7 Nov 2021

From begging in India to Squid Game stardom

From Sunday Morning, 11:40 am on 7 November 2021

It would be an understatement to say Geoffrey Giuliano's life has changed dramatically over the last 18 months. 

The 68-year-old Bangkok-based American actor had reached a low ebb during the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020.

Bangkok-based Squid Game star Geoffrey Giuliano.

Bangkok-based Squid Game star Geoffrey Giuliano. Photo: Geoffrey Giuliano

Giuliano and his 12-year-old son were stranded in Jaipur (without any money) when India promptly shut its airports.

For six months, the self-described "trouble magnet" and his son were forced to beg for accommodation and survive on donated food.

But then the Netflix TV show Squid Game came along...

Giuliano, who is also an author, artist and radio personality, admits his role in Squid Game rescued him from "absolute, total obscurity".

He plays the character VIP #4 in the hit Netflix series, which is set to become the network's most-streamed debut series of all time.

Now the whole world seems to know who he is. 

Giuliano, who happens to have written more books about The Beatles than anyone else on the planet, joins Jim Mora to discuss the experience of filming the internet's favourite show and what it has done for his previously flagging career. 

“My theory of business, show business life, is you pick up as many darts as you can hold, flinging them in the general direction of the board and something will stick."

Giuliano's trip to India was intended as a two-week visit with his son, he says.

“I have always been involved with Indian culture. And I wanted to take my son to India, where I had been going since the ‘90s to understand something about Indian culture, philosophy, religion and art.

“So we live in Bangkok. And it was just a four-hour ride to Delhi. We got on the plane, we went there. And I took $2,000 with me because we're going to be gone for two weeks, I thought, well, that's plenty of money for two weeks.

“I didn't bring any credit cards, because a lot of times in India, you can't use credit cards, especially where we were going in a rural area.”

And then the airports shut.

“With no notice whatsoever, and we were trapped there for six months. In the end the $2,000 ran out in two weeks, as I predicted, and we had no money for six months.”

Giuliano and his son were eventually airlifted out of India.

“We were poverty-stricken. We were literally in lines with beggars. You know, we're all beggars at the gates of God. So that's okay.

“We were there with the beautiful beggars and we had to live like them.

“So my son saw India. If that was the endgame of my son seeing India, he saw India for sure.”

Prior to Squid Game, Giuliano had gone unnoticed in 28 films, he says.

“My family noticed me, and the industry noticed me to the extent that they would offer me another film. But I never had any kind of public adulation until now.”

A role in another Netflix production - the action-thriller Peninsula Train to Busan - brought him to the attention of Squid Game’s producers.

“I play what I always play - a hoodlum. So, I had been there for that and done very well, people were very happy with that. And so, they do what they do in show business, they called me back.”

Giuliano's character in Squid Game has particularly resonated with audiences, he says.

“Of the principal cast, I'm the only one you can talk to, go and try to talk to the others. They did one gig on Jimmy Fallon's Tonight Show.

“You know, it wasn't fun. It wasn't you know … they're a little stiff, in my opinion.

“Anyway, God bless them, they've done a lot for me. So, you know, there's an old saying. How do you make an actor complain? Give them a job.

“So, I'm the only one you can talk to. That's what I'm trying to say.”

He has never watched the programme, though.

“It's not something I would watch … one of the things I guess people like, and also disdain about me, is I'm honest. I don’t care about Squid Game. I don’t watch it. I would never watch it. Because I'm too busy to watch anything.”

Yet Giuliano is happy with the financial opportunities it's given him.

“There's a Chinese actress called Bai Ling who was in a movie called The Crow.

“Like 25, 30 years ago …. she's still on these Comic-Con tours. And my daughter's great friends with her, and she says she makes about $300,000 a year on Comic-Con.

“So I've gotten myself an agent in London, and I'm going to do a nonstop forever tour of Comic-Cons because as I said to you earlier if you want Squid Game, you can only come to me because I'm the only one who's ever going to promote it.”