The Untold Truth Of Steven Yeun

The Untold Truth Of Steven Yeun

03/31/2021

Almost overnight, Steven Yeun became one of the most famous young actors in Hollywood. You probably recognize him as Glenn, from his “seven-year run on The Walking Dead — one of the most popular shows in the history of TV,” according to The New York Times. After his stint on the long-running series, Yeun jumped into film work. And more than just fan favorite performances, Yeun made history in 2021. He starred as the father in Minari, a film “about a Korean immigrant family that takes up farming in rural Arkansas.” For his outstanding performance, Yeun earned a nomination for the Best Actor category at the Oscars. With this nomination, Yeun became the “first-ever Asian American Best Actor nominee” for the prestigious category, Entertainment Weekly reported.

Knowing his dramatic acting skills, Yeun’s path in entertainment started in a completely separate area. And this is one of only a few major changes that are a consistent theme in Yeun’s personal and professional lives. His mix of charm, good looks, and talent is helping to pave the way for more Asian American actors in the future.

Let’s take a look at what you may not know about the breakout star — and don’t worry, there are no zombies to avoid in the untold truth of Steven Yeun.

What is Steven Yeun's secret talent?

Steven Yeun is known for his engaging acting but it’s not the only thing he’s good at. In fact, if Yeun wants a change, he could easily transition to the music industry. That’s because he’s also a gifted guitar player. Early on, Yeun discovered that he enjoyed singing. As he grew older, he expanded his range and even showcased his vocal chops in interviews, including the time he sang an O-Town song a capella for W Magazine. In his teens, Yeun received his first instrument — “a Taylor 710ce with Elixir strings,” the actor told GQ. “I remember the day that my dad bought it for me at Guitar Center,” Yeun said. With his new tool in hand, Yeun became the “band leader of his praise group” through his church.

In college, Yeun continued to hone his craft and show off his talent to others. One of the actor’s professors, Ed Menta, remembered a special moment with the young man. At Yeun’s school, Kalamazoo College in Michigan, all seniors were required to finish a senior project. Yeun’s “project had to do with a love of music and his faith,” his teacher explained to the Detroit Free Press. “He absolutely packed the auditorium, because he was so popular on campus. He’s a great guitarist and musician,” Menta added.

Steven Yeun on losing his religion

According to The New York Times, Steven Yeun spent much of his childhood “in the Korean church.” But since this Korean church was in America, Yeun sometimes felt split between two different worlds. The actor told GQ, “I had my Korean church life and I had my American school life.” Yeun felt “more comfortable in [his] Korean church life,” which led to a disconnect with his “American school” peers. The result? “I just tried to float in the middle so I didn’t have too many friends.” This meant that the young man spent most of time around the church because his best connections were other members of his religious community.

At home, Yeun’s parents raised him in a religious, Christian household. Yeun remembered in an interview for The New York Times that growing up, he “heard a lot of praise music.” He explained that as an adult, he gravitated towards Australian megachurch Hillsong, which “specializes in the whole contemporary praise music thing,” and that engaging with that music “helps [him] get to an emotional place.” But it’s not all positive feelings with his religious experiences. Yeun revealed his complex relationship with the church to GQ. At first, Yeun remembered, “I was in deep and then I went around the circle.” But afterwards, Yeun confessed he “shunned and rejected the church.” After his time away from the community, he circled “back to it with better knowledge and understanding of what it is.”

What does Steven Yeun do in his free time?

In the apocalyptic, zombie-ridden world of The Walking Dead, Steven Yeun’s character didn’t have much time to relax. But he’s the opposite in his real-life, resulting in a varied taste in hobbies and interests. For example, Yeun likes to spend time with his cute little dog. The actor told Interview in 2011 that he and his dog Agnes would go on road trips. His furry best friend is a “small mini black Goldendoodle. That’s a golden retriever-poodle mix.”

When he’s not driving with Agnes, Yeun likes to read in his downtime — anything from collections of stories to “fashion and sports blogs,” per The New York Times. The actor is also intrigued by “street fashion photography, because “there’s something unique to every photo whether the person is getting into a car or riding on a skateboard or bike or just walking down the street.” In addition to being a bookworm, Yeun enjoys watching movies, especially documentaries. He explained that he likes them “because there’s nothing to nitpick or criticize about scenes if they aren’t just right. It’s about honesty and real-life circumstances coming out.”

To stay fit, Yeun picked up boxing to handle the “grueling” demands of filming The Walking Dead. He mentioned “all the running, the heat, the yelling, the crying that we do” on the show took a physical toll.

