Korean Kontext host Chad 0’Carroll recently had the chance to speak with actor Steven Yeun, who plays Glenn on AMC’s The Walking Dead. The interview took a look into Steven’s growing career, his influences and inspirations, and his experiences as a Korean-American actor in the American entertainment world, among other things.
To hear the full interview, please check out the Korean Kontext’s podcast page.
1. Did you have any role models when you were starting out as an actor? Perhaps Korean-American actors?
SY: I don’t know if I had any direct Korean-American role models. I definitely look up to everyone that came into this before me; they had a tough, tough road. John Cho was doing really well when I was starting out. I think for me, my influences were more like people who were good at what they were doing. I really looked up to Steve Carell. I was also really set on Barry Pepper becoming a really good influence of mine, but it was more along the way of how he navigated through Hollywood. I don’t think that many people know who he is, but he’s really talented.
2. Do you think that over the years the perception of Korean or Asian actors has changed in the United States?
SY: I think it’s slowly changing. I think there are roles out there that help to change that perception. I’m very fortunate to playing something that isn’t stereotypical. I don’t know if that is going to be a hard changing trend, but these are small steps that are making big waves and hopefully five, ten years from now, we won’t be having many conversations about if Asian-Americans can make it in this industry or not.
3. Being as Koreans are very proud when there’s a Korean actor in a TV show or movie, how do you feel about sometimes being characterized first and foremost as a Korean actor?
SY: I guess that is something that is definitely there. I don’t know if people have been outwardly referring to me being Korean as an actor. In terms of Korea and how they perceived this, it’s really great. When I was there, there was a lot of love, a lot of really kind words, and people were just really kind to me, so I can’t be more thankful. It’s great to have a job in America, it’s great to do something that I love, and then it’s also great to make people proud that somebody of their own culture has been in a fortunate position.
4. If you were given the chance, would you like to star in a Korean movie or TV show sometime in the future? And if so, who would you like to play alongside you?
SY: I don’t know if I would be good at doing television in Korea. My Korean is okay, but my pronunciation is obviously American. I would say, if I could do films, that would be amazing. But, I definitely want to make sure that if I do star in a film, that it’s not based on the fact that I have some sort of steam coming from America. Rather that it’s that I fit that role and that I can do a good job. Son Kang-ho is one of my heroes over there. That guy is such a chameleon. He’s so dedicated in the moment. If I could play anything with him, that would be so awesome.
5. Do you have any advice or feedback to give to aspiring young actors?
SY: I’m definitely not the authority on this and I’m definitely very lucky to be where I am. But, I think that if I’ve learned one thing it’s that, definitely, self awareness is really key. I think that’s something that people don’t really talk about. That just means, know yourself well, know what you’re able to do, know what you’re not as good at, and be humble about the fact that you can learn something at all times. It’s not going to be an easy road. Also, put yourself out there. I think one of the problems that a lot of people run into is that Asian-Americans sometimes try to pit themselves up against other Asian-Americans, and that doesn’t matter. There will be instances in which you’ll have to be better than this one other Asian-American guy, but, why not try and be better than everyone else? Everyone that looks your type, everyone who is a scrawny kid, everyone who is a big bulking dude, everyone that’s a tall, handsome man. Just be good. Not just among Asian-Americans, but, be good for everyone. I think that is something that’s very important that people tend to overlook.
Photo from NRK P3’s photo stream on flickr Creative Commons.