A knowing smile broke out on Park Hae-soo’s face when I spoke about his role in last year’s global sensation “Squid Game.”
“Everyone hated your character after that one heartbreaking episode,” I told him over Zoom.
The Netflix show garnered an unprecedented amount of attention in the media — particularly for a foreign production heavily streamed in the U.S. Now, less than a year after “Squid Game” was released, Park stars as heist leader Berlin in another Netflix original, “Money Heist: Korea – Joint Economic Area.” The new show, a Korean adaptation of the hit Spanish series “La Casa de Papel,” currently ranks within Netflix’s Top 10 most-watched chart in every country where it’s available to stream. Globally, it ascended to the No. 1 spot within three days of its June 24 premiere, becoming another hit for Netflix and another shining moment for Park.
While watching this latest series, viewers will likely notice that Park’s Berlin resembles the guards who sat opposite of his “Squid Game” character Sang-woo. Dressed in hot pink jumpsuits with black masks to hide their faces, these guards were part of the game that ultimately stripped Sang-woo of whatever humanity he had left. Berlin dons a similar costume, albeit in a warmer-toned red jumpsuit paired with a traditional Korean hahoetal mask in place of black mesh.
The two are also similar in that they both straddle the line between good and evil: Sang-woo, the golden boy who lost sight of life’s meaning, and Berlin, the boy forced to grow up too fast in the labor camps of North Korea.
When asked why he’s drawn to playing these antagonists, Park makes sure to preface his answer with a disclaimer. “Just to let you know, I’m a very good-hearted person. I’m a very pure soul,” he tells NextShark via a translator.
He goes on to describe how liberating it is to take on these roles.
“I feel free in a way when I take on a darker role or a character with dual personalities,” Park explains. “I feel a sense of catharsis while playing these roles, and perhaps that’s why I find them attractive.”
Prior to his latest Netflix projects, Park took on several other grittier roles, such as his first-ever lead role as a convict named Kim Je-hyeok in the 2017 drama “Prison Playbook.” Je-hyeok spends most of the drama serving time in jail for attacking the man who assaulted his sister.
In the case of Berlin, Park says there’s more to the character than what’s let on; there’s pain hidden beneath his threatening demeanor, which makes him relatable.
“He wants approval and reverence from others,” Park says. “He tries to hide the tragedy and the hurt that he has inside of him and sometimes he gets very defensive, which I can empathize with.”
He continues, “I didn’t think of him as a very, very strong person, he just tries to look tough but he has other aspects inside of him and I think that duality is something I can relate to.”
Some of Park’s most memorable moments onscreen showcase Berlin’s desire to command attention, threatening hostages from the top of a staircase for all to hear. The actor fusses with his hair while recalling the character-defining moment, chuckling at his appearance when he realizes he’s messed it up. He apologizes for the brief distraction.
Noticeably absent from Park’s acting credits is a lighthearted character, such as one belonging to the popular K-drama romance genre. When asked whether he’d pursue this type of role, he doesn’t hesitate to request that I inform readers of his interest.
“Of course,” he says. “I think the most difficult kind of acting is for realistic roles, someone you can find anywhere around you, or comedian acting. So I’m slowly beginning to wonder whether I’ll get that chance to act in romantic comedies or melodramas. I’m thinking about it, hoping for it, and waiting for that opportunity — please write that.”
Featured Image via Netflix