In response to complaints thrown against the VIPs in Netflix’s recent blockbuster show “Squid Game”, John D. Michaels, who plays VIP 1 in the show, reacts. “Squid Game” has shattered audience records since its debut a month ago, becoming Netflix’s most popular original series of all time. The show’s astute criticism on class inequity, as well as the many unforgettable performances from the show’s star-studded cast, has been lauded by critics and spectators alike. The performances of the mustache-twirling adversaries known as the VIPs, on the other hand, have frequently been panned.
The VIPs introduced in episode 7 are the only English-speaking characters in an otherwise totally Korean-speaking cast. Their presence suggests that death game tournaments are a global phenomenon orchestrated by a mystery global elite, which is where “Squid Game’s” critiques of capitalism begin to shine through. However, one of the show’s flaws, according to reviewers, is the VIPs’ hammy performances. The VIP performers have been the subject of a common (and perhaps cruel) joke that the show’s casting supervisors selected them off the street at random.
Michaels recently spoke honestly about the hardships of working as an English-speaking actor on a Korean-language production in an interview with The Guardian.
He says that “non-Korean performers often act with dialogue that is translated by a non-native – sometimes even by Google Translate – so it can sound unnatural.” Although performers are allowed to smooth out rougher dialogue, “it often happens at the last minute, and comes with plenty of restrictions.” Check out the actor’s full comments below:
“I think the first thing to dispel is this myth that they just pick us up off the street,” says Michaels, pointing out that every role he has ever played has come at the end of a long audition process. Alongside his screen work, Michaels also writes and directs, and has years of experience as a performer.
“It’s different for every show, but 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. While actors do have the freedom to fix clunky dialogue, it often happens at the last minute, and comes with plenty of restrictions. “And often we don’t have the scripts for the rest of the show,” he adds. “We are only given our scenes, so we have no idea of the tone.”
Kennedy says this problem was exacerbated on Squid Game. Not only were the VIPs handed their scenes without context – which meant they had to invent their own backstories for their characters, which they described to me as “total idiots” and “dirtbag millionaires” – but “We were all wearing very heavy plaster masks, and sitting on couches that were at least 20-30ft away from the closest VIP. We all had to yell our lines vaguely into the air, which added to the weird tonality of the delivery.”
Michaels, above all things, wants to clear the air for himself and his VIP co-stars. He wants to “debunk the misconception that they just pick us up off the street,” as he puts it. Such comments undervalue the effort that actors like Michaels put in to win such a part; Michaels, for example, has a lengthy resume as a writer, director, and performer, all of which preceded his involvement in “Squid Game”.
The VIPs are almost certain to reappear in “Squid Game” season 2 due to the open-ended nature of the conclusion. Perhaps the show could hire dedicated consultants to oversee the portrayal of non-Korean cultures – not just English-speaking cultures, but non-Korean cultures in general (the show’s portrayal of Anupam Tripathi’s character, Ali Abdul, has also received some online criticism, though to a lesser extent than the VIPs). Such issues should be a top priority now that “Squid Game” has a global audience.