The protagonist of the Netflix megahit Squid Game is Seong Gi-hun, an indebted gambler and absentee father who screams, sweats, and strains his way through the very intense experience of watching hundreds of people get straight-up killed—while trying to avoid being killed, and retain some sense of ethics and loyalty, to boot. It’s a juicy role for the Korean actor Lee Jung-jae. But we wondered: What was it like to voice Gi-hun in English for the many people who watched Squid Game with the dubbing option turned on? So we asked the voice actor Greg Chun, a veteran of video games and anime who spoke to Slate from his studio in Los Angeles. Our conversation—on the hardest Squid Game scene to dub, the controversy around the Korean-to-English translation, and his time working on Call of Duty—has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Rebecca Onion: What was your reaction when you first saw the Squid Game script?
Greg Chun: It was really a case of getting to know the character, like, “Oh, I like this guy, this guy’s fun.” You know, he’s kind of down-and-out, he’s not the most upstanding guy, he’s gambling, he’s taking money from his mom, whatever. And then when the show takes that turn in Episode 1, things got very real for me. I just realized, I’m going to be in for a ride with this thing.
So when you auditioned for it, you just had the script for the first episode?
Well, usually [voice-over] auditions are just a piece of a script. Usually your audition is maybe 10 lines. So at that point, I had no idea what was going to happen. It was just like, what? It was very shocking and very, very thrilling.
So what was the process of recording Squid Game like? Were you ever in the room with the other people who were doing the voice acting, the dubbing acting?
Most of the time in voice-over you’re by yourself. The exceptions to that are situations where there might be an ensemble cast recording, like animation. For instance, on the Barbie show for Netflix, I play Barbie’s dad. And for that, before the pandemic, we would all be in the same room.
For Squid Game, you had to do a lot of screaming. It seems pretty intense. I’m assuming, probably, from doing this for video games, you’ve had some experience trying to, like, gin up intensity—
Yeah. You’re a hundred percent on the right track there. As a video game actor, I mean, I’ve been screaming my head off in the booth by myself for years now.
Do you ever get physically exhausted?
Yeah, it takes it out of you. Your whole body, man. Like, with Call of Duty, you have to do all the shouting—cover me, reloading, grenade, blah, blah, blah. But then you have to die in like 20 different ways. And all of them are excruciating. You have to be lit on fire, you have to be electrocuted, you have to have your arm blown off. So I had experience with that kind of thing.
I actually think the most vocally stressful thing I had to do for Squid Game was the horse racing [gambling] scenes. That got me more tired and thrashed than any of the other stuff that was going on. I screamed myself raw for those.
Amid all of the Squid Game buzz, there’s been controversy around the dubbing and the subtitles. Take, for instance, this viral TikTok from comedian Youngmi Mayer about English translations that she felt misrepresented the meaning of certain Korean lines. While you were working on this show, did you have a sense of how the English translation was different from the original Korean?
I work on a good number of Korean shows, but my actual Korean is still fairly basic and not really of much use when it comes to the more nuanced aspects of the language. But I can imagine whoever is doing the translation has got a crazy difficult job. I mean, there are words in Korean, and any language for that matter, for which there isn’t really a direct translation into English. And I would think that trying to come up with a translation for that word that somehow has the same number of syllables and a similar vowel shape when spoken so that it somehow matches up with the on-camera actor’s performance is damn near impossible.
Did you guys have a sense as you were doing this, the voice acting work on Squid Game, that it was going to be big?
No. No. I’ve worked on plenty of shows where I’m like, this show is amazing. And you just never know what’s going to catch fire.
[But] Squid Game is more than just sort of like a horror, crazy, adrenaline-rush bloodfest. There are real issues about social class and greed, and the value of money in general, that are very thought-provoking in this series.
How many hours did this job take you altogether?
Between 40 and 50. To work in this business, you do have to be somewhat efficient.
What was your favorite moment to voice act in Squid Game?
There is one moment I absolutely loved. It’s when I meet Deok-su in the prison for the first time. He’s having a scene with this one girl and I kind of intervene. When Deok-su is, like, harassing the pickpocketer and then I come in because she pickpocketed me. He shoves me or something and I go, “What the hell?” The reason I love that so much is because it’s just so me. That wasn’t acting at all. That’s how I react to things. Like, if I spilled my water all over my booth, I’d be like, what the hell?
Was there any moment that was particularly difficult?
I mean, live-action dubbing is hard. It’s really, really hard. Anime is a little bit more forgiving because the detail of the mouth movements and the facial expressions are not really much of an issue. When you’re trying to actually provide a voice for a real, living, breathing person, that you can see every little tick of their eyebrow, every kind of, you know, slight grin, frown, grimace, and you’re trying to match all of that vocally, there’s a lot to do and pay attention to. You’re doing your vocal performance while watching the actor’s performance.
What makes certain scenes especially tough to voice act?
It depends. Sometimes you may just be talking really fast and the script is scrolling by you on the screen, and you’re trying to keep up with all the words. That can be challenging. Other times it could be a single word that’s extremely challenging because a lot of times when you have fewer words to work with, there’s nothing to hide behind. If you have to say I love you, for one. You have to make that moment real. Which can be harder than a scene where you’re screaming and crying and there’s all sorts of noise.