Steven Yeun isn't a one-trick pony

Though he played Glenn on The Walking Dead for seven years, this wasn’t Steven Yeun’s only gig in Hollywood. If you blinked, you would have missed Yeun’s brief cameo on The Big Bang Theory — a flashback scene with Johnny Galecki’s character, Leonard. Yeun told Interview how he landed the brief scene on the long-running show. When he decided to branch out from live comedy improv, which was his “first step” into the entertainment business, Yeun almost immediately booked “three commercials in one sitting.” Following that, he auditioned for a series in development on ABC, but producers passed on him for that role. Instead, he said “the casting director threw me a small part on The Big Bang Theory.”

According to his IMDb page, Yeun also has several credits for voice work, with stints on the animated series American Dad! and the stop-motion comedy series Robot Chicken. And in a completely opposite role, Yeun didn’t use his voice at all. In an episode of Drunk History, Yeun portrayed Daniel Inouye. This real-life soldier was a WWII hero in “the most decorated unit in the history of the army.” In the clip, Yeun expertly acted out the retelling of the real-life story. All while lip-syncing to a narrator that progressively became more intoxicated.

Coming to America for Steven Yeun

“[Steven] Yeun was born in South Korea in 1983 and moved with his family to the Canadian province of Saskatchewan in 1988,” the Detroit Free Press reported. According to the actor, his dad had taken a “business trip to Minnesota” for his work as an architect. After visiting the state bordering Canada, he reportedly “began looking for an opportunity to emigrate.” Though he was just a boy, Yeun remembered the origin story for the move. “I believe I heard that the ambassador to Regina, Saskatchewan, had come out to Korea and offered really great ways to get over to North America.” This was just the opening the family needed to make the courageous move from one side of the world to another. Yeun, his parents, and his uncle all moved to Canada to begin a new life.

One year later, in 1989, and the family crossed the border to officially live in the United States. Yeun and the others moved to Taylor, just outside of Detroit and right by the border to Canada. The family chose the location because “another relative had a clothing store business.” And that location was randomly selected by Yeun’s uncle. According to The New York Times, “while holding a map of the United States,” he said, “Wherever my spit goes is where we’ll move.” After landing on Michigan, he moved and the rest of the Yeuns, including young Steven, followed.

The interesting story behind Steven Yeun's name

While he spent most of his childhood in Michigan and then later moved to Los Angeles, Yeun still occasionally returns to his country of origin. In one notable trip, he and late night host Conan O’Brien traveled together to Korea. And when the two were in Los Angeles, Yeun showed O’Brien some of his favorite Korean spots around the city, including a spa. With all this time spent traveling the world together, you would think the two guys know each other well. But on Conan, the host confessed an embarrassing moment he had on the flight back from Korea with Yeun. After knowing each other for four years, Yeun finally worked up the courage to tell O’Brien he’d been mispronouncing his last name all along. O’Brien had been adding a soft second-syllable to the family name when in reality, it is pronounced “Yun.”

This isn’t the only comical story with Yeun’s name. His given name is Sang-yeop but his parents decided to change a name for a simple reason. The family “met a doctor and his name was Steven.” Yeun told Conan, “that’s all they needed” to officially change his name.

The life of the young Steven Yeun

Growing up, Steven Yeun lived a rather modest lifestyle. He enjoyed “listen[ing] to alternative music” on the radio and “played sports,” according to the Detroit Free Press. And in an allusion to his future career, the young Yeun enjoyed watching “maybe too much” television. His favorites included the classic sitcoms Friends and M*A*S*H. Yeun also liked to play games. In an interview for GQ, he remembered playing Nintendo and with “X-Men trading cards.” These helped Yeun fit in with “other weird gap-life kids” in school. Looking back, Yeun confessed, “I realized I did a lot of things to look smart.”

After living in Taylor, Mich., Yeun and his family moved to nearby Troy. Yeun attended Troy High School and graduated in 2001, per the Detroit Free Press. He decided to stay in-state for his advanced degree and chose to attend Kalamazoo College. While at school, Yeun studied psychology. This was less a personal choice and more a decision by his parents. Yeun told Interview, “My parents originally wanted me to become a doctor — that’s why I was in school.” He said the dream plan was “for [him] to go to med school.” He finished his studies and “graduated with a degree in psychology and a concentration in neuroscience.”

The funny side of Steven Yeun

While at college taking pre-med courses, Yeun discovered a new passion — sketch comedy. Yeun remembered a specific moment that would open a world of possibilities. He recounted to the Detroit Free Press of going to a comedy show as a freshman. Jordan Klepper, who later became a correspondent on The Daily Show, was the “leading member of the campus improvisational comedy group, Monkapult.” After seeing one of the group’s performances, Yeun remembered thinking, “Holy crap, I definitely want to do this. It looks so fun.” Yeun joined Monkapult and began to develop his comedic timing and acting skills. “For me, the charm of improv is it forces you to live in that scene,” he said. “I can only say that now as someone who’s applied it to a more structural place,” Yeun added.

