Oscar Actors: Yeun, Steven (Minari)–Background, Career, Awards

Steven Yeun (born Yeun Sang-yeop; December 21, 1983) is a Korean-American actor. He is best known for his roles as Glenn Rhee in the television series The Walking Dead (2010–2016) and Ben in the film Burning (2018). The latter earned him critical acclaim and accolades, including the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor.

He starred in Minari (2020), which earned him critical acclaim and an Academy nomination for Best Actor, thus becoming the first Asian-American actor to receive this honor.

He also became the first Asian-American actor to be nominated at the Screen Actors Guild for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role.

Yeun has appeared in the films I Origins (2014), Okja (2017), Mayhem (2017), and Sorry to Bother You (2018), and he voiced main characters in television series such as Voltron: Legendary Defender (2016–2018), Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters (2017–2018), Final Space (2018–present), 3Below: Tales of Arcadia (2018–2019), Tuca & Bertie (2019), and Wizards: Tales of Arcadia (2020).

South Korean

Yeun was born in Seoul, South Korea, to Je and Jun Yeun. His father was an architect in South Korea before moving his family in 1988 to Regina, Saskatchewan. The family later moved to Taylor, Michigan and then to Troy, Michigan, where Steven lived until he graduated from Troy High School in 2001.

Growing up, his family spoke Korean in the home. Yeun was raised in a Christian household. Yeun’s parents began calling him “Steven” after meeting a doctor by that name. His parents owned beauty-supply stores in Detroit.

Yeun received a BA degree in psychology with a concentration in neuroscience from Kalamazoo College in 2005. At Kalamazoo, he met Jordan Klepper through Klepper’s sister and later followed him to Chicago to join The Second City.

Yeun’s interest in acting came during his freshman year at Kalamazoo, when he watched the college’s improv group, Monkapult. He auditioned for Monkapult, but was initially rejected before successfully joining the group during his sophomore year. Yeun revealed to his parents that he planned to pursue an improv career in Chicago instead of enrolling in law school or medical school. His parents were unhappy with the decision, but supported him nonetheless and gave him two years to pursue acting.

Yeun moved to Chicago in 2005, living in the city’s Lincoln Square with his brother. Shortly after graduation, he joined Stir Friday Night, a sketch comedy group composed of Asian-American members. Other alumni of the group include Danny Pudi from Community. He joined The Second City in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles in October 2009.

Yeun’s biggest role to date is the starring role of Glenn Rhee on The Walking Dead, an AMC TV horror drama based on the comic book series of the same name. The series began in 2010, and it involves a group of characters who fight to survive in a violent apocalyptic world infested with flesh-eating zombies.

The Walking Dead became the highest-rated series in cable television history, and seasons three through six of the show garnered the most 18 to 49-year-old viewers of any cable or broadcast television series. The series has received mostly positive reviews from professional television critics. Yeun left the show in 2016 after his character was killed off in the season 7 premiere.

In March 2016, Yeun was cast in Joe Lynch’s action horror film Mayhem, which was released in theaters on November 10, 2017.

In April 2016, Yeun was cast in Bong Joon-ho’s action-adventure film Okja. The film competed for the Palme d’Or in the main competition at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. It was released on Netflix on June 28, 2017.

Yeun also provided the voice of Bo in 2017’s The Star.

Yeun then co-starred in Boots Riley’s dark comedy Sorry to Bother You alongside Lakeith Stanfield, Armie Hammer, and Tessa Thompson, which was released on July 6, 2018. The film had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2018. The film was on 2019 National Board of Review’s Top Ten Independent Films. It also won Best Screenplay and Best First Feature at the 2019 Independent Spirit Awards.

In late 2018, Yeun played Ben in the South Korean mystery drama, Burning, directed by Lee Chang-dong. The film was first unveiled at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival. His performance in the film was acclaimed, and Yeun won Best Supporting Actor at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, and National Society of Film Critics Awards.

In 2020, Yeun starred in and served as an executive producer for Lee Isaac Chung’s A24 immigrant drama Minari, which also includes Youn Yuh-jung, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Will Patton and Scott Haze among the cast. The film is about a Korean immigrant family becoming farmers in Arkansas; Yeun included his own immigrant experience in his acting. The film had its world premiere and won two top awards at the Sundance Film Fest in January 2020.

He next will co-star alongside Jayne Houdyshell, Richard Jenkins and Amy Schumer, in Stephen Karam’s award-winning one-act play adaptation The Humans.

Yeun has also voice acted in both animated series and films. Some of these roles include Avatar Wan in season 2 of The Legend of Korra, Steve Palchuk in Trollhunters and 3Below, Keith in Voltron: Legendary Defender, Nathan Park/Wingspan in Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters, Little Cato in Final Space, and Speckle in Tuca & Bertie.

It was later revealed that Yeun’s role as Steve Palchuk would continue into Wizards, the third series of the Tales of Arcadia trilogy. The first season of 3Below was released on Netflix on December 21, 2018, and the second and final season on July 12, 2019.

In late 2018, Yeun landed a main role in an episode of Jordan Peele’s revival of The Twilight Zone. He next will voice act in eight-episode animated series Invincible adapting Robert Kirkman’s comic book series. The series will release on Amazon Prime in 2021.

Yeun married photographer Joana Pak on December 3, 2016. They have two children together.

Yeun is an investor in The Bun Shop, a Korean-Mediterranean fusion restaurant in Koreatown, Los Angeles, owned by his younger brother Brian Yeun and business partner James Seok.

Having grown up in Michigan, Yeun is a longtime Detroit Pistons and Detroit Red Wings fan.

Filmography

2009 The Kari Files Chip Greg Grabianski Short film
My Name Is Jerry Chaz Morgan Mead

2010 Carpe Millennium Kevin Eric McCoy Short film
Blowout Sale Customer Timothy Kendall

2014 I Origins Kenny Mike Cahill

2015 Like a French Film Steve Shin Yeon-shick

2017 Okja K Bong Joon-ho
Mayhem Derek Cho Joe Lynch
The Star Bo (voice) Timothy Reckart

2018 Sorry to Bother You Squeeze Boots Riley
Burning Ben Lee Chang-dong

2020 Minari Jacob Yi Lee Isaac Chung Also executive producer

2021 The Humans Richard Stephen Karam Post-production