The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun does promo, is adorable

Into the Deep End With The Walking Dead's Steven Yeun

The dashing young star of AMC’s The Walking Dead talks about digging into his character for the upcoming third season and reveals how the more pressure he feels—from fans, from community, from himself—the deeper he goes.

photographs by YANN BEAN

While on location in Atlanta, Ga., where he’s shooting the much-anticipated third season of the The Walking Dead on AMC, Steven Yeun confesses via phone, “I sometimes can’t check my hat at the door.”

That can be a frightening admission, given that the hit zombie drama series, which returns Oct. 14, and the graphic novel upon which it is based center on a band of survivors of the zombie-apocalypse and the subsequent horrors they encounter.

“Sometimes I’ll bring it home, and you find yourself like, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen daylight in a week because you’re going out to work and you come home and you don’t even want to go outside and you’re just, like, depressed,” Yeun says. And, to make matters worse, the actor happens to be on a huge Korean cinema kick. “And actually that doesn’t help me unwind,” he says. “Man, Korean cinema is so messed up. I love it, it’s amazing, but it’s like so guttural and terrifying.”

Much-deserved credit certainly goes to comic book creator and television series executive producer Robert Kirkman for crafting a multidimensional character. He explains his inspiration for Glenn via email: “My oldest friend is from Atlanta and is Korean, so I thought of him when I was choosing Glenn’s ethnicity. It’s important to me to try and accurately portray the world as it is, i.e., not all white, like some comics do. That said, I wanted Glenn to be resourceful and strong, a character Rick (played by Andrew Lincoln) could lean on when he needed to … not ‘the Asian guy.’”

However, Kirkman is quick to praise Yeun for breathing life into Glenn. “Steven has really brought a tremendous amount of charm to Glenn,” he says. “Some people may find this surprising, but Steven is hilarious, he’s a brilliant comedic actor, and his outtakes on the show are by far the best. Giving Glenn that undertone really has brought a lot out of that character and made him even more endearing than he is in the comic.”

§ The Walking Dead fans

“They love our show and they spread it around, and whenever we meet anyone, they’re like, ‘Your show, I can’t wait for it to come back, like, it’s so amazing. Our whole family gets together and sits down and watches it.’ And then you question whether they should have kids or not because they’re probably showing it to small children. If that’s the case, if you’re getting everybody together to watch it, all we want to do is make this really good. And you know the third season is kind of [when] to fine-tune and make better what we’ve already established.”

§ The fans in Korea (a whole ’nother level of insanity)

“I went to Korea last year after we wrapped and I came back with full-blown anxiety—I’m not even joking, my stomach shut down. … [The show’s] popular in Korea and I’m Korean, and so it just becomes this storm. It’s nuts, it’s really nuts, like fans waiting for you outside your hotel. For me it’s a constant battle of, like, I don’t know if I deserve all this. And I think that’s where I was finding a lot of anxiety because, you know, when someone treats you like you’re Brad Pitt, but you’re not even close to Brad Pitt, it’s weird, you know what I mean? You’re just like, ‘No, no, no, you don’t understand. Just a year ago, I was eating tuna out of a can.’”

§ Family and friends

He states that one main motivation to perform well is to get his friends and family “off my back—not in a bad way, but those are my harshest critics. I think my friends and family have been really good at not letting me get ahead of myself and kind of keep me in check.”
And then there is, of course, the pressure of being an Asian American actor when roles with some heft are few and far between and the backlash from a community starved for humanizing portrayals can be harsh. Early in his career, Yeun turned down an acting gig in Chicago because, as he put it, “they wanted me to play Long Duk Dong.” But, for actors that do play stereotypes, Yeun reserves his judgment.

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On Conan
Promos The Walking Dead, talks about being a fan of the comics, why he's single, and the traumatic Halloween experience responsible for his current disdain of the holiday.

How 'Walking Dead' Star Steven Yeun Grows With His Character

The tropes of the horror genre—sluts and minorities to the front of the to-be-killed line! Movie stars to safety until the climax!—have long been turned inside out on the hit AMC zombie drama “The Walking Dead.” An alpha male was unexpectedly killed at the end of Season 2, while an ensemble of talented yet equally expendable unknowns and character actors makes the next onscreen death impossible to predict. So when the bodies are counted, who will emerge from the splattered blood and brains as a star in the making?

Meet Steven Yeun.

Yeun plays Glenn, a former pizza delivery boy struggling to survive with the few remaining living humans in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by flesh-eating zombies. Whether displaying fearless intensity—or simply fear—when fending off the undead “walkers,” or vulnerability in the show’s quieter dramatic moments, Yeun has become a fan favorite whose role has seen satisfying growth and development (including the introduction of a love interest) over the course of two seasons. And following the deaths and disappearances of several major characters at the end of Season 2, Glenn is poised to be an even more prominent part of the team in the 16-episode third season, which premiered Oct. 14.

“He’s growing up and he’s being put in situations where he’s forced to do so, and it’s been really fun to play,” says Yeun. “What’s been great for me is how perfectly my journey as an actor has also kind of mirrored the journey of Glenn. I think Glenn in the beginning was me at 19—with a chip on his shoulder, wanting to prove himself, but always being suppressed by outside forces.”

Although Yeun has appeared in episodes of shows such as “The Big Bang Theory,” “The Walking Dead” is his first significant onscreen role. Glenn’s increasing confidence and self-awareness matches the actor’s professional maturation. He has learned to love the spotlight but admits that at first he was just trying not to be in the way.

“I think in the first season, I made really safe choices but it fit for Glenn, which was so lucky for me,” Yeun says. “I was exactly what he was—the newbie who was kind of like, ‘Uh, I think I know what to do, but I don’t know what to do.’ ”

That’s partly because the inexperienced actor was cast in “The Walking Dead” less than a year after relocating to L.A. to start his career. “It was actually more like five months,” corrects Yeun, laughing sheepishly. “That’s why when people ask, ‘How do you break into acting?,’ I’m like, ‘I have no idea.’ ”

After graduating from Kalamazoo College—where he took acting classes and joined an improv team while earning a psychology degree—Yeun went to Chicago to study improv and joined the Second City touring company. He moved to L.A. in October 2009, got a job waiting tables, and booked a few TV commercials. A promising audition for an ABC pilot went nowhere, but that left Yeun free to meet with writer-director Frank Darabont a month later to discuss a new show called “The Walking Dead,” based on the comic book of the same name.

Even if he only rarely ad-libs a line, Yeun says that improv’s central “Yes, and…” approach is crucial when working with a scene partner—or imagining a herd of hungry zombies. As he gains comfort in his craft, he’s also found friends and mentors on set such as Jeff DeMunn—a veteran character actor who played Dale for two seasons, then became one of the show’s latest casualties—to help him navigate the business of being an actor; DeMunn even gave him tips on managing his finances.

While ABC never picked up that pilot, Yeun is now one of the longest-lasting characters on a TV show where the average life expectancy is even more unpredictable than on “Lost” or “Boardwalk Empire.”

The decreasing population of core characters isn’t lost on Yeun. “As you lose some leaders, you have to fill in the gaps,” he says. “What’s been really cool is you grow as your character also grows in the hierarchy of the group.”

Google+ Hangout with LA Times' Patrick Day
The whole conversation lasts about 15 minutes and mostly revolves around TWD.

Soup of The Walking Dead, Pt. 2

Thank you.

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