“Squid Game” emerged as a surprise smash hit for Netflix in 2021. Created by Hwang Dong-hyuk, the Korean drama series succeeded by offering chills, thrills, and a set of sinister mysteries that hovered behind the premise of an elaborate set of children’s games where victory means survival and even a single loss means certain death.
Again, “Squid Game” was rendered even more effective by the notion that all of the game’s victims were there by choice due to the harrowing financial burdens that society had placed on their shoulders. Much of the global appeal of the series comes from an experience that many viewers can understand as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down countless businesses for an extended period of time and inflation continues to skyrocket across nearly every market, as pointed out by Forbes.
Still, following these heady themes, audiences kept coming back to see which of the likable and/or memorable characters of the series would survive each game and which contestant would ultimately walk away with a massive pile of cash at the end of it all. One of these characters was the elderly, ostensibly harmless Il-nam, who was played by a relatively obscure actor.
Squid Game was released worldwide on September 17, 2021, to critical acclaim and international attention. It is Netflix’s most-watched series, becoming the top-viewed program in 94 countries and attracting more than 142 million member households and amassing 1.65 billion viewing hours during its first four weeks from launch, surpassing Bridgerton for the title of most watched show.
Since the characters and their struggles were so integral to nailing down the nuance and purpose behind “Squid Game,” casting was especially important in the series. This was doubly so for one of the most complicated characters, Il-Nam (Oh Young-soo), a duplicitous contestant who happens to be behind the games despite his slight, unthreatening demeanor. To accomplish these many distinct aspects of the character and make him believable, creator Hwang Dong-hyuk was adamant that an unknown actor be cast in the part. “We wanted Il-nam to be unknown so that he would seem like the actual character in the show,” the creator explained in an interview with Netflix.
Since the performer behind Il-Nam has to be able to play the character as charmingly aloof, off-kilter and frightened, and calmly pragmatic, the role is a tall order. Luckily, Young-soo was able to capture the nuance behind the character and make him a memorable addition to “Squid Game” even before the big reveal of his true identity in the final episode.
For his part, Young-soo commented on how you can learn about aspects of someone’s character by playing games with them in real life. “I was reminded of my childhood playing the game,” the actor recalled. “And when you watch the marbles scene, you can see the falsehood and truth in people. The game reveals a player’s humanity, and especially to Gi-hun, the main character.” There’s definitely something to Young-soo’s observation, as the pivotal episode revealed shocking new layers to nearly every character in “Squid Game.”