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The first time I saw Hoyeon was in a video, after I had spent three tiring months in search of an actress to play the role of Sae-byeok in Squid Game. To be honest, I didn’t have high expectations, because at the time she had no previous acting experience. So I turned on the computer in my office, leaned back in my chair, and started to watch her audition. In less than 10 seconds, I found myself sitting upright, captivated by what was on the screen. Instantly, I knew she was going to be Sae-byeok.

Her acting in the video was somewhat unfamiliar and stiff compared with other seasoned actors. However, I also saw Hoyeon not showing any sign of being shy. Nor did she want to hide the fact that she didn’t have any acting experience. She seemed to acknowledge and accept her weaknesses, and was committed to overcoming them.

The more I got to know her, the more I realized the acting I saw on that clip reflected who she really is. It was as though I was witnessing a newborn creature somewhere on earth taking on everything that the world throws at it, getting struck down but ultimately fighting back again to change things a little bit at a time. I think Hoyeon is still fighting every day—against her fame, the expectations, and the jealousy of her success, as well as her own desires.

I often joke around and call her a “warrior.” There’s no doubt that she has the skill and courage to fight her numerous battles. And I hope her acting career can become a true resting area, not her battleground.

Hwang is the Emmy-winning director of Squid Game

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