Interview: Lee Jung-jae on his journey from ‘Star Wars’ fan to Jedi master in ‘The Acolyte’

Interview: Lee Jung-jae on his journey from ‘Star Wars’ fan to Jedi master in ‘The Acolyte’Interview: Lee Jung-jae on his journey from ‘Star Wars’ fan to Jedi master in ‘The Acolyte’
via Disney+
Growing up in the 1970s in South Korea, Lee Jung-jae’s fascination with the “Star Wars” cinematic universe was immediate after he encountered a striking movie poster for “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” in his neighborhood.
“I wondered, ‘What kind of movie is this? Is this even a movie? It was something that I had never seen before,” Lee tells NextShark. “It really piqued my curiosity. This movie really had a sensational impact when it came out in Korea.”
The franchise’s groundbreaking debut left an indelible mark on Lee, who marvels at its allure and enduring legacy, a legacy he now proudly contributes to as a part of Disney Plus’ new live-action series “Star Wars: The Acolyte.”
via Disney+
When Leslye Headland, the creator and showrunner of the series, first saw Lee’s performance in the hit Netflix show “Squid Game,” she instantly thought he was a perfect fit for the character of Sol, a respected Jedi master. 
“Lee Jung-jae knows how to switch from being emotionally available and vulnerable to being completely guarded and in control,” Headland shares. “He knows how to be formidable and intimidating, and then he can switch to being just absolutely heartbreaking in terms of how fragile he is. I don’t know many actors who can do that.”
Despite initial doubts, Headland’s encouragement helped Lee embrace the role of Sol, who investigates a series of crimes against the Jedi, who are the ancient order of warriors serving as guardians of peace and justice, known for their use of the Force and mastery of lightsabers.
Set about 100 years before “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace,” the series takes place during the High Republic era when the Jedi Order is at the height of its power. The primary suspect in the Jedi murders is Osha, played by Amandla Stenberg, a former Padawan and Sol’s student turned freighter mechanic. As Sol delves deeper into the investigation, the boundaries between good and evil blur, forcing him to resurrect a dark family secret to catch the killer.
via Disney+
According to Lee, he had to thoroughly understand the Jedi’s golden age and the ensuing turmoil in order to perfectly integrate into the “Star Wars” universe. He wanted to capture the nuances of being a Jedi master within the Jedi society, aiming to convey both the seriousness of the ongoing investigations and the peacefulness of the Jedi environment. 
When it came to the action scenes, Lee’s fight training and choreography was designed to feel grounded in reality. This approach involved realistic fight scenes rather than fantasy-driven moves, adding authenticity to the show’s action sequences.
Lee, who was already a famous actor in South Korea before reaching global stardom following his lead role in “Squid Game,” did not experience significant culture shock transitioning from the Korean entertainment industry to a Hollywood production, as he says the systems of shooting and actor preparation are quite similar. However, Lee was surprised by the immense scale and detailed focus of the “Star Wars” production, noting that it stands out as its own unique experience compared to typical Korean and American projects.
via Disney+
The 51-year-old actor expressed immense gratitude for being able to be part of the iconic franchise, feeling particularly grateful for the opportunity to represent the Asian community.
“I still had doubts of whether I could pull off this role, but Leslye really gave me a lot of courage,” Lee says. “I feel very honored to be part of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise. I mean, it’s hard for me to believe it even now. There’s so much to be thankful for.”
He also appreciated working with Stenberg, praising her leadership and performance, and the enthusiasm and positivity that the child actors brought on set.
“While accomplishing their roles excellently, they were having so much fun on set,” Lee says. “I learned a lot from them. I realized that even if it’s a very difficult scene that you have to go through, if you have a positive attitude, then it can be really fun as well. Overall, it was a great experience.”
The first two episodes of “The Acolyte,” also starring Manny Jacinto, Dafne Keen and Charlie Barnett, premieres tonight at 6 p.m. PT / 9 p.m. ET on Disney Plus.
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