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‘Squid Game’ actor got his start on Tampa stages

Madison Middle, Plant High and HCC graduate Geoffrey Giuliano portrays VIP 4 in the series.
Geoffrey Giuliano stars as VIP 4 in "Squid Game." He got his start in acting on Tampa stages.
Geoffrey Giuliano stars as VIP 4 in "Squid Game." He got his start in acting on Tampa stages. [ Courtesy of Geoffrey Giuliano ]
Published Dec. 2, 2021
Updated Dec. 3, 2021

TAMPA — Geoffrey Giuliano has a self-deprecating assessment of his acting career.

This time last year, the “Hollywood establishment was well aware of my work,” the 68-year-old said via Skype from Thailand, his home country for 20 years. “The public, not so much.”

Now, Giuliano laughed, “25 percent of the planet has seen my rear end.”

Well, sort of.

Due to creative editing, viewers know he was naked without seeing too much skin.

And while it’s unclear if a quarter of the global population watched the scene, it is part of the most popular series in Netflix history.

Giuliano stars as VIP 4 in Squid Game, the South Korean series that has logged more than 1.65 billion viewing hours, according to Netflix.

In Squid Game, the VIPs finance a contest that pits the less fortunate against one another for cash prizes in deadly versions of children’s games. VIP 4 might be the most immoral of that immoral lot.

Decades before being cast as an antagonist in the series, Giuliano starred on stage in Tampa.

“I learned everything about acting” in Tampa, he said. “My heart is forever invested in Tampa.”

Born in New York, Giuliano was 12 when he moved with his parents to Tampa. He graduated from Madison Middle School, Plant High School and Hillsborough Community College.

“When I was 15, leaning against my bedroom wall, I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to visit as many foreign countries as I can. Hopefully, there’ll be some books on the shelf, and if I’m lucky, maybe some movies,’” he said. “I remember that very clearly. All of those things have come to fruition.”

Geoffrey Giuliano (left) in 1967 performing in a Tampa production of 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.'
Geoffrey Giuliano (left) in 1967 performing in a Tampa production of 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.' [ Times (1967) ]

He got his start in acting as a teenager with the Tampa Community Theater, a company that has since folded.

Giuliano, “as the young collector, brought instant charm and humor” to the theater company’s rendition of Streetcar Named Desire, says a 1968 Tampa Tribune review.

Starring as Lord Macbeth, he created “some very strong dramatic moments” and a “rather strong” character, reads the Tribune’s review of Macbeth in 1975.

The son of a plumber, Giuliano said his family invested everything in him.

Other mothers watched play rehearsals, he said, but his never did.

“She had holes in her shoes and didn’t want to embarrass me,” he said.

Still, those who knew Giuliano back then said he carried himself like a star.

“He was someone who owned every room he walked into,” said Brian Justo, who performed with Giuliano in HCC productions and now owns Bay Stage Lighting. “He wanted to be an actor and was determined to be a success.”

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Added Marvin Kirschman, a retired HCC theater professor, “He was a dynamic character who gave every play a lot of energy. He could do anything on stage.”

Related: Tampa teen stars in a Disney Christmas movie

Giuliano moved to New York in the late 1970s and, by the 1980s, acting became his secondary creative outlet.

Instead, he focused on writing, specializing in history books about The Beatles. He has published 20 such books, including John Lennon, My Brother, which was co-authored by the singer’s sister, and The Beatles: A Celebration, both of which news archives say were international bestsellers.

Giuliano said he has lived in England, Canada, Japan, Cambodia, India and Laos. He settled in Thailand, where he is raising his 14-year-old son.

“I resist buying a house predicated on the fact that would then anchor me to some particular area,” he said. “I enjoy traveling to ever increasingly exotic locales.”

He broke into the film industry in 2005. Past roles, according to IMDB.com, include Captain Li in Mysterious Island starring Patrick Stewart and The Scorpion King 3, both of which filmed in Thailand.

“My career as an actor is such that I do a film, I’ve done 28 so far,” including Squid Game, “and it’s just good enough to get me on another film,” Giuliano said.

In early 2020, Squid Game producers cast Giuliano based upon his performance as the character Hong Kong Boss in the South Korean zombie flick Peninsula. They wanted an American actor who had worked previously in South Korea, where Squid Game was being shot, he said.

Related: St. Petersburg teen stars in ‘The Kid Who Only Hit Homers,’ based on beloved book

He almost missed the big break.

Giuliano and his son took a two-week trip to India in March 2020. While there, international flights were canceled to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“I brought $2,000 with me,” he said. “I didn’t bring credit cards because I was only going for two weeks. We couldn’t leave for months. We had to eat and live as beggars.”

Their plight was followed by media outlets in India and Thailand.

“Actor Geoffrey Giuliano is stranded in India and needs help” reads a May 2020 headline on the Republic World website based out of India.

“US actor and Thai son struggling to survive virus ordeal in India as they wait to fly home to life in Thailand,” says a headline on the Thai Examiner’s website, also from May 2020.

They boarded a humanitarian flight in October 2020.

“When we got home, my son tried to take off his jeans,” Giuliano said. “They disintegrated.”

Two months later, he was traveling again, this time to South Korea to film Squid Game.

“I had no idea it would become what it has become,” he said. “Nobody had any notion that any of this would happen.”

But he does have an opinion on why the series has been a hit.

“We live in a dystopian world, a 1984 Orwellian drama wherein there’s something out there that if we breathe it in, we may die,” Giuliano said. “There’s global warming ... there’s a move towards authoritarian politics ... And if there were no COVID, there would be no Squid. Through some sort of reflective psychological traumatic mindset, we are now riveted to look at this thing almost like a car crash.”

As for what’s next, Giuliano has written and narrated an audiobook titled Surviving Squid Game, I Am Vip4. It will be released Dec. 10.

And he hopes this fame leads to more films and series.

“I’ve been asked to do a perpetual, eternal, nonstop comic con tour of the planet, which I embark on in January,” he said. “There’s fan clubs for VIP 4 … So, all this is happening around me. What has not happened? I haven’t been offered any roles in movies. But, of course, they will.”