photographer / Scott Nathan grooming /Cheri Keating @ The Wall Group hair & makeup / Melissa Walsh model / Audra Marie @next shot @ The Crescent Hotel
Korean-born, Michigan-raised Steven Yeun has brought a jolt of humanity to The Walking Dead for the past four seasons. Portraying pizza boy/turned zombie slayer, Glenn Rhee, Yeun has both defined and defied the whole likable ass-kicking Asian archetype with ease. With a background in comedy improv and strong ties to music and writing, he’s found stride in not being your stereotypical Asian-American role model in Hollywood. Without being relegated to nerdy tech expert or martial arts attack dog, Yeun has accumulated tribes of devoted fans just by naturally being a big beating heart amongst a sea of heartless humans and flesh-eating Walkers. Glenn and his group of ragtag survivors have been battling every extreme of madness, despair, and unimaginable tragedy since day one. It’s hard to imagine much levity among these severe circumstances, but Glenn’s high likeability and self-less bravery have provided a bit of lightness amongst the most dire onscreen reality.
On a show where it’s part of your job description to be tight-lipped, it’s a challenge to be hard-pressed questioned (not to mention mid-season), without revealing any trade secrets. So in anticipation of the show’s return, Yeun reveals as much as he can–about the show and his character’s future. Fans can expect even more gore and messed up sh*t to come in the season’s final 8 episodes.
The mid-season finale ended with all hell breaking loose. There’s a lot of speculation about what’s going to happen at this point in the show. Your character Glenn has gone through some interesting things recently, let’s talk about his arc in this season in these final episodes.
SY: Glenn got the short end of the stick. He usually does every year. He got pretty messed up. He got bit by the super [flu] bug that really took a lot of people out. His survivability, humanity, and will to live have been tested. During the time he was sick, Herschel’s will to continue on regardless of whether it puts his own life at risk, really sparks Glenn. I think it helps him to want to continue because it’s not enough to just survive on your own anymore, you have to survive for the others. In that, I think Herschel will live on in the minds of each character.
When you have to connect to a darker place, do you have a blueprint going into that scene, or do you draw from the moment?
It’s a mixture of both. Sometimes you just have to see what you find in that moment, when you sit down and look at what exactly you have to do. At the same time, you read these mini arcs that all these characters go through. One thing I’ve learned is that people don’t say or do things unless it actually means something, whether it is the truth or not. When you look at any tiny action that someone writes, you really have to pour over it and wonder why they are doing or saying that. I do tend to pick apart these motives.
Do you ever get scared in a scene where the Walkers are coming right at you? Does the zombification makeup and realism lend to that fear?
Absolutely! Our makeup department is brilliant and I’m very thankful for them. They all do such an amazing job on everybody’s makeup. To be able to make the Walkers look as realistic as they do is amazing. To make some of us look as sick as we do, actually sickens us just looking at it.
Do you have a particular method you utilize when getting in touch with your character, who’s been in a very sick state for awhile now?
Some things are on purpose, but some things just kind of happen due to your mind and how you control your body. I would purposefully hack a cough, until my throat got really sore, then I’d just hunch over and take on the qualities of being sick. What’s insane is that I had lost weight this season and it wasn’t on purpose, it just happened. Even if I worked out, I somehow still maintained a gaunt frame. My eating habits didn’t change, but I believe when you trick your body for a really long time, your body tries to take on sickness.
You have a degree in Psychology, how has knowing about the human psyche helped your acting abilities?
I think that if I were to say that it does, that would imply that I am smart and a good student and I am neither of those [laughs]. I love psychology, but I think the essence of why I chose that nature, is that I’m curious about people and myself. I am curious in general. Psychology is the one subject where it’s appropriate to analyze yourself and peer into what’s wrong with you. I remember taking an abnormal psychology class, and like a lot of other students, I found myself saying ‘I have every single one of these characteristics.’
At the core of the show, there’s a fundamental examination of humanity and survival. What do you think people connect with most about the show?
I think it’s the continued story of each character’s survival. The story of how humanity continues on even through dire circumstances. All the other things help of course. The FX/gore/genre/zombies, these are all things that interest people right off that bat. I think the show really tries to hit on the nature of humans. What does it take to love? What does it take to exist in a situation when all luxuries of life are thrown out the window?
If you were in a zombie apocalypse and you could have anybody fighting by your side, who would it be?
My brother would be my fist choice. We grew up playing basketball together so I feel like he knows when to pass and not pass the ball. I mean, let’s face it, if there really were a zombie apocalypse our chances would be slim regardless.
Can you say what excites you about this season in terms of its difference from the past three?
I’ve been kind of calling this our beautiful season. The blood and gore can trick you, but Scott Gimple [showrunner] did such an amazing job playing the highs and lows of everything. I think our show can get caught up in the trap of resting on its laurels, which would be heavy on the action and violence. Scott paid more attention to the smaller softer moments that really laid the framework for some very beautiful scenes in this season. I hope that by the end of this season people will look back and think ‘wow this has been intricately and purposefully done.’
Do you feel the Glenn and Maggie romance has added some levity to the show, in terms of those internal moments?
There’s so much in those tiny moments between them. Like the scene where Glenn is relieving Maggie of watch from the guard tower. It’s those moments that make you feel the humanity in the show.
It wasn’t long after you moved to LA from Chicago in 2009 that you were booked on Walking Dead. What was it like for you in those first few months living in LA?
I’ve led a very charmed and blessed life up to this point and I’ve been very fortunate with following my gut. The decision to move to LA wasn’t some kind of agonizing decision nor was it calculated. I just remember it being the New Year and waking up that day and deciding it was time to go. I told everyone I knew I was going to go, so I couldn’t back out. It was this feeling that I had been putting off at least 2 years prior. I wish I could tell you in a more intelligent way, but honestly, it was just my gut.
I hear you like photography and writing. Are you currently working on anything?
I write anything. My background is in Improv, so humor writing is always fun for me. I don’t know if I’m at a point where I can publish or show anybody anything, but it’s there. I have aspirations for writing a script one day. For me I’m trying to figure out who I am as a storyteller and I’m very fortunate that I get to do what I do as an actor so I can continue on that path. As for photography, it’s mostly a hobby. I do wonder if I should put up a gallery of the pictures of compiled. But I don’t know if I’m ready for that either. Maybe it’s be a mid life crisis sort of thing [laughs].
Since it’s the beginning of a new year, what are you most looking forward to in 2014?
I’m really looking forward to getting better in all aspects acting, writing, photography, and as a musician. I’ve been very fortunate and blessed so I feel that it is on me to not waste it or take it for granted. That would be the main goal.
Where do you want to see Glenn in the near future?
I’ve been liking the growth of Glenn and seeing him evolve into a leader. I think now he’s really honing in on himself and what his core principles are. It’ll be fun to see where his compass lies morally. Especially after all the things that he’s been through.
What are three things necessary to your happiness?
Family, honesty and creativity.