It’s quite a jolt when, about two-thirds into Squid Game, one of the characters begins speaking English as, up until this point, Netflix’s hit dystopian drama had been in Korean only. It’s a moment that presages the arrival of the international ‘VIPs’ to the island.
Hiding their identity behind opulent animal masks, they bet on the lives of the contestants and engage in debauchery with the staff. Like much of Squid Game, it’s a blunt broadside against capitalism and the super-rich, but adds a nice element of class warfare to proceedings.
The only catch is that the actors’ performances have attracted criticism. Many viewers have said that they’re not up to the high standards of the core cast and that they suspect they were only hired because they were Western actors working in Seoul. Now several new interviews in The Guardian have provided further perspective on the backlash:
Geoffrey Giuliano (who plays VIP 4, the one who propositions undercover cop Hwang Jun-ho) doesn’t seem bothered:
“I ain’t complaining, baby! I’m in the hottest show in the world. I got fanmail. Just today I got a woman who said: ‘Send me your autograph.’ So I did, and two hours later she sent me a photo where she had ‘Geoffrey Giuliano, VIP four,’ tattooed right across her forearm. There have also been some sexual invitations, from males and females.”
VIP 2 actor Daniel C Kennedy isn’t quite so ebullient. The attention seems to have hit him hard:
“I suffer from extreme clinical depression, so it’s been a bit of a challenge. Initially, I was gutted by the comments but, with time and distance and some honest self-reflection, I’ve been better able to filter the feedback into the stuff I can use to improve next time, versus the stuff that is bound to come when you’re part of a project that gets global recognition.”
Kennedy also explained that the language barrier and costumes didn’t help:
“We were all wearing very heavy plaster masks, and sitting on couches that were at least 20-30ft away from the closest VIP. We all had to yell our lines vaguely into the air, which added to the weird tonality of the delivery.”
He also feels his performance was affected by editing:
“If I was editing a Russian actor speaking Russian, I wouldn’t have any idea if he was saying his lines correctly, or if his intonation was natural. There might be two takes. One of them could be perfect, the other wooden. If I’m editing it, the wooden one might move faster or cut more smoothly or the continuity might be better, so I’d just go with that.”
But all the performers recognize that Squid Game is a huge opportunity for them. VIP 1 actor John D. Michaels said:
“I love Squid Game. To me, the show was expressing the feeling that we are all just a bunch of have-nots who are being pitted against each other, fighting over crumbs while all these giant corporations and billionaires hoard all of the wealth as the world is dying. I feel the show expressed that really well.”
Giuliano in particular sounds like he’s on top of the world right now:
“This project has elevated me from absolute, total obscurity. I get tattoos of my signature. I get invitations for fellatio. I’m a star!”
Cards on the table, if I’d played VIP 4 in Squid Game and got offered fellatio, I’d probably think twice given what happens to the character in the show.