Speaking on a PGA Awards panel Saturday morning (via Deadline), the “West Side Story” director praised the South Korean show and applauded Netflix for taking a chance on a series without any known stars. Spielberg said that the show’s success makes it more feasible for films and television shows to cast unknown actors and still draw massive audiences.
“’Squid Game’ comes along and changes the math entirely for all of us,” Spielberg said, while pointing to Netflix co-CEO and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos. “Thank you, Ted.”
When “Squid Game” dropped on Netflix last year, it was a swift success, to put it mildly. The show quickly became Netflix’s most watched series, being viewed for over 1.2 billion hours in its first month. The second most popular Netflix show during that time, “Bridgerton,” was watched for just over 600 million hours in the same time frame. (Both figures are reported by Netflix and thus unverified.) The series also proved that subtitles do not necessarily limit the commercial potential for foreign shows, and it prompted Netflix to massively increase its spending on original content in South Korea.
Spielberg was inspired by the fact that “Squid Game” accomplished as much as it has without any American movie stars and hopes that it will give filmmakers more freedom with their casting choices moving forward. “A long time ago, it was domestic stars that brought the audience into movies,” he said. “Today, it’s interesting, unknown people [who] can star in entire miniseries, can be in movies.”
Spielberg certainly has reason to be happy about Hollywood embracing unknown actors, as his critically acclaimed “West Side Story” remake cast Rachel Zegler in the iconic role of Maria. It was Zegler’s first ever feature film role, and her strong performance anchored a film that many believe is Spielberg’s best work in years. But even that was made possible in part by the presence of a bankable star like Ansel Elgort appearing opposite her.
Spielberg acknowledged as much during the panel. “They do need an anchor,” he said. “If there’s an anchor they’re familiar with, you can surround them with lesser known faces.”