The Korean-American actor rose to stardom in 2010 when he was cast as Glenn Rhee in AMC’s The Walking Dead. While viewers were devastated when his character was killed off during the season 7 premiere in 2016, Yeun thought Glenn’s story had come to a “natural end.”
Though he’s “still really close with all the costars,” Yeun told IndieWire in October 2018 that he doesn’t see himself exploring more of The Walking Dead universe any time soon.
“Sometimes people pitch to me, ‘Dude, wouldn’t it be so cool if you did a Glenn origin movie?'” he said at the time. “And I’m like, ‘No, that’d be horrible.’ That was so long ago. I was another person. I don’t think I could go back there. That person was inherently trapped in whatever people thought he was. I fed into it and I believed in it, too — until I got out.”
After leaving the apocalyptic series, Yeun appeared in Boots Riley‘s Sorry to Bother You and Lee Chang-dong‘s Burning, both of which debuted in 2018. He’s also lent his voice to video games and animated shows, including Netflix’s Tuca & Bertie.
Though it’s not his first role, Minari is certainly his most impactful. The semi-autobiographical film follows a Korean-American family as they settle down in rural Arkansas in the 1980s. Yeun, who portrays the movie’s father figure, connected to the project on a deep level.
“I wanted to touch upon something so delicate and sensitive as my culture, or even my own personal history, to some degree,” he told Variety in December 2020, reflecting on his family’s immigration story. “I wanted to make sure that I was doing the honor of not romanticizing it and not infantilizing it.”
His performance struck a chord with both audiences and critics, earning him a handful of historic nominations for the 2021 awards season. Yeun is the first Asian-American actor to be up for two prestigious honors: the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role and the Oscar for Best Actor. In February, Minari took home the Golden Globe trophy for Best Foreign Language Film.
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