Christian Lagahit — the Pinoy actor who took on the role of Player 276 in the hit Netflix series Squid Game — came from humble beginnings.
A proud Waray, he spent most of his childhood in Palo, Leyte until his first year of high school. He had moved to Leyte from his original home in Quezon City at the age of six. His mother, who was working in Manila, had decided to place him under the care of his grandfather because he was a “naughty kid.”
“My lolo basically took care of me when I was young,” he told Rappler in a phone interview from South Korea on Tuesday, October 12.
Despite being mischievous, he consistently topped his class at the Naga-Naga Elementary School. It was in high school, however, where he floundered.
“I was a consistent first honor student from grade one up until grade six, valedictorian. ‘Yun nga lang pagdating ko ng high school, parang ibang mundo (But when I reached high school, it was as if I was in a different world). I was literally one of the poorest in class. It was a challenge,” he said.
“I was a victim of bullying — even my teachers [bullied me],” he added. “I don’t want to create any issue but iba ang naging experience ko pagpasok ko ng high school (my high school experience was not what I was used to).
Christian became a troublemaker in response, and his grandfather was forced to send him to his relatives in Cavite.
“There was a time when I became subversive to my own grandfather. I guess I caught his attention because he brought me to my aunt in Cavite,” he said in a mix of Tagalog and English.
Asked if he still knows how to speak the local language, he said, chuckling: “Maaram pa gihapon miskan guti-ay (I can still speak Waray-Waray).”
From English teacher to K-drama actor
It may appear as though Christian had landed his role on “Squid Game” through pure luck. But the truth is, he worked his way to get to where he is now, bringing in Southeast Asian representation to South Korean television.
Even as a student in the Philippines, Lagahit said he had always been drawn to acting.
“Back when I was still in the Philippines, my aspirations to become an artist have always been there. Then, when I was younger, I used to join a lot of clubs and performed in theater. But yeah, I failed [at these]. So I told myself maybe I’d never have a shot at it,” he said in a mix of Tagalog and English.
Christian went to auditions even when he was still in the Philippines. In fact, he once tried out for the hit ABS-CBN reality show Pinoy Big Brother.
“I even auditioned for PBB (Pinoy Big Brother). Very first batch, ‘yung sina (the one with) Nene Tamayo. College ako nu’n eh. Tumakas talaga ako sa bahay nang madaling araw para lang pumila. Pero hindi tayo pinalad.”
(I was in college. I snuck out of the house early in the morning just to line up. But I wasn’t lucky.)
In 2015, Christian moved to South Korea to become a teacher. While researching online about the culture of his new home, he found a group of Filipinos who frequently served as extras in Korean dramas. Since he had always wanted to see a South Korean celebrity in the flesh, he readily tagged along with the group at a shoot when the opportunity came.
“Pagdating sa set, dahil hindi naman talaga ako kasama, nakaabang lang ako, nakaupo isa isang kanto. In short, taga-bantay ako ng bag nila,” he added.
(When we got to the set, I just sat in the corner because I wasn’t a part of the show. In short, I just watched over my newfound friends’ belongings.)
“Nasigawan pa ako ng director that time. Parang, ‘Ano’ng ginagawa mo diyan? Kanina pa nag-seset. Sino ka ba?’” he continued.
(The director even shouted at me. He asked me what I was doing there, because they had already started setting up some scenes. He was wondering who I was.)
The language barrier made it even more difficult for him to understand what the director was telling him at that time. Then a Filipino woman came to explain.
“After a few minutes ng discussion, sabi ng director sa staff, ‘Kunin mo ‘tong tao, dalhin mo sa loob tapos papagbihisin mo tapos pasamahin mo sa team.’ Tapos pumasok ako. From there, nagulat na lang ako pinagpalit ako tapos sinali ako on the spot.”
(After a few minutes of discussion, the director asked the staff to have me join the team. From there, I was shocked – they asked me to change clothes and join the show on the spot.)
“Hindi ko alam na ‘yung team pala ng mga Pinoy, that time may kasama silang manager na Korean na marunong mag-English, tapos kinausap ako. Sabi, ‘Gusto mo bang mag-artista? Pwede ko bang kunin ang number mo?’ Sabi ko, ’Seryoso? Artista? Sigurado ka ba diyan? Tumawa pa ako,” he said.
(I didn’t know that the Filipino team had a Korean manager with them at that time. He asked if I wanted to become an actor and if I could give him my number. I was like ‘Me? An actor? Are you sure about that?’ I even laughed.)
More than just a background actor
A week after his first stint as an actor, Christian got a call again from the manager, who told him he had what it took to be part of a film. At that time, Christian thought he would simply play the role of a background actor. Little did he know that he would be auditioning for major films.
In 2017, he bagged the role of a hostage-taker in The Negotiation, a film starring Hyun Bin and Son Ye-jin.
Christian’s favorite role to date is Kisan in the 2019 drama Miss Lee. It starred Lee Hye-ri, the actress from the hit South Korean drama Reply 1988.
He said that apart from the exposure, he felt great doing scenes with the stars of the show, who made him feel welcome.
He admitted, however to feeling that non-Koreans were generally treated differently from Korean stars.
“Foreigners are mostly treated as background actors,” he shared in Filipino. “We are also told not to get near the main cast. There are so many restrictions…. It’s not just us Filipinos who experience such treatment but other nationalities as well.”
Despite this, Christian stressed that what matters were the opportunities that came his way. Now that he has a solid portfolio, he gets picked to play roles that require a character of Southeast Asian descent.
Squid Game experience
Christian said his stint on Miss Lee paved the way for him to be considered for the role of Ali on Squid Game. The role eventually went to Anupam Tripathi, who had been his friend since 2016.
Just when he thought his chances to be part of Squid Game was over, his manager called, saying the production team had been looking for him. They wanted him to play the role of Player 276, one of the protagonist’s allies.
Christian spent almost 19 days filming his scenes for the show in the middle of the pandemic.
“Sobrang saya kasi every time na sasabihin nila na magshu-shoot — kasi kasama ko ang mga lead eh — kasama ko na sina Sang-woo. ‘Yun ‘yung masaya na part doon,” he said.
(I was so happy each time a shoot would be announced, because that meant I would spend time with the main cast; I got to shoot scenes with Sang-woo’s [Park Hae-soo’s] team. That was the fun part.)
“Nu’ng una ang akala ko ang makakasama ko lang ang character ni Ali. Pero hindi pala. Kasama namin ang mga veterans, ang mga top-caliber na main stars. So du’n palang, sabi ko, panalo na ako. I think that was the biggest reward na pwede kong makuha,” he added.
(At first, I thought I would only be doing scenes with the character of Ali. But as it turns out, I would be doing scenes with the top-caliber stars. I think that was the biggest reward I could ever get.) – Rappler.com
Lance Lim is a Visayas-based journalist and an awardee of the Aries Rufo Journalism Fellowship.