Like many other actors who starred in Oscar-worthy, high stakes films, Steve Yeun was also terrified of acting in ‘Minari’. Keep on reading to find out why!
With a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his role in ‘Minari’, Steven Yeun became the first American of Asian descent to bag this achievement. With his eyes on the prize, Yeun had the opportunity to tell stories about how exciting and fulfilling the role was, as is the demand of headlines and fans. It’s not like Steven Yeun got famous overnight. Nonetheless, he is much beloved among fans. However, the actor chose to reveal how daunted he really was while preparing for the film.
- Steven Yeun’s struggles with Minari
- Steven Yeun smashing the white gaze
TRAP OF STEREOTYPES
For those who have not watched the brilliant film ‘Minari’, it is a story about a Korean family of four migrating to the USA in the early 80s to fulfil their American dream. As the events unfold, it is revealed that the American dream is as fragile as a snowflake but relationships and love persist.
In ‘Minari’, Steven Yeun plays the role of Jacob, the head of the family, the father, the husband, the bread earner. As the family settles on a farm in Arkansas, Jacob (Yeun) sought to bring forth produce on the farm and dedicates his time to mowing land and planting crops, much to the wonder of his children but dislike of his wife.
To put it simply, Yeun’s Jacob tries hard to steer the ship as the burden of the family’s prosperity falls on him. Given such a demanding and Asian-centric role, Steven Yeun was apprehensive of falling for stereotypes, as he revealed to “GQ”:
“I was more terrified than I’d been doing any other thing. All these thoughts were racing through my mind, like ‘What do I do?’ ‘Do I play a caricature of our fathers?’ ‘Are people going to want me to play a larger, catchall idea of what a Korean ajusshi is?’”
Steven was stuck with the quintessential image of an Asian father with all its stereotypes and found it immensely difficult to transcend the boundations. However, the problem was not only to challenge how others perceive the character but also the “gaze in (his) mind”.
Gradually, the actor realized that the white gaze everyone talked about has been internalized by people of colour. This was noted by him in the most eloquent manner possible: “We profess that we’re caught in the white American gaze, and that’s true. But we forget that we are also that gaze. That gaze is encoded into us, and the last boss is yourself.”
Given all these hurdles regarding representation and storytelling, how did Steven Yeun figure out his path in ‘Minari’? Let’s find out!
PUNCHING THE WHITE GAZE
‘Minari’ has superbly portrayed the struggles of a Korean migrant family without pandering to the white gaze. It is rooted in the authentic experiences of the characters, especially Jacob.
To rise above the inhibitions while acting in ‘Minari’, Steven Yeun simply began exploring his character Jacob as a person who is at odds with nature and trying to succeed rather than an Asian dad. Therefore, while the film feels like a story of an Asian family, it becomes more than that: it embodies what it means to find and build a home.
The most beautiful incident on set illustrates Steven Yeun’s incredible journey with the film and why he deserves the fame he receives. As narrated by the director of the film, the crew caught Yeun in an intimate moment where he prayed amidst nature while smoking and looking off into the sunset. The crew rolled the camera on Yeun without his knowledge and acquired marvellous footage while the actor was not even acting but deeply immersed in the role.
When asked what he was thinking at the time, Steven revealed that he was thinking about a passage from ‘The Farm’, a poetry book by Wendell Berry. One of the best artists of his generation, Steven Yeun is worthy of his hard-earned success.