Christian Lagahit always wanted to be an actor.
Before taking on the role of Player 276 in the hit Netflix K-drama Squid Game, Christian has always been drawn to performing in front of people. In his youth, he joined several acting and theater clubs. He even tried out his luck in local showbiz by auditioning for the first season of Pinoy Big Brother.
It wasn’t until 2016 where he grabbed the opportunity to be an actor in South Korea. At that time, he readily tagged along with a group of people at a K-drama filming site because he always wanted to see a Korean celebrity in the flesh.
Christian has come a long way since then. Even so, he still believes that there will be opportunities to develop his skills. Not only as an actor but as a Filipino performer in the international scene.
In an interview with PhilSTAR L!fe, Christian couldn’t hide his excitement to share his story—a far cry from his competitive personality in Squid Game. It was a huge honor to interview Christian since I’ve been obsessed with K-dramas as a kid. To my surprise, it felt like catching up with an old friend. He asked me if I ate my dinner and how I was doing in the Philippines during the pandemic.
Christian also opened up about his experiences as an actor in South Korea. The interview seamlessly moved with ease, as he made me feel like I’m witnessing his journey in person. “Sorry po, madaldal po talaga ako,” he joked. I said it’s alright, saying I’m “madaldal” too.
‘You’re asking me if I want to be an actor?’
When he was still living in the Philippines, Christian didn’t want to be a superstar. He simply wanted to perform in front of people. In his youth, he joined extracurricular activities like acting, monologues, declamations, and oratorical performances. “When I was still young, I dreamed to be an actor. Mahilig akong mag-perform, gusto kong mag-entertain, at mahilig akong makarinig ng palakpak ng ibang tao,” he recalled.
Like many dreamers, Christian chased his passion. He tried out his luck to be in showbiz, where he even auditioned to be a housemate on the first season of Pinoy Big Brother. But he wasn’t lucky.
In 2014, Christian was invited by his mom to live in South Korea. He followed her advice but was hit with homesickness. He wanted “something different” but he felt like he “didn’t belong.” The actor eventually flew back home but he couldn’t find “what I was looking for.” After moments of pondering, he decided to settle in South Korea for good one year later.
K-drama and K-pop stars are considered mythical beings in South Korea. Christian, a fan of the Korean entertainment industry himself, always wanted to see a South Korean celebrity in the flesh. So, he readily tagged along with his friend who happens to be a background actor.
“Naging tagabantay ako ng bags nila. May isang staff na dumaan and may sinasabi sa’kin in Korean na hindi ko maintindihan. Akala ko pinapaalis niya ako. Ako naman, inexplain ko na nagbabantay lang ako ng gamit. After a few minutes, n’ung napansin niyang hindi kami magkaintindihan, dumating ‘yung direktor. Literal na sinigawan niya ako.”
Being unable to understand Korean made things more difficult for Christian. Luckily, a Filipina staff explained to the production team that he wasn’t an actor. However, the director wasn’t finished.
“Sabi niya, papasukin sa set. Sumunod ako. Then, pinagpalit ako ng damit and pinapunta ako sa set. May mga short instructions na binigay sa akin sa set and pagkatapos ng scene na ‘yun, may isang Korean manager na lumapit sa akin and sinabi, ‘Hey, do you want to be an actor?’”
Christian thought that it was a joke. He shared, “Sabi ko, ‘Seryoso ka? You’re asking me if I want to be an actor? I’m not sure if you want to see this face on K-dramas. Tapos sabi ng manager, ‘I can make a portfolio for you.’”
Less than two weeks after his unexpected acting stint, Christian was called to audition for several K-dramas and films. Little did he know, he would soon be trying out for bigger roles.
It’s common knowledge among K-pop and K-drama fans that it’s tough to work in the Korean entertainment industry. For a Filipino like Christian, he had to work his way through background roles to bring Southeast Asian representation to Korean television.
I dreamed to be an actor. Mahilig akong mag-perform, gusto kong mag-entertain, at mahilig akong makarinig ng palakpak ng ibang tao.
It wasn’t until 2017 when he first landed his first speaking role as a hostage-taker in The Negotiation starring Son Ye-jin and Hyun Bin. Playing the part of a “holdaper” may sound mundane to others but for Christian, it was the time where he felt that he was already an actor.
On the other hand, it was the 2019 K-drama Miss Lee that holds a “special place in my heart.” It was the time where Christian starred in his first recurring role as Kisan and he even appeared on the series’ poster.
Since then, Christian has appeared in K-dramas like Crash Landing On You, Itaewon Class, and Bad Police, among others.
Player 276 is no ‘small role’
Christian first auditioned for the character of Abdul Ali (Player 199), a role that went to Indian actor Anupam Tripathi.
“Noong 2019, in-approach ‘yung management ko for the role of Ali. From then, I guess ‘yun yung naging rason kung bakit ako na-handpick ng production para mag-audition. Kailangan ko raw galingan kasi hindi ito open audition, iilan lang ang mga na-handpick for this character,” he said. “Unfortunately, hindi ako natanggap kasi meron talaga silang specific na hinahanap for the role.”
Just when he thought his journey in Squid Game is over, he was tapped to be Player 276, a Southeast Asian migrant worker.
One of Christian’s notable appearances was the adrenaline-inducing “Tug of War” in episodes four and five. He was seen with fellow actors Lee Jung-jae, Park Hae-soo, Jung Ho-yeon, Tripathi, and Oh Young-soo as they fought for their lives against a group of muscular opponents.
“Sobrang physically challenging niya, three days halos namin ‘yun nai-shoot. Hindi kasi siya basta-bastang acting lang. Talagang pina-experience sa amin ng director and assistant director ‘yung talagang scenarios sa isang tug of war. Kailangan mo talagang mag-exert ng effort. hindi ka pwede basta-bastang tumayo doon. Kung nakita niyo rin ‘yung scene ng pagbagsak namin, challenging din ‘yun kasi hindi siya ‘yung basta-bastang aerial shot,” he shared.
Even so, Christian said it was “a dream come true” to work alongside his idols Jung-jae and Hae-soo. He didn’t have any speaking lines in the series, but he enjoyed a lot of behind-the-scenes moments with his costars.
One of these moments involves Hae-soo, which he fondly calls “sunbaenim,” who noticed him being “awkward” on his first few days on set. “Siya ‘yung nagsabi sa’kin ng ‘always remember that there’s no such thing as small roles.’ Kumbaga sabi niya, ‘you’re one of us and you have to be with us.’”
Many of us can only dream of receiving inspiring advice from our idols. I pointed out to Christian that it must have been exhilarating to hear those words from someone you admire in the industry.
Christian smiled in agreement, saying: “For someone as good as him na masabihan ka ng gan’un, sobrang iba sa feeling. I don’t get those kinds of words on a daily basis, pati sa ibang actors na nakasalamuha ko. Siguro, at that time, ‘yun ang nag-encourage sa akin na kahit wala akong speaking lines, I have to deliver.”
While it seemed like Squid Game was one of his most defining roles to date, he hopes there would be more opportunities where he can challenge himself as an actor.
So, what’s next for him? He didn’t give the exact details but he revealed that he’s “working on an upcoming K-drama and film” which will be out soon.