Voting for the Emmys begins next Friday, August 12 for ten days, concluding on August 22. Everyone is angling now to get their messaging out before TV Academy members make their choices. In the Outstanding Drama category, Succession is the presumed favourite, but I don’t think anyone wants to sleep on Squid Game. The series is Netflix’s most-watched of all time. It won three Screen Actors Guild Awards earlier this year, two more than Succession. And it’s not like Squid Game has disappeared from public consciousness. That said, it did make history as the first non-English series to ever be nominated for Outstanding Drama and, well, probably for some voters, that will be “enough” to be considered a win.
Still, Squid Game does have the Netflix push and since the series first broke out and broke records, Netflix has been firmly behind showrunner Hwang Dong-hyuk, putting major resources into the campaign. They’ve been campaigning for almost a year at this point and now, in the final stretch, Hwang and series star Lee Jung-jae are profiled in the LA Times:
For a very long time, no one wanted to make â€œSquid Game.â€ No one, that is, but creator-writer-director Hwang Dong-hyuk. https://t.co/85fnReRwqi— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) August 2, 2022
They’re hitting all the classic campaign talking points here: how it was a struggle to get the series made, how beyond the shock factor and the disturbing nature of the games, this is a show about humanity being pushed to the brink by class and capitalism – a universal meditation no matter the language. But Lee Jung-jae also has the opportunity here to showcase how he crafted his performance and shaped the overall story. Lee is the reigning SAG winner for Best Drama Actor, so he has a good shot at the Emmy. It's actually a pretty competitive field in this category as Lee is nominated alongside Jason Bateman, Brian Cox, Bob Odenkirk, Adam Scott, and Jeremy Strong.
Speaking of Jeremy Strong, Lee namechecked him in the LA Times interview:
“Of course I watched a lot of the shows; I love them,” making specific mention of Ozark and Succession. “Especially Jeremy Strong – I’ve seen him, actually, at many awards. Not long ago, I visited Cannes, the film festival, and also saw him there. We were so happy to see each other again, we were handshaking. I think his performance is amazing. So grounded. You can really tell he pours his heart and soul into the work he does.”
While Lee Jung-jae is familiar with Jeremy’s work, I wonder how familiar Jeremy is with Lee’s, beyond Squid Game. As Hwang Dong-hyuk explains in the LA Times, one of the keys to getting Squid Game made, eventually, is Lee’s involvement. Because he’s a major star in East Asia and he didn’t hesitate to come on board. “That’s like no one in Hollywood signing on to your brutal, capitalism-scorching TV show, then having Tom Cruise jumping on your couch at the thought of being in it.”
And we could see evidence of Lee’s popularity in September in Toronto. When Lee mentions Jeremy Strong in Cannes, he’s talking about being at the Cannes Film Festival back in May to promote his film Hunt, which he stars in but also directs, his feature directorial debut. The Korean premiere just happened yesterday – here’s Lee on the carpet with co-star Jung Woo-sung and BTS’s Jin. Huge star power in this photo with the three of them, it was a major frenzy:
It was announced last week that Hunt will be screened at TIFF in September. TIFF is happening concurrently with Emmys weekend, so I’m thinking it’s likely that Lee will be in LA for the Emmys first, then fly to Toronto for his film during the back half of the festival. TIFF usually slows down after the weekend… but get ready for mayhem when Lee shows up.
In 2012, I covered the TIFF premiere of Dangerous Liaisons starring Jang Dong-gun. That year I was reporting for both eTalk and the Globe and Mail. By then I’d already been working TIFF for several years which means I’d already seen some big names come through: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Ben Affleck. And as I wrote in piece for the Globe after Jang Dong-gun’s appearance, the reception that those stars received COMBINED couldn’t compare to how f-cking bonkers it was for Jang Dong-gun. Fans of Korean television and cinema showed up en masse and the barricades were shifting – both literally and figuratively. Here are at last two paragraphs of my column:
“The gates started to wobble. Bulky men in suits had to hold them back. I saw veins bulging in their necks as they tried to put up some resistance. Finally they calmed when Jang retreated to the safety of the red carpet, at which point a woman threw herself down on the ground in tears.
I felt like I'd just witnessed a shift in culture. Gangnam Style was the talk of the MTV VMAs a few days ago. And a Korean actor caused the most hysteria at TIFF. K-Pop is taking over!”
Again, that was in 2012. In 2013, BTS made their debut and would go on to become the biggest band in the world. Now Squid Game is contending for over a dozen Emmys and its star Lee Jung-jae will be at TIFF. Get ready for that premiere, Toronto. If 2012 was any indication, Lee Jung-jae’s carpet will be bedlam, in the best way.