The Walking Dead was an early golden opportunity for Steven Yeun
Steven Yeun was born in Seoul, South Korea, in 1983, and moved with his family to Saskatchewan, Canada, in 1988, before moving again to Taylor, Michigan, and then in-state to Troy, where he spent his teenage years and eventually graduated high school. Although he got a bachelor's degree in psychology from Kalamazoo College in 2005, he discovered a passion for acting in college and ended up moving to Chicago and joining The Second City comedy club, in which he spent four years.
In 2009, Yeun moved to Los Angeles; just a year later, he auditioned for and scored the part of Glenn Rhee on AMC's horror drama series "The Walking Dead." Yeun, who was already a big fan of the eponymous comic book series, turned out to be a perfect fit for Glenn, "The Walking Dead'"s resident quick-witted charmer and supply runner. His effortless likability and enormous sensitivity as a performer helped make Glenn a huge fan favorite from very early on in the show's run, and, as if that weren't enough, "The Walking Dead" turned out to be a greater source of exposure than anyone expected, becoming one of the most-watched cable TV series of all time. As a result, by the time Yeun left the show in 2016, he had been catapulted to mainstream superstardom in the United States and around the world.
Although Glenn Rhee left "The Walking Dead" on Season 7, Steven Yeun's bow on the show was only the beginning of his career. For starters, after breaking out with "TWD" in 2010, Yeun embarked on a fruitful career as a voice actor, beginning with an iconic guest spot as Wan, the first Avatar, on Season 2 of "The Legend of Korra," which was followed by roles on "Voltron: Legendary Defender," "Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia," "Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters," "Final Space," and "Tuca & Bertie," among others. More recently, he also voiced Mark Grayson, the protagonist of Prime Video's hit superhero series "Invincible."
The post-"TWD" period also heralded Steven Yeun's emergence as a movie star, thanks to the iconic supporting roles he snagged in three wildly different auteurist films. In 2017, he played K, one of the intrepid members of the activist group known as Animal Liberation Front, in Bong Joon-ho's sci-fi adventure film "Okja." A year later, he was seen as Squeeze, a coworker of Cash's (Lakeith Stanfield) who becomes a union organizer, in Boots Riley's surreal anti-capitalist comedy "Sorry to Bother You." It was also in 2018 that Yeun had his greatest film role yet, playing mysterious rich playboy Ben in Lee Chang-dong's enormously acclaimed thriller "Burning." For anyone who wasn't yet paying attention, Yeun's brilliant, quietly terrifying performance in the South Korean film showed the depths he was capable of probing as an actor.
By the time he starred in Lee Isaac Chung's "Minari" in 2020, Steven Yeun had already become one of the most famous and beloved Asian American actors of his generation — and one of regrettably few who were able to score central roles in major film and TV projects on a regular basis. When "Minari" premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to across-the-board raves, and then went on to become one of the most acclaimed American films of the year and a powerhouse awards contender, it also fell upon Steven Yeun to buck a shameful long-standing trend and go down in history as the first Asian American actor to be nominated for best actor in the entire history of the Oscars.
As egregious as it was that it took 93 years for someone to achieve that distinction, what stood out most about Yeun's nomination was how deserved it was. "Minari" is a sincere, layered, and altogether heartrending look at one Korean-American family's effort to make ends meet in Arkansas in 1983, and Yeun, in the role of perpetually in-over-his-head clan patriarch Jacob Yi, gives a performance that's every bit as open-hearted and compelling in its clarity as the film itself. Jacob wants desperately to honor his roots and be the best husband and father he can, while also being swayed by the siren's song of the 1980s American dream — and Yeun flawlessly captures the pent-up conflict that rages in the character's soul.