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What You Don't Know About Steven Yeun

He's almost certainly among the most well-known actors on cable television and perhaps beyond. Steven Yeun blew the gates of opportunity open wide when he landed his role as the do-good pizza delivery boy Glenn Rhee on AMC's "The Walking Dead." Traipsing across a land of desolation and hostility, Glenn left an impact on the human beings he came to call his family throughout his tortured life in the zombie apocalypse. Yeun brought a vibrancy and charisma to the character that helped counterbalance the often brooding and sullen nature of many of the show's other cast members. Glenn's violent exit from the show at the hands of Jeffrey Dean Morgan's maniacal character Negan left many fans unsurprisingly shaken.

Thankfully, "The Walking Dead" is just the tip of the iceberg for Yeun. His star power continues to rise as he takes on some of the most notable projects in pop culture entertainment, including director Jordan Peele's latest horror thriller, "Nope." Recently, he also lent his vocal abilities to the bright-eyed, naïve, but ultra-powerful new hero on the block, the title character of "Invincible," another TV series based on a comic book by "Walking Dead" creator Robert Kirkman. Yeun's talent seems certain to carry him far in the industry, but many fans don't realize that the actor, as an immigrant, has led an interesting life full of rich experiences on his way to stardom. Let's put Steven Yeun under the magnifying glass and examine some lesser-known facts about the actor.

His real name isn't Steven Yeun

This may be a hard pill to swallow, but sometimes actors and entertainers use fake names, stage names, or legally change their names to something more easily identifiable. The Rock wasn't named that at birth by his adoring mother, as much as we'd like to think that's the case. Steven Yeun is no different: he was born in South Korea as Yeun Sang-Yeop on December 21, 1983.

In an episode of "Live with Kelly and Ryan," Yeun clarified that his name is now legally Steven, but that this wasn't always the case. When his parents immigrated from South Korea, they renamed their son based on the change in culture. In a humorous retelling of the event, Yeun explained that they simply asked a doctor what his name was. When he replied with the name Steven, they then turned around and bestowed that name on their son. If they were angling for their boy to become a doctor himself, they almost succeeded: he was preparing to go to medical school, according to Interview. The call of performing, however, was simply too great — Yeun was clearly an entertainer at heart.

Despite his horror cred, he's afraid of ghosts

After six seasons (plus one additional episode) on AMC's "The Walking Dead," Steven Yeun has seen it all and was no stranger to gore on the set of the show. Not only did the dead return to eat the living, but they were also disgusting ghouls in a constant state of decay. Yeun's character, Glenn Rhee, has been in some of the most horrifying situations. One particular moment saw the intrepid survivor and his pals dodging zombies that were falling through the ceiling of a store, while one of the shambling undead hung precariously from the ceiling by his own entrails. If that's not an adrenaline-pumping sight that calls for lifelong therapy, who knows what is.

Despite living through the horrors of the apocalypse in all of the worst-case scenarios that the writers of "The Walking Dead" could come up with, Yeun isn't particularly a fan of things that go bump in the night. In fact, he's shared his fear of spectral entities, shadowy spirits, and anything that might fit under the overall category of ghosts. In an interview with CNN, Yeun explained that he actually isn't a big fan of the horror genre in general. But he especially doesn't mess around with the supernatural. He acknowledges that zombies are tangible and can be destroyed, but there's simply nothing that can be done about being haunted by a restless spirit or poltergeist. That logic seems sound.

He is a big fan of improv

Like many of us, Steven Yeun prepared for a career the best way he knew how: higher education. Being a big-time actor was always the dream, but never a sure thing. Yeun attended Kalamazoo College as a young adult. While there, he explored his talents with an improv group. According to The New York Times, Yeun gained a solid interest in acting at this point. He was advised by his family to pursue that career back in South Korea, where success may have been more tangible, but Yeun had other plans in mind. He eventually moved to Chicago where he started engaging in improv full-time for a few years. Yeun later moved to LA, where he auditioned for the role of Glenn Rhee, and the rest is history.

On "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," Yeun remarked that improv provided him with the foundational tools for becoming a dramatic actor. In many ways, the comedy circuit is a bit more demanding, as performers must engage the audience with their own spontaneous wit. But Yeun stated that he always felt free on the improv stage. The idea of becoming anything he wanted to be was the key to his love for performing.

