South Korea, Lee told IndieWire in July that after “Squid Game” premiered, “literally everyone [abroad] they would come up to me and ask me for a photo or an autograph and ask me if 2 is coming out soon. He added: “It’s very crazy to see so many people noticing me. I am very happy to share this great moment with so many people.”
The actor also said that the reason he feels “Squid Game” has become so popular worldwide is because “Audience members saw themselves in some characters and other people saw themselves in other characters. This helped them create emotional bonds with most of the characters. I think when they saw these players, the contestants, trying desperately to survive in these games, they saw themselves and the problems [with] some social problems of our time. So it really resonated with them.” Also, “the games are very easy and unique at the same time, and also simple enough for people to easily follow and copy,” the actor said.
Lee made a point of not knowing where Season 2 will take his character Seong Gi-hun, telling IndieWire, “I try not to ask the director [Hwang Dong-hyuk] some questions because when I read the script for the first time, I have to have that amazing feeling to translate those intense emotions into my performance.”
As for what’s next for the newly minted Emmy winner outside of “Squid Game,” Lee actually directed a film called “Hunt,” which premiered at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival and was acquired by Magnolia Pictures, who reportedly plans to launch in the United States in December. Just before the Emmys, it was also announced that Lee would be one of the stars of “The Acolyte,” a new Disney+ show set in the Star Wars universe created by Leslye Headland and hosted by actress Amandla Stenberg.
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