Jung Ho-yeon Is Ready to Take Names

With an Emmy nomination and a role in Alfonso Cuarón’s new thriller, the Squid Game star charges forward in Hollywood.

Photographs by Sirui Ma
Styled by Antoni Jankowski

Ho-yeon as Arya Stark from ‘Game of Thrones.’ Ho-yeon wears look by Costume Studio.

For W’s third annual TV Portfolio, we asked 21 sought-after names in television to pay homage to their favorite small screen characters by stepping into their shoes.

Since Squid Game premiered on Netflix in September 2021, Jung Ho-yeon (also known as Hoyeon Jung) has found herself in a whole new stratosphere of fame (Google her name, and you can take your pick from the cornucopia of profiles, news stories, and Q&As chronicling her astronomical rise in celebrity). With her riveting performance as the stoic competitor Kang Sae-byeok on the Korean survival drama, the 28-year-old former model not only captivated audiences, but she also landed both a SAG and a Critics Choice Award, as well as a coveted brand ambassadorship for Louis Vuitton. Now, Ho-yeon is nominated for her first Emmy for best supporting actress. (Squid Game itself garnered a total of 14 Emmy nods and made history as the first foreign-language series to be nominated for outstanding drama.)

Next up, the Seoul-native will star alongside Cate Blanchett and Kevin Kline in Alfonso Cuarón’s upcoming Apple TV+ series, Disclaimer. “At the beginning, I was thinking, Oh, I have to prepare perfectly, because these are legendary people who know better than me,” she says of her insecurity about joining the veteran cast. “I do my best, and in the end, I just let them work around me, believe them, and [remain] flexible. It’s like acting school.”

As for Squid Game’s second season, which Netflix confirmed in June, it remains to be seen whether or not Ho-yeon will return in some capacity (series creator Hwang Dong-hyuk has suggested that she could come back as Sae-byeok’s twin sister). In the meantime, the Seoul native is just happy for any opportunity to continue honing her craft. “I’m still learning a lot,” she says. Here, the breakout star discusses the pressure she puts on herself and how she channels the fierce, main character energy of Game of Thrones’s Arya Stark.

You were already a household name as a supermodel in Korea before Squid Game came out. Do you find that there is a difference between your Korean and American fans?

That is something I’ve never thought about. It’s just my perspective, but maybe Korean fans, we have this high-standard point of view as an audience. Our movie fans have very high expectations. I guess they are more critical of me because they think that I just started; I just did one job. So they think that I need to be working hard on the acting side and show more of my ability. They also worry. At the beginning, they were just proud of me. They supported me, but now I think they think I have too much pressure on my shoulders. [They’re wondering] what my next project’s going to be. And actually, I thought that too—my mindset is very similar. I just have to keep trying, because my acting career isn’t going to be only for two or three years, and done. I want to keep working.

Do you feel that you have a lot of pressure on your shoulders?

When any kind of big change happens—even if it’s a good change—people start to fear the situation. I felt that way, because it was so big and so quick. With this whole success and the expectations of people, sometimes it makes me feel like I’m overworking, you know what I’m saying? Like, trying too hard or I have to prove that I’m a good actor, I’m talented. So I’m trying to release those thoughts going on in my head, like: How are people going to react?

Hoyeon as Arya Stark from ‘Game of Thrones.’ Hoyeon wears look by Costume Studio.

What lessons have you taken from your Squid Game experience and applied to getting into character for Disclaimer?

Squid Game was quite a while ago—almost two years. But my acting process very much starts from me. While I’m preparing my characters, I find many similarities already in me with them. At the beginning, I can’t understand why they act like this, why they say these lines, those kinds of things. But if I go deeper, I find that element of humanity. I think, When I’m in a situation similar to Sae-byeok or this character, what would I do? I try to build up my character’s life—I just have to keep concentrating on that. When I started acting, I would never, ever have imagined that I would meet Alfonso Cuarón and Cate Blanchett and Kevin Kline. So I’m going to enjoy it with all my heart. If I’m not enjoying this moment, I’m going to regret it all of my life.

Do you have a dream role you would love to play?

This is so difficult, because there are so many. If it’s gonna be action, I really want a Kill Bill kind of vibe: very stylish but violent, cutting heads off, that kind of thing. And if it’s going to be romance, I want it to be very realistic. I really liked Licorice Pizza, the Paul Thomas Anderson movie. The relationship between those two was so awkward but so cute. So something that’s not a fantasy or perfect love. It’s more realistic, silly love, that we have all been through. Like, you know, you want to be cool in front of this cute boy, but you always mess up.

Hoyeon as Arya Stark from ‘Game of Thrones.’ Hoyeon wears look by Costume Studio.

You’ve had a long relationship with Louis Vuitton and attended the Gilded Glamour-themed Met Gala with creative director Nicolas Ghesquière last spring. How did you decide upon your look?

At the beginning, Louis Vuitton said they wanted to dress every ambassador in looks from previous collections. So we got to choose some from the archive. I had Googled “Gilded Glamour,” because [old-world] New York culture is very new to me. I saw “corset” pop up a lot in the descriptions of the Gilded Age in New York, so I was looking for something similar to a corset.

Hoyeon as Arya Stark from ‘Game of Thrones.’ Hoyeon wears look by Costume Studio.

Corsets are also big on Game of Thrones. When did you first start watching the series?

I started quite late. What I liked about it was they have so many seasons. I started when, I think, season 7 came out. At that time, I was in New York. I didn’t have anything scheduled for almost a week, so I was just staying at home. I didn’t want to go out. I was so lazy. And then I started Game of Thrones, and even though I watched the whole day, still there were lots of episodes to see. I really like that the story always betrays the audience. They never show us what we want to see. And there are so many badass women characters. I chose Arya Stark because I liked her whole journey, especially when she goes out to find her own life. She finds everything herself; she always makes her own decisions. And I like the fact that she can fight like a professional. That’s a woman who, pretty much, I want to be.

Do you feel like you already are that way, or is it something you strive to be in the future?

Half and half. I think I end up just doing whatever I want to do. But I take a lot of time to make a decision, and in the beginning, I followed so many other people’s opinions. I was just, like, confused, lost—but in the end, I choose what I want to do.

Ho-yeon as Arya Stark from ‘Game of Thrones.’ Hoyeon wears Ralph Lauren top and sword via Costume Studio.

Did you happen to meet Maisie Williams, who played Arya Stark, at the Met Gala?

No! She was there?! I met Sophie [Turner], though.

Oh, you did? How was that?

Sophie was nice. I didn’t say to her, “I watch Game of Thrones and I’m a huge fan!” because I didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable. It was more friendly, not a little silly fan, nerdy vibe. I was trying to be cool!

Hair by Dayaruci, makeup by Naoko Scintu, photography assistant Elliott Farquharson, styling assistant Oliwia Jancerowicz.