“I didn’t have any expectations of winning this award in my wildest dreams,” says the cheerful Lee Yoo Mi as she became the first Korean actor to win the Creative Arts Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a drama series for Netflix’s mega-popular survivor series Squid Game earlier this month.
Speaking To The Hindu Weekend on her big win, the 28-year-old actor confesses she was too stunned to react when her name was announced. “I really didn’t know what to say and how to react. What I felt was raw happiness.”
Squid Game scripted history at the 74th Prime Time Emmy Awards bagging six top honours in major categories, a first for a foreign language series. Creator Hwang Dong-hyuk won for outstanding director and actor Lee Jung Jae for best actor in a drama series making them the first Asians to win the prize in the said categories.
Lee Yoo Mi with her Creative Arts Emmy award
Lee Yoo Mi shot to fame for her portrayal of Ji-yeong aka Player No 240 who chooses to take the fall for Sae-byeok/ Player No 67 ( Ho Yeon Jung) in the penultimate round of the deadly Squid Game. The young actor may not have had much screen time, but her sensitive representation of Ji-Yeong a young girl with a dark past left a lasting impression.
“I tried to find hints of her character in her backstory (killing her abusive step father and serving time in prison) and put myself in her shoes to understand what made her who she is. Rather than labelling her as a good or bad person, I realised she was shaped by her experiences and that’s perhaps the reason she made the impact she did,” says the actor.
The Korean wave
With a Season 2 of Squid Gamein the works, she admits being as curious as everyone else as to where the story is headed. Lee Yoo Mi recalls being astounded by the original and imaginative world director Hwang had created in Season 1. “I was amazed by his vision and how gripping the premise was. I am certain Season 2 will be very entertaining as well.”
A still from ‘Squid Game’
Squid Game’s popularity is testament to the global appeal of South Korean content which has seen an exponential rise on viewing charts, on streaming platforms as well as driving conversations across social media. As K-pop and K-dramas evolve into a thriving genre on the global mainstream entertainment stage, Lee Yoo Mi acknowledges it is a thriving time for South Korean artists. Within weeks of Squid Game’s release, the actor saw her own social media presence rise from 40,000 followers to a massive 5 million on Instagram, catapulting her into international spotlight.
Beyond Squid Game
The show is not the only hit on her acting credits. Playing the arrogant rich girl Na Yeon, who intimidates her classmates in the super hit high school zombie apocalyptic thriller All Of Us Are Dead (Season 1), won her critical acclaim.
Though her easy-going off-screen persona is in sharp contrast to the intense and divergent characters she has played on screen, she divulges her approach is fairly straightforward. “There are stories that tug my heart and if the character and their experience appeals to me, I am in. The pressure to do well drives me, whatever be the project or part. I don’t personally get impacted by intense roles,” says the actor who is currently filming for the ongoing sports drama, Mental Coach Jegal, where she plays a one-time successful athlete facing a career slump.
So would her character rise from the dead in Season 2 of All Of Us Are Dead? Lee Yoo Mi says she is as curious about the forthcoming season as anyone else. With several projects in the works, including the sequel to the hit 2017 drama Strong Girl Bong-soon’ titled Strong Woman Kang Nam Soon, which will see the actor with impressive super powers, Lee Yoo Mi says she is currently rooting for her character Ga Eul in Mental Coach Jegal.