‘Nope’ star Steven Yeun on touching ‘the unknown’ when it comes to picking roles in Hollywood

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Actor Steven Yeun sat down with NextShark in an exclusive interview to talk about his latest role as showman Ricky “Jupe” Park in the film “Nope,” as well as breaking the limits of what it means to be an Asian American in Hollywood.

While discussing the recently released film, Yeun tells fans to “expect a really fun ride. It’s going to be thrilling, it’s going to be scary, it’s going to be fun.”

The Korean American actor first gained widespread popularity for playing Glenn Rhee in AMC’s hit zombie show “The Walking Dead” from 2010 to 2016. He then took on several other memorable roles, including an animal activist in “Parasite” director Bong Joon-ho’s 2017 film “Okja” and a revenge-driven employee in the 2017 film “Mayhem.”

In 2020, he starred in and executive produced “Minari,” which led to him becoming the first Asian American to receive a Best Actor nomination at the Oscars.

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He states that Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Jordan Peele (2017’s “Get Out” and 2019’s “Us”) was the “catalyst” that influenced him to jump aboard his latest project.

“I gravitate toward people with original voices,” Yeun says. “[Peele is] to me a really wonderful artist. He has a really specific point of view, and for me as an actor, the best directors in my opinion are those that are wonderful leaders. People who can direct you in the direction they want you to go.”

Yeun adds that he likes choosing roles that “touch new things” and “the unknown."

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Peele returns with “Nope,” a film he wrote, co-produced and directed. Committed to taking on challenges, he decided to make a "great American UFO story" with the perfect balance of horror and science fiction.

British actor Daniel Kaluuya, who took on the lead role in “Get Out,” returns to the big screen in another starring role. He is joined by American actor Keke Palmer, who plays his sister, and Filipino American actor Brandon Perea, who plays a tech expert set on helping the siblings capture a UFO on camera after strange things happen on their farm.

In a separate interview with NextShark, Perea shares that as a huge fan of Yeun’s character from “The Walking Dead,” he was thrilled to work on a project with the actor, adding with a laugh that he “literally stopped watching [‘The Walking Dead’] when Glenn died.”

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As seen in the film’s trailer, Yeun is dressed in a flashy, red cowboy outfit, speaking out to an audience in proper showman style.

“What if I told you that today, you’ll leave here, different,” he says. “I’m talking to you.”

In the film, Yeun’s character Jupe uses the mysterious phenomenon taking place at Haywood Ranch as an opportunity to return to his days of fame – the former child celebrity was exploited and then discarded by Hollywood.

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When asked about his own time in Hollywood, Yeun explains that he is at a point where he is trying to “skirt [the] definition” of what it means to be an Asian American actor.

“For me, I’m Asian and I’m Asian American. That is completely all of me,” he shares. “There’s no part of me that is not that. And I think sometimes the label itself is not actually for us, but it’s for the outside view of us. And I’m not into putting any more energy towards how other people want to define me.”

He emphasizes that while he is Asian American, this does not fully define all of him.

“I’m only here to define who I am, and I think sometimes that clashes with the way in which the community might want to be seen, but I wonder if it starts with seeing ourselves and pushing past a lot of boundaries that get placed upon us.”

“For me, [the] Asian American aspect of things is everything I do. I can’t escape that — nor do I want to, I embrace that — and in doing so, I even want to break through the limitations of that definition. So, that’s kind of where I stand on that,” Yeun concludes.

“Nope” premiered in theaters nationwide on Friday.