Everybody handles fame and criticism differently, but that doesn’t make the vastly different opinions about it from the actors behind Squid Games notorious VIPs any less fascinating. Following Squid Game becoming, you know, the biggest show on the planet, nearly every last one of the Netflix original’s actors were quick to rise to fame in the U.S., receiving nearly universal praise for their performances in the hyper-violent Korean drama. However, for the four men playing the show’s English-speaking, masked billionaires referred to as the “VIPs,” their reception — and respective reactions to it — have been a very mixed bag.
Shortly after Squid Game became a phenomenon, more and more articles, threads, and tweets began to circulate asking why in an otherwise excellent show were the English-speaking actors playing the VIPs so bad. Some critics even went as far as to say the show would have been better off if the showrunners had picked random people on the street to fill the roles. The Guardian then reached out to three of the men behind the performances — John D Michaels, Daniel C Kennedy, and Geoffrey Giuliano — to ask them how they were dealing with the less-than-positive feedback and their newfound fame, only to be met with startlingly different answers, as well as a pretty solid explanation for why the show might have some English-speaking awkwardness from Michaels.
“I think the first thing to dispel is this myth that they just pick us up off the street .. Non-Korean performers often act with dialogue that is translated by a non-native — sometimes even by Google Translate — so it can sound unnatural,” he says. “And often we don’t have the scripts for the rest of the show. We are only given our scenes, so we have no idea of the tone.”
Michaels then explained this is merely the start of the issues when it comes to recording English lines for Korean television, adding that the show’s editors not speaking English as a first language might cause them to select a bad or strangely worded take for the final product. Kennedy also weighed in on the issue, stating that English-speaking viewers not understanding that the lines are meant to be delivered dramatically — just as the show’s Korean lines are — is another big problem. While people are quick to be able to recognize dramatic speech, imperfect translations, and awkwardness in their own language, Kennedy explained, the rest can be lost in translation.
Ultimately, however, Michaels says he loves Squid Game‘s message and is proud of his portrayal on the show which he believes adheres to “an interpretation of what a westerner is from the point of view of a different culture” that is vital in keeping the show truly Korean in nature. Kennedy, however, has been struggling to grapple with his feelings about his performance as well as his own mental health issues.
“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.”
However, less apt to defend his work or kick himself for any perceived mistakes is third VIP actor Geoffrey Giuliano, who “ain’t complaining” about being on “the hottest show in the world.” In fact, Giuliano seems to be far too busy celebrating the kind of success we’re certain his Squid Game counterpart would be a bit jealous of,
“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.” He pauses. “There have also been some sexual invitations, from males and females .. This project has elevated me from absolute, total obscurity. I get tattoos of my signature. I get invitations for fellatio. I’m a star!”
If you’ve yet to watch Squid Game and watch these actors’ performances for yourself, the entire series is streaming on Netflix right now, and we’d definitely recommend giving it a go before you’re confused by all the Halloween costumes the series’ is sure to inspire.