Send to

Lee Jung-jae says criticism of casting in 'The Acolyte' is 'natural'

June 5, 2024 - 18:31 By Lee Yoon-seo
A scene from "The Acolyte," starring Lee Jung-jae (Disney+)

"Squid Game" star Lee Jung-jae said any criticism regarding the casting of actors from diverse backgrounds in the latest "Star Wars" series "The Acolyte" is "natural," considering the immense popularity of the franchise.

The 8-part series tells the story of Osha (played by Amandla Stenberg), who is accused of a string of murders targeting Jedi -- the practitioners of the Force's energies. The series is set a century before the events of "Star Wars: Episode I -- The Phantom Menace," the first film in the "Star Wars" prequel trilogy.

In the series, Lee portrays one of the lead roles, Master Sol, a respected Jedi master who accompanies Osha in discovering the suspect behind the murders.

Some online commenters have criticized the casting for "The Acolyte," which features Stenberg, a Black Danish-American female protagonist, as well as Filipino-Canadian Manny Jacinto and Jamaican-British-American Jodie Turner-Smith, in other major roles. While many praise the diverse cast, some who criticize the series argue that Disney has placed political correctness ahead of its storylines by casting actors from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Asked how he thought about such backlash, Lee said he deemed such criticism "natural," given fans' loyalty to the "Star Wars" franchise.

"I naturally think that such criticism could exist," said Lee, during a press conference held in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Wednesday.

"Because there are fans who have passionately supported 'Star Wars' for a long time. When I took part in a Star Wars Day event in London, (the attendance) exceeded my expectations 50-fold. A massive turnout of fans graced the event and the level of enthusiasm was among the highest I've ever witnessed at a gathering. So, it's understandable that individuals might express their own thoughts in that manner," said Lee.

"'The Acolyte' is set against various backgrounds. The show even features aliens. I think the director intended to have more diverse characters in 'The Acolyte' by casting me," he said.

Lee said Master Sol embodies a more humane persona compared to other Jedis.

"When thinking about how to develop the character, rather than acting out a stereotypical Jedi, I wanted to have (a Jedi) that expressed more humane emotions," said Lee.

"So, when feeling fear, I actively expressed that fear, and I tried to be more expressive in portraying emotions. I believed it would establish tone that was distinct from the Jedi characters we had seen thus far," he said.

The most challenging aspect of acting as Master Sol was delivering the lines in English, Lee recalled.

"The biggest challenge in filming 'The Acolyte' was having to act in English. Even when acting in Korean, if you get the accent or intonation wrong, the delivery of the lines can suffer. So, having to perform all the lines in English required a lot of attention," he said.

The actor worked with four English teachers for the role.

"We trained in advance via Zoom, and once I got to London where the filming took place, we continued training both in person and over Zoom. Thankfully, I was able to start filming after gaining some familiarity with English," Lee said.

"I would like to express my gratitude to the director and the staff for their consideration of my limited proficiency in English. This thoughtful approach facilitated the filming process," Lee added.

The first two episodes of "The Acolyte" are now available on Disney+. A new episode will be released on Disney+ every Wednesday.

Lee Jung-jae speaks during a press conference held in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Wednesday. (Newsis)