Medical school was once in his future

Most parents long to see their children become successful adults who can thrive amid the chaos of a big bustling world. So it might come as a kick to the gut when their child tells them that they want to pursue acting rather than continue their career trajectory toward medical school. That's exactly what Steven Yeun's parents experienced. After life among his fellow improv comrades at Kalamazoo College and again during his improv stints in Chicago, Steven Yeun knew there was a different calling available to him should he have the desire to pursue it.

Yeun told Interview that he was a psychology major and technically pre-med. "I graduated with a degree in psychology and concentration in neuroscience," he explained. "Really, the plan was for me to go to med school." When he delivered the message to his parents that he had a change of heart regarding his future, they weren't too thrilled. Who can blame them? Professional acting isn't an easy industry to break into. However, they still supported their son and suggested that he head to LA to pursue the dream, just to ensure he gave himself every advantage possible.

He's a family man

The life of a Hollywood actor isn't all peaches and gravy. Despite affording lavish lifestyles, most actors can attest that the work puts a strain on their everyday social and family lives. After all, a lot of traveling is required in order to make promotional appearances or film on location. There's a reason why Hollywood couples often struggle to keep their relationships alive.

Despite all that, Steven Yeun is actually a family man. Yeun has discussed, in part, his dynamic with his parents on Conan. Apparently, his mother and father greatly support him in his acting endeavors even if his mother wished that he'd been a girl. The actor is also married to Joanna Pak, a photographer with connections in the film industry. She is related to Lee Isaac Chung, the director of "Minari." Yeun landed a role in that film and became an Oscar nominee for Best Lead Actor. 

Yeun and Pak have two children. Their first, Jude Malcolm, was born in 2017 on St. Patrick's Day. They also have a daughter who was born in 2019. However, the couple has not to date disclosed her name. Like most high-profile entertainers, they aim to keep their family life private.

Yeun's first voice acting role was in the video game Crysis

Steven Yeun's acting experience stretches across multiple mediums. Video game fans may be intrigued to learn that Yeun's career began in that industry. Crytek's ultra-popular first-person shooter "Crysis" hit PCs everywhere in 2007 and was considered an absolute powerhouse. The game depicts special operatives who don high tech suits capable of superhuman feats. These operatives infiltrate islands that have been captured by North Korean forces in an effort to evacuate American archaeologists who have stumbled upon a life-altering secret.

For the time, "Crysis" was considered a high-end gaming experience well ahead of its competitors. The game's graphical prowess and fidelity were touted as high points by critics and fans. Yeun played a role in this genre-defining experience when he lent his vocal talents to the project. Being of South Korean heritage, he voiced Korean soldiers that dotted the landscape and proved to be obstacles for the player. He also worked on the expansion to the title called "Crysis: Warhead," again providing voices for the hostile element of the game. This experience was the first acting credit of Yeun's career.

He once briefly appeared on The Big Bang Theory

Everyone has to get their start somewhere. After beginning his career with voice work, Steven Yeun's first foray in onscreen acting came a little later on an ultra-popular sitcom. Yeun played an unfortunate soul named Sebastian in the early days of "The Big Bang Theory," garnering only a mere moment of screen time in the episode "Staircase Implementation." Despite his limited role, it was a rather crucial set-up for the life that Leonard Hofstadter was about to live as he settled in with his newest roommate in Pasadena, California.

As Leonard makes his way into the apartment building, he runs into the young man played by Yeun who is seemingly moving out of the complex and carrying his own belongings. When Yeun's character realizes that Leonard is moving into the vacant room upstairs he ominously warns him to leave. Clearly, Sheldon has wreaked his own brand of terror on poor Sebastian through his inane peculiarities and quirks. Only Sebastian has the good sense to leave. Leonard, on the other hand, will endure and form an odd friendship that will ultimately be the cornerstone of the series. Let's be honest: Yeun's Sebastian actually had to pack up and leave so that he could change his name, take a job in Georgia as a pizza delivery boy and begin crushing skulls once the zombie apocalypse went into full swing. See? It's all connected.