After graduating, Yeun wanted to go to one of the most famous places for improv, Chicago. After all, comedic heavy-hitters including Amy Poehler and Tina Fey both started out in the city’s improv scene. He spent four years as a member of The Second City, the famous comedy club, before pursuing acting in Hollywood.

Even after becoming a famous dramatic actor, Yeun still uses his comedy chops, including the aforementioned roles on Drunk History and American Dad, as well as an appearance in the sketch comedy series I Think You Should Leave.

How Steven Yeun became Glenn

Some actors spend a lifetime looking for the perfect role. In such a competitive industry, it’s a grind to even get small work. And yet, Steven Yeun couldn’t have asked for a more fortunate start to his acting career. After living in Chicago and moving to Los Angeles, Yeun quickly found success in an audition. While testing to be on a TV sitcom pilot, the decision came “down to him and one other actor,” per the Detroit Free Press. “I remember wanting it so bad and doing the audition and thinking I did such a good job and being really happy about it,” Yeun explained. Unfortunately, after he received the news that the other actor secured the role, Yeun remembered, “I was so bummed.”

Fortunately for Yeun, it only took “a couple of months” before he auditioned for a new series called The Walking Dead. The zombie show’s creator, Frank Darabont, hired Yeun the same week he auditioned. The actor secured his breakthrough role in hardly no time at all. “It’s amazing because if I had booked the ABC sitcom, I would not have been able to even audition for The Walking Dead,” Yeun revealed. And understanding the rarity of his story, the actor explained on The Ellen Show about his quick rise in Hollywood. “I usually try not to tell other colleagues or other people in the industry this, but I’m extremely lucky it was my second audition in LA,” Yeun said. 

Steven Yeun's historic moment

In 2020, the South Korean feature film Parasite made Oscars history. It was the first time in the history of the award ceremony that a non-English-language film took home the prize for Best Picture. One year later, South Korea earned another unprecedented nomination thanks to Steven Yeun. As the star of Minari, also nominated for Best Picture, Yeun and fellow nominee Riz Ahmed made history as “the first two actors of Asian descent to compete for Best Actor in the same year,” according to Entertainment Weekly. Just after securing the prestigious nomination, Yeun described what it felt like to be representing his heritage paving the way for other Asian American actors. “I carry with me my culture and who I am, and if that challenges or breaks through things, that’s wonderful,” he told The New York Times. And he proudly said about working with a mostly Korean American cast, “We all poured our hearts into it.”

On the evening of the announcement, Yeun tried to play it cool and sleep normally. But his friends and family couldn’t contain the excitement and kept blowing up his phone. Eventually, he realized sleep would have to come at a later time. “And I’m still tired,” Yeun admitted to The Times on the morning of his historic nomination. “I apologize, I don’t even know what’s happening right now,” he confessed.

There are direct family ties to Steven Yeun's work

The New York Times describes Steven Yeun’s character in the film Minari as “an immigrant trying to realize his dream of starting a farm in the heartland.” But to Yeun, the film is nearly autobiographical, as his wife is Korean, but she grew up in the heartland of Arkansas. The story of Minari is similar to his in-law’s real life story of working with chickens as their first job in America. “My wife’s father and mother first made their money chicken sexing. And so, they know how to do it. They were really good at it,” Yeun told W Magazine. He’s referring to the practice of telling the gender of a hatchling by eye, via Pacific Standard. Yeun added that he picked up some pointers on the technique while filming, but said it was tough handling the cute chickens and that it was an overall “interesting, intense experience.” The movie’s themes about family played out in real-life too, when Yeun connected with his own parents over the film.

As a result of COVID-19 restrictions, Yeun chose to spend his time with his family. While in quarantine, he said he didn’t work” and “just jumped into family.” In addition to his parent’s Yeun’s family includes his wife Joana Pak and children. The couple first had a son in 2017 and in 2019, welcomed a second child, a baby girl, via People.

How much is Steven Yeun worth?

Steven Yeun’s career credits are relatively short. That’s because he almost immediately landed a long-term gig in Hollywood with The Walking Dead. After seven years on the zombie series and a few other small roles, Yeun continued to pick up big paychecks. And moving forward, the sky’s the limit after earning a Best Actor nominee before he even turned 40. All of this led to Yeun being worth an estimated $4 million in 2021, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

The actor enjoys comfortable living arrangements with his big net worth. He owned a $2.3 million home in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles, which he purchased in 2012. According to Architectural Digest, “the home is a vision of California contemporary. Not to mention, it also checks off every item on a list of trendy decor.” Yeun listed the home in 2016 and likely earned a profit.

In 2020, Yeun “upgraded” and purchased a $3.3 million home in Pasadena, California, Variety reported. In addition to his new residence, Yeun holds property elsewhere in Los Angeles, too. Reportedly, he is a co-owner of a “800-square-foot loft in a converted warehouse building in the trendy Downtown area.”

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