Hoyeon Jung talks about Squid Game Lessons and Alfonso Cuarón’s new series

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For OIn 2019’s third annual TV Portfolio, we asked 21 wanted names from TV to pay homage to their favorite small-screen characters by stepping into their shoes.

Since squid game premiering on Netflix in September 2021, Jung Ho-yeon (also known as Hoyeon Jung) has found herself in a whole new stratosphere of fame (Google her name, and you can take your pick from the cornucopia of profiles, news and Q&A chronicling his astronomical rise to stardom). With her captivating performance as stoic competitor Kang Sae-byeok in the Korean survival drama, the 28-year-old former model not only captivated audiences, but also nabbed a SAG and a Critics Choice Award, as well as a coveted brand. Louis Vuitton ambassador. Now, Ho-yeon is nominated for her first Emmy for Best Supporting Actress. (squid game itself garnered a total of 14 Emmy nominations and made history as the first foreign-language series to be nominated for Outstanding Drama.)

Next, the Seoul native will star alongside Cate Blanchett and Kevin Kline in Alfonso Cuarón’s upcoming Apple TV+ series, Disclaimer. “At first I thought, Oh, I have to prepare perfectly, because these are legendary people who know better than me,” she says of her insecurity about joining the veteran cast. “I do my best, and in the end, I let them work around me, believe them, and [remain] flexible. It’s like a theater school.

As for squid game, which Netflix confirmed in June, it remains to be seen whether or not Ho-yeon will return to some extent (series creator Hwang Dong-hyuk suggested she could return as Sae-byeok’s twin sister) . In the meantime, the Seoul native is just happy for any opportunity to continue honing her craft. “I’m still learning a lot,” she says. Here, the breakout star discusses the pressure she puts on herself and how she channels the fierce energy of the main character of game of thronesit’s Arya Stark.

You were already a household name as a model in Korea before squid game came out of. Do you find there is a difference between your Korean and American fans?

It’s something I never thought of. It’s just my point of view, but maybe Korean fans have this high level point of view as an audience. Our moviegoers have very high expectations. I guess they are more critical of me because they think I just started; I only did one job. So they think I need to work hard on the acting side and show more of my abilities. They worry too. At first they were just proud of me. They supported me, but now I think they think I have too much pressure on my shoulders. [They’re wondering] what will be my next project. And actually, I thought that too – my mindset is very similar. I just have to keep trying, because my acting career won’t last just two or three years, and that’s it. I want to continue working.

Do you feel that you have a lot of pressure on your shoulders?

When a big change happens, even if it is a good change, people start to fear the situation. I felt like that, because it was so big and so fast. With all this success and people’s expectations, sometimes I feel like I’m overworked, you know what I mean? Like, try too hard or I have to prove I’m a good actor, I’ve got talent. So I try to release these thoughts that are going through my head, like: How are people going to react?

Hoyeon as Arya Stark from ‘Game of Thrones’. Hoyeon wears a look by Costume Studio.

What lessons have you learned from your squid game experience and applied to getting into character for Disclaimer?

squid game that was a long time ago, almost two years. But my acting process is a lot of me. As I prepare my characters, I already find a lot of similarities in myself with them. At first, I don’t understand why they act like that, why they say those lines, that kind of stuff. But if I go deeper, I find this element of humanity. I think, when I’m in a similar situation to Sae-byeok or that character, what would I do? I try to build my character’s life, I just have to keep focusing on that. When I started playing, I never imagined meeting Alfonso Cuarón, Cate Blanchett and Kevin Kline. So I will enjoy it with all my heart. If I don’t take advantage of this moment, I will regret it all my life.

Do you have a dream role you would like to play?

It’s so difficult, because there are so many. If it’s gonna be action, I really want one Kill Bill kind of atmosphere: very stylish but violent, breathtaking, that sort of thing. And if it’s going to be a romance, I want it to be very realistic. I really liked Licorice Pizza, the film by Paul Thomas Anderson. The relationship between these two was so awkward yet so cute. So something that is not a fantasy or a perfect love. It’s a more realistic, silly love that we’ve all been through. Like, you know, you want to be cool in front of this cute boy, but you’re still messing around.

Hoyeon as Arya Stark from ‘Game of Thrones’. Hoyeon wears a look by Costume Studio.

You have a long relationship with Louis Vuitton and attended the Gilded Glamour-themed Met Gala with creative director Nicolas Ghesquière last spring. How did you decide on your look?

At first, Louis Vuitton said it wanted to dress each ambassador with looks from previous collections. So we had to choose a few from the archives. I had googled “Gilded Glamour”, because [old-world] New York culture is very new to me. I saw a lot of “corset” popping up in descriptions of the Golden Age in New York, so I was looking for something similar to a corset.

Hoyeon as Arya Stark from ‘Game of Thrones’. Hoyeon wears a look by Costume Studio.

Corsets are also popular game of thrones. When did you start watching the series?

I started quite late. What I liked is that they have so many seasons. I started when I think season 7 came out. At that time, I was in New York. I had nothing planned for almost a week, so I just stayed home. I didn’t want to go out. I was so lazy. And then I started game of thrones, and even though I watched all day, there were still plenty of episodes to watch. I love that the story always betrays the audience. They never show us what we want to see. And there are so many badass female characters. I chose Arya Stark because I loved her whole journey, especially when she steps out to find her own life. She finds everything herself; she always makes her own decisions. And I like the fact that she can fight like a pro. She’s a woman that, more or less, I want to be.

Do you ever feel that way, or is it something you strive to be in the future?

Half half. I think I end up doing what I want to do. But I take a long time to make a decision, and at first I took the advice of so many other people. I was just, like, confused, lost, but in the end, I choose what I want to do.

Ho-yeon as Arya Stark from ‘Game of Thrones’. Hoyeon wears a Ralph Lauren top and sword via Costume Studio.

Have you met Maisie Williams, who played Arya Stark, at the Met Gala?

Nope! She was there?! I met Sophia [Turner]yet.

Oh, did you? How was it?

Sophie was nice. I did not tell him: “I am looking game of thrones and I’m a huge fan! because I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable. It was more friendly, not a silly little fan, a nerdy vibe. I was trying to be cool!

Hair by Dayaruci, makeup by Naoko Scintu, photo assistant Elliott Farquharson, styling assistant Oliwia Jancerowicz.

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