He is a bit of a musician

Coming of age in a strange new country, Steven Yeun found solace and interest in music. The actor told GQ of the day his father bought him a pricey acoustic guitar from Guitar Center. From that point on, Yeun went on to become a band leader at his church. After unlocking his potential with a guitar, he also garnered a fondness for singing. He performed a cover of "Drive" by Incubus at his church talent show that landed him the crown of that competition.

The head of the Kalamazoo College theater department, Professor Ed Menta, shared with the Detroit Free Press just how magnetic Yeun was as a performer during his time at that institution. Menta stated, "One of my nicest memories of Steven is, in senior year, every student, no matter what their major, has to do a senior project, and his project had to do with a love of music and his faith." Menta continued, "He absolutely packed the auditorium, because he was so popular on campus. He's a great guitarist and musician." It only takes a quick search of YouTube to find some of Yeun's work as a vocalist. Quick, someone give the man a record deal!

He has worked with the Oscar-winning director of Parasite

Director Bong Joon-ho flew under the radar of mainstream American audiences for years, until the release of the Oscar-winning film "Parasite." This South Korean film, which won Best Picture, Best International Feature and Best Director, was both a thriller and drama that came layered with a hefty commentary on class and the social hierarchy. This landmark film put Bong Joon-ho on the map from a global perspective, making him one of the top filmmakers in the world. 

Just two years before the release of "Parasite," Joon-ho directed another film for Netflix entitled "Okja," in which Steven Yeun costarred with Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Lily Collins, and others. The film follows the life of a "super" pig that is specifically bred to be far more resourceful than the average swine. Okja is the name of the pig that the film focuses on alongside Mija, a little girl who develops a close relationship with the animal. When the corporation behind Okja's development comes to take the pig away, Mija pursues Okja's captors. Yeun plays the role of K, a member of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an animal rights group that eventually helps Mija. K is a linguist for the group, serving as a go-between translator for Mia and the ALF in this unclassifiable adventure.

He's a first-generation immigrant from South Korea

It's no secret that Steven Yeun is of South Korean descent. But his immersion in all things American might fool most into believing he was born stateside. That, of course, is absolutely not the case. He was actually born in Seoul, Korea. Yeun told Yahoo Movies that he and his family immigrated to the West when he was only four years old. His family first settled in Canada, in the town of Regina, Saskatchewan, but eventually made their way down to Detroit, Michigan.

Upon arriving in Canada, Yeun didn't know any English. After he was placed in yet another school once the family moved to Michigan, Yeun naturally struggled; most young children have issues with moving to an entirely different state, let alone a completely new country. Yeun said that the first English words that he learned were "don't cry." That was simply a result of hearing people say that to him all the time at school. It's a sad but simultaneously humorous thought that Yeun can apparently joke about now (via The Late Show with Stephen Colbert). His experience as an immigrant later informed his performance in the film "Minari."

Yeun became an idol for Asian audiences

Steven Yeun's run on "The Walking Dead" as the courageous Glenn Rhee helped redefine Asian characters in American media. Often, characters of differing ethnicities have been portrayed in American films and television shows with stereotypes attached. Nuanced Asian characters have rarely had their time in the spotlight without being completely detached from the casual "token" Asian caricatures that often plague entertainment. 

Yet since the early days of "The Walking Dead," Asian fans have been vocal across the internet about their fondness for Steven Yeun and his portrayal of Glenn Rhee on one of the most popular series to ever hit cable television. One Asian blogger (Ruby Ronin) applauded the showrunners and "Walking Dead" creator Robert Kirkman for developing an Asian character who stood shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the major players in the show. Glenn crashed through barriers that have often pigeonholed Asian characters by sticking them in casually stereotypical roles. 

Glenn was simply a pizza delivery boy who fell for the farmer's daughter (further normalizing interracial romances onscreen as well) during the end of the world, becoming for a time the heart and soul of "The Walking Dead." He was the embodiment of humanity surviving and refusing to devolve into the monstrosities that walked the land — and we're not just referring to zombies. As "The Walking Dead" comes to a close after its long run on the air, Yeun's role in the series remains one that fans won't soon forget.