A lot has changed for Asian representation on screen since Sandra Oh first put on her scrubs as Cristina Yang on “Grey’s Anatomy” over 17 years ago.
The latest installment of Variety’s “Actors on Actors” series has Oh having a sit-down with Jung Ho-yeon, who catapulted into the international limelight when “Squid Game” premiered in September.
More seasoned and familiar with navigating the industry, Oh talks through some of the concerns Jung has had over the past several months, including the challenge of representing an underrepresented minority in the States.
“I met a lot of Asian American people who said to me that ‘Oh, thank you for representing us. Oh, we are so proud of you.’ At the beginning, it was just happy,” Jung begins. “But I also think about ‘I came from Korea, I lived in Korea almost my whole life — am I allowed to represent them.’”
Oh points out the difference between now, and even just four years ago when billboard ads featuring Jung or other Asian Americans were hardly ever seen while driving through Los Angeles.
“You are, in the image-making, a very important part for Asian Americans,” she tells Jung. “I do think the change and the opening and the growth is coming. So while I want to thank you for that, because I do, I also want to relieve you of any kind of — it’s impossible to relieve you of the pressure — but I want to somehow relieve you of the pressure for that.”
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It’s not so easy for Jung, who says she’s aimed to strike a balance between upholding the responsibility and trying not to overthink it, all within the short period of time since her role in “Squid Game” changed her life.
“Things go so quick for me, because it was just my first project. I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to be an actor,’ and then I did an audition and then I got it. Suddenly, Ho-yeon, you are here!” she says.
Oh recalls back to when “Grey’s Anatomy” first premiered, marking the period of her life that underwent the same changes Jung recently experienced with “Squid Game.” While the context of their quick rise to fame might be different, Oh still finds the pressure Jung describes to be very relatable.
“It’s tricky to imagine, because this is almost 20 years ago, so the context is very different, but the stress is the same — or the confusion is the same, And I think that’s why my question to you is, how are you taking care of yourself? Because I feel like, honestly, I got sick. I think my whole body was very, very sick.”
She continues, “I learned that I had to take care of my health first. But that’s not only your body. That is your soul. That is definitely your mind. So even those things like doubt, question. ‘Cause you can’t, ultimately, depend on anyone else. You have to somehow find it within yourself. You ask people’s opinions, yes of course, but ultimately, we are alone with ourselves.”
Jung reveals she had also fallen ill after “Squid Game” and that she had allowed herself a one-week break from work because of it.
She reflects back on what she learned from that period: “In that moment you realize that ‘Oh. Maybe this was too much.’ I think I just try all the time to be me, healthy me, but it’s not going to be easy, and then I’m still going to make mistakes. I’m struggling, but trying.”
“It’s a certain type of output that can be depleting,” Oh says of their line of work. “And now, as I’m deeper into my career, the more time I realize that I have to spend with my creative self: That could be sleeping, that could be walking in the woods, that could be meditating, that could be actually going to class, that could be all those things.”
“Because I realize that part sustains all the — almost the immediacy, the ability to be present.”