"I did a shitty accent and phoned it, and they still wanted me anyway because that’s how far and few between Asian actors were"
Minari star Steven Yeun has revealed that he was asked to an Asian accent in auditions.
Speaking in Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast, the Korean American actor began by discussing Minari, which was listed as the fourth best film of 2020.
“I was so blown away by the honesty, the truthfulness of the point of view,” Yeun said of the script. “I can only speak from the Asian American immigrant perspective, but usually, when I read scripts, they’re oftentimes caught in the grasp of a gaze from either side, whether it’s the American majority-white gaze of needing to explain itself and its culture to two people.”
Reflecting back on his own acting career, Yeun went on to say that he was inspired by fellow Korean American star John Cho.
“I’d seen John Cho start popping off, and it was really cool to watch him,” Yeun said. “He hadn’t gotten the shine that he deserved at the time, and it took a little bit for him over time. I watched him, and I was like, “Wow!” Here’s a Korean American actor that I’ve never seen before, and he’s on the screen, and it’s pretty incredible.”
“He was the first one not to be objectified or fetishized. He was a new version of what an Asian man is seen as. He was something new and fresh and gave me a roadmap to emulate. I thought it was possible for me.”
The Walking Dead star then recalled his first audition experience, revealing how he was asked to do a stereotypical accent.
“The first audition I had in Chicago was called “Awesome 80s Prom,” which was an immersive improvised show, where you have this John Hughes spectrum of characters like Ferris Bueller,” he said.
“Then you have your “Long Duk Dongs,” and I auditioned with Ferris Bueller’s opening monologue. And they said, “that was good. Can you do that all again in an Asian accent?” And I’ll be honest with you. I knew that I didn’t want to do that. The system had no clue that’s not what I wanted. We were just in a different time.”
“And so I remember I did a shitty accent and phoned it, and they still wanted me anyway because that’s how far and few between Asian actors were. So they call, and they said, “We’d like to hire you.” And I said, “No.” And they got really mad. And I was like, “Oh, that’s not a good first step in this business. I pissed somebody off.””
Looking ahead, Yeun said he can see the growth of Asian representation on screen.
“On a surface level, what’s great about a wide net of Asian representation, especially coming from Asia, is harnessing the power of Asia through masterworks like “Parasite.” You see masterful directors from all over that are auteurs who transcend even the boundaries of their own nations.”
“That is great. Representation at its base is very important. It expands in society, with one another, what someone can look like, and what they can do. We can all look like anything and do anything. We’re coming to understand that.”
However, Yeun added that the Asian community is still battling with the immigrant life.
“What becomes difficult is the immigrant life is the focus for us. It really is its own intrinsic, nuanced experience. It’s caught between two worlds, and it’s because those two worlds are the only ways in which we know how to speak about it. It’s either Asian or American.”
In related news, Minari recently drew controversy after the Golden Globes categorised it as a ‘Foreign Language’ film.