After living 200 lives, Oh Young-soo is just doing what he wants

Actor Oh Young-soo poses during an interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, on Dec. 6 in Daehangno, central Seoul. [KWON HYUK-JAE]

“Squid Game” actor Oh Young-soo is returning to the theater stage. The 77-year-old veteran actor will play the role of Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud in the play “Freud's Last Session,” which starts Jan. 7, 2022 at TOM Theater’s Hall 1 in Daehangno, central Seoul.

This is Oh’s first appearance in a play since December 2019. The actor started his career in 1963 as a member of a theater troupe and has been mainly active in plays, so this two-year hiatus has been his longest break from the stage. But during the hiatus, he earned global fame for his role as Oh Il-nam in the hit Netflix Korea series “Squid Game” (2021).

“After ‘Squid Game’ became a hit, I felt like I was losing control,” Oh said during an interview on Monday with the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, in Daehangno.

“That’s when I was offered a role in ‘Freud's Last Session.’ I thought I had to put my focus back on plays again, so I accepted the offer.”

Oh seemed to have already moved on from the excitement of “Squid Game” becoming an international success. He commutes every day to the Daehangno practice room from his home in Seongnam, Gyeonggi — a three-hour round trip — and memorizes his lines on the subway.

Oh started his acting career in 1963. [KWON HYUK-JAE]

“I have a massive amount of lines,” he said. “There are so many abstract and symbolic terms, so unless I fully concentrate on memorizing and understanding what they mean, I won’t be able to deliver them properly. This play feels like a new test for me, even at this age.”

While Oh’s eyes were full of determination, the actor who has been working for five decades also expressed excitement.

“Freud's Last Session” is Oh’s first work since “Squid Game.”

“My attitude has changed,” the actor said. “I used to try to do something grand on the stage, but now I’m simply thinking, ‘Let’s be exactly who I am.’”

“Freud's Last Session” was written by American playwright Mark St. Germain in 2010. Set during World War II, the play is a duodrama centering around Freud and British author C.S. Lewis’s debate on God and religion. Oh and veteran actor Shin-goo will alternate the role of Freud, while actors Lee Sang-yoon and Jeon Park-chan have been cast as Lewis.

Oh emphasized the spirit of kkanbu — a Korean term which roughly translates to “friend” and has been popularized by his character in “Squid Game” mentioning it.

“Between kkanbu, there is no distinction of ‘mine’ or ‘yours,’ and there’s no winner or loser,” he said. “Such kkanbu spirit, which unites us as one, is what we really need in today’s age of polarization and division. After watching this play, the audience will leave with the realization that at the end of the day, Freud and Lewis are not that different.”

Oh played the role of Oh Il-nam in Netflix Korea's worldwide hit series ″Squid Game″ (2021). [NETFLIX]

Apart from starring in a few films and TV series, Oh has mainly stuck to the theater stage. He said he dislikes appearing in commercials unless they have a touching message.

“Perhaps if I were in my 50s, I would’ve wanted to get out in the world and make everyone know who I am,” he said. “But I don’t have much longer to live, so I don’t want to deviate from the pure passion I’ve been pursuing all my life, which is plays [...] For most of my life, I’ve had nothing. I think that’s why I’m used to staying loyal to the theater stage.”

Oh said the greatest crisis in his life was three years ago when he fell seriously ill due to acute pneumonia and was hospitalized for 20 days.

“'This is how I will die,’ I thought,” he said. “The moment I thought I was about to die, I questioned if wealth has any meaning. After my recovery, I started asking myself how I can live my life valuably.

Oh has appeared in more than 200 works. [KWON HYUK-JAE]

“Standing on the stage still gives me energy,” he said. “I felt such moments of energy while I was filming ‘Squid Game,’ during scenes in which Il-nam confronts Gi-hun [played by actor Lee Jung-jae] for tricking him, or questions what he should do to have fun before he dies.

“When an actor feels energetic, the viewers and audience can feel it too. I used to feel catharsis on the stage when I poured out words I couldn’t say in real life, but the way I act now is like talking to the audience.”

Oh has appeared in more than 200 works over the span of his career, which led him to the conclusion: Just do what you want.

“What I realized after living over 200 lives [through my roles] is that we should all just do what we want to do, and with confidence. What matters most is the confidence to do so.”