“The Walking Dead” actor Steven Yeun spoke with CBR News Editor Kiel Phegley on the floor of Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo about the shamble-away success of the hit zombie television series and how it’s affected Yeun’s life, creator /robert+kirkman">Robert Kirkman and show runner Glen Mazzara’s continuing game of increasing the disgusting factor of the show’s and the resulting involuntary gag factor from one of the show’s stars in the face of the well zombie.
The innate humanity of Yeun’s character, Glenn, is discussed and compared to the more extreme leaning Shane and Rick, as is Yeun’s legit geek-cred as he discusses his need to buy every tie-in for “Infinite Crisis” and talks about exactly how far he’s read in the Image Comics incarnation of “Walking Dead.”
Watch the complete interview and read the full transcript below!
CBR TV: “The Walking Dead” has become this huge show on AMC, there are millions of viewers every week and people seem to follow it, not just comics people. The way I always gauge whether something in the comics world has really crossed over is if my mother sends me a strange text about it. Have you ever had at this point that weird kind of societal crossover, people recognizing you on the street and trying to bite you or something like that?
Steven Yeun: No biting, but yeah it’s pretty crazy. People are very excited about the show. I don’t know that people necessarily recognize where I’m from but they’re like, “That Asian guy looks familiar.” That’s pretty much what it boils down to.
It’s one step further up on the fame ladder.
Oh yeah, it’s really great! It’s like, “That’s a familiar Asian guy.” I’ll live with that for now, it’s good.
One of the things that I think has been really exciting about watching the season two roll out is it seems like Robert Kirkman and Glen Mazzara and the rest of the writers are getting way more interested in finding worse things to do with the zombies. At first it was just like, “Here’s a zombie.” Or “Here’s a pack of zombies.” Now it’s, “Here’s a zombie in a well with his guts spilling out everywhere.” When you guys are actually realizing those ideas and you’re filming them, does seeing that stuff actually — I mean, it looks fairly realistic a lot of this stuff on the thing. Do you guys slapstick and play around before the cameras roll or when you see someone with their guts out is that immediately affecting?
Oh, it’s gross. I hate to throw him under the bus, but Andy [Andrew Lincoln] puked. He puked when he saw the well zombie. Yeah, he puked. I mean, it’s real. Some of the things you walk up — and you do make bits and stuff — but you’re like, “I can’t believe you guys pulled this off.” The first season when I first saw the woman zombie with the lower jaw missing and her tongue just hanging out — how did you even do that? And they are like, “We have so many ideas for later when it’s going to get crazy.” It’s insane.
Your character, Glenn, is one of the characters on the show who is really the human face of the group in a lot of ways I think. Certain people in the cast are driven to, this is the right way to do it, this is not the right way to do it and you always seem to get put in the middle and find some way to split the difference in terms of keeping humanity for the group. What is that like as an actor to say that you have to stand in between all this craziness and relate like, this is how an average person would get this across?
Yeah, it’s great because there’s great writing but on top of that, it’s cool to see two people play out your left and your right right in front of you and all you have to do is take what you think would be the right way to do it. Jon [Bernthal], who plays Shane, did a great job of riding that line of, is he completely insane or is he doing the right thing in a different way? Then, there’s Andy who plays Rick. Is he completely insane or is he completely right? You watch the two, when you see Glenn stand in the middle and take notes from both and choose his own thing. Initially, I think you see him kind of acquiesce to whatever somebody else says to do but with the whole relationship with Maggie, he built up this confidence that she instills in him as well. It becomes a point where he realizes, “I’ve got to listen to myself and make my own decisions.”
So, I’ve been told that before you took this role and before you came on this show that you have a nerdy streak in you as well and followed a lot of this stuff. Is that true? Are you a comics guy or are you a general sci-fi nerd guy or something like that?
What happened was when I graduated, I had never read comics — I read comics as a kid, I never got to collect comics because they’re expensive. I graduated college and I was like, “You know what? This ‘Identity Crisis’ is really good.” So I read the trade paperback for that and my friend was like, “You have to read this.” Worst idea ever because I bought everything. I bought the entire “Infinite Crisis” — every variant, even O.M.A.C. — Come on, that was [mumbling]. It was a fine story, but you didn’t have to buy all of it. I bought every single week — then I started getting into “Ultimates” and I was like, “Okay, this is good.” I bought “Civil War” and all that and I said, “This is too much.” I could see hundreds of dollars going towards every week of just buying comics. I still have them as a reminder to not do this. What’s great is after being a part of this show and knowing Robert and Image, they got some great one-offs. They just throw me some books here and there. I check ’em out and you don’t have to collect issues. You can just read that one and it’s very satisfying, it’s awesome.
How far ahead have you tried to read in “The Walking Dead,” then? Do you try to keep one up on the show’s producer’s with the prison and stuff that the viewers and audience have only teased or do you hold back to see how the writers in the room have envisioned this idea for television?
More the latter. I read up to — gosh, what did I read up to? I read up to the point where they come up to the next society. Actually, no, when they just ran into Abraham. I read to there and I read through where they’re tearing through with their car the sea of zombies and then I stopped because we started filming and I never got back to it because I think it’s been kind of a group consensus that you don’t want the comic to necessarily inform how you’re going to play a character and you don’t want to telegraph things that might not even be there. I think we just work off the script and that’s how we do it.
So we had a guy do a video with us a while ago named James Asmus who started out as an actor and then went into comics and became a comics writer. He and I were discussing how the one thing that’s very similar if you’re writing and doing creative stuff or in publishing is that you’re constantly on the hustle looking for work. It is the defining thing. Obviously right now you guys are on a break between seasons. What else do you have coming up? What are you trying to hustle for right now? Do you have any other projects right now or is it still like, calling and making the things and doing the readings?
I get to do some really cool stuff. In the hiatus, there really isn’t that much time to fit a giant, giant project in but I got to shoot an episode of “NTSF: ST: SUV” which was really fun and actually Lauren got to shoot an episode of “Children’s Hospital” so that was really cool. We kind of tend to do the same things which is kind of amazing. I got to book a voice on the new “Legend of Korra.”
Oh wow, yeah. People are freaking out about that show. Were you an “Avatar” watcher when it was on?
I wasn’t a huge fan but my friends were like, “You’ve got to watch it” and I watched it before I even got that audition and I thought, “This is pretty good.” When the audition came through, I was like, “I want this so bad. So bad.” Luckily I got it and it was a blast. It was so fun, really fun.