Talking to Steven Yeun is always an enlightening experience. The guy tends to be quite thoughtful and candid when discussing The Walking Dead. Sure, we get into all the stuff you would expect, like what we will see from Glenn in the upcoming season. Yeun has plenty to say about all of that (as evidenced by the headline above). But he also enjoys veering the conversation into other directions, and they are always interesting. So read on to hear Yeun talking about not only about the show, but viewer reaction to it, and what it will take for The Walking Dead to remain a viable and vital program moving forward. Good stuff, folks. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start by talking about what we saw in the season 5 trailer. How does Glenn feel about Abraham’s mission to Washington D.C. to cure the zombie plague? Is he on board with that plan?
STEVEN YEUN: We gotta see. I think the first call to action is to see if they really truly make it out of Terminus. There’s a lot of danger there still, and I think that is something still to be very aware of. I would say what Glenn’s mindset is from even before, from last season, is that, when that thing was proposed… I think he sees it as the ability to fix everything. He sees it as the ability to have a life. I know early in season 4, the worry for Glenn for having a baby. The thought of having his child or raising his child in this world, which I’m sure he would love to do, it’s terrifying. But if he can fix this world, then he can live that life. And if you fix that world, then there’s a lot of other questions to face, which are: How deep have you gone in this savage world? And are you able to come out of it to live in a normal — or as normal as you can — world? And I think that’s something that Glenn is also fighting too. He’s very hopeful for humanity, and I think that’s part of what drives him to correct, to help fix the situation if he gets out of Terminus.
Give us the Glenn and Maggie status update. How are they as a couple?
I think they’re solid. I think they’re sound. I think nothing’s really gonna get in between those two. I think we established that very well in their journey last season. And I think that journey also solidified in them individually, the idea of searching for humanity, of holding out hope that in spite all odds that there can be salvation. If the goal last year was to do the impossible by finding your loved one in what was probably the most dangerous situation, and the most impossible situation, and they accomplished it — then, I mean, what else can’t they do, you know? And I think to them individually it’s been a really great growing lesson, for the both of them and also individually.
What else do you want to say about Glenn this season?
I always mention to people that he is on his course to be a leader. And I think it is no longer a course to be a leader—I think he is a leader. I think he is now a sounding board for big, big questions. He’s listened to, he’s respected in the group. He showed his gumption and he showed his resilience. I mean, he almost gets killed every single season and somehow he makes it through. And I think that’s a testament to who he is and what he’s become. And so as we stand now, as they’re in this train car, Glenn is someone to definitely look to as a leader.
Tell me about getting the gang back together after being in much smaller groups the last half of last season.
You know it comes with its own difficulties, in terms of just — if you’re thinking of it from an actor’s standpoint—just having so many people to cover. But it’s awesome. You’re bouncing things off of so many different personalities and so many people. It’s always good to have the gang together. It feels most natural on our show when it’s the O.G.s, you know. Not to say that the people that are new aren’t great — they’re fantastic. But it just feels right, and it feels like the backbone is solidified there when that happens.
You know, I personally see Glenn as the kind of the person to really foster in the new people on a pretty regular basis. I think Glenn is usually the first person to come in contact with whoever might be coming in, most of the time. And I think that is something that has been really good, to be able to have that responsibility, but then also to have the joy of bringing them in to the fold of our original group. And as it gets bigger it gets more and more exciting.
You guys are on the move again, shooting out on location a lot more now, as opposed to when you were on the prison set, or Hershel’s farm. What’s that been like for you guys, especially with having fans around trying to get a glimpse of you guys? That can pose challenges, but it can also be fun.
[Laughs] Absolutely. You know what, I mean, you’ve been covering us since the beginning, and I’m sure you have a unique perspective on it all and I’d be so curious to know how you feel. But it’s been a wild ride, and frankly sometimes when I do see fans waiting out for us, I’m stunned, you know. It still feels like our little show. And yet you come to Comic-Con and it’s become this massive thing and I sometimes can’t really just comprehend it. But for me, I want the fans to be surprised. I don’t want any spoilers to get out, and I don’t want things to be up in the air. Or even really discuss it. I just want people to watch and just be shocked as they do watch.
But moving around new territory is always a joy. Our first season, the beauty of it was Georgia became a character. It became part of the cast. And the second season was a little bit less of that, and third season and so on, but now we find ourselves really digging in to what Georgia has to offer, and really feeling out this landscape. And that’s always fun because it gives you something to work off of.
Showrunner Scott Gimple always says he looks at the show as being in eight-episode cycles. One cycle might be a bit more action, and another one might be more introspective and thoughtful. He’s been talking about how this next cycle is going to be pretty crazy right off the bat. What can you say about that?
I think we’re still dedicated to our character study. We’re still dedicated to the stories that we’re telling with these people. You know, I’m going to take a slight detour — I hear the word “badass,” and I hear people talking about who’s tough and who’s not, and who’s gonna survive, who do you want to live and who do you not want to live. And I know sometimes we say, like, “nobody is safe,” and as true as that is — nobody is safe — that’s ultimately not what our show is. And I know you know that, and I know a lot of people do know that.
But then sometimes I do get discouraged when I do hear some people like, “Hey, this guy’s such a badass, why aren’t you a badass anymore?’ Or like, “Why are you a badass now?” and it’s like, you know this show is interesting because there’s a plethora of characters. There’s so many different people and they all have their own way of surviving and their own way of choosing how to live in this world, and I think that character study is so beautiful. And really what the core of it is — and probably what people really enjoy about it but can’t explain, so they just default to “I like explosions” and “I like this.” They don’t realize that they’ve been listening and hearing and watching this really great character study that we’ve been trying to tell for each person.
And as we move forward, I think the pacing, yeah it definitely is picking up, because the stakes are higher. People are changing their characters and morphing and evolving as they go, and they are kind of spreading more toward either pole — being completely savage or still trying to maintain a hold of humanity. And I think as you see that, you will see the stakes ramped up, you will see the pace ramped up, you will see the action ramped up. But still amidst that, you will still see really introspective character development, and out of people that you don’t expect. I remember going throughout these press things at ComicCon, and people saying like “Why is Abraham crying?” And I don’t want to speak on his behalf, but you know, it’s like “I thought he was a badass, why is he crying?” And it’s like…what? We’re not just meat machines with muscles. That’s a character, That’s a person that we’re trying to convey. And I think that is what we’re really striving for this season, and that’s really the beauty of this season, and what all of our seasons have been trying to do.
As passionate and huge as your fan base is, it seems like you guys can’t win because people want different things to happen. Some people say, “It’s too slow!” and other people say “We need to slow down!”
Yeah. Often times too, I feel like, I wish we didn’t have to say that nobody is safe. I wish it was just implied and that was just understood — that that’s the world and we don’t need to say it again. Because ultimately what I think it ends up doing is making fans choose people. And they go, “Oh I want that guy, I like that guy, and I want those two to live, and everybody else to die.’ And it becomes like a dramatic episode of Survivor. That’s not what our show is, because the moment you do that, that’s the moment you check out. And I see a lot of comments like, “I hated this episode because there was not enough of this person,” and you’re thinking, like, you know this show is about everyone. It’s about everyone in here. Yeah, I know there’s a lot of hate directed towards the character of Lori at some point in our show. And for me I was always shocked because I was like “Sarah’s killing this!” She’s making this character complex and faulted and not perfect, and of course everybody does stuff that you hate. And if this person didn’t exist, then you would not be watching an interesting show. You would just be watching people kick the s— out of each other for an hour every week.
This next question is gonna sound insane because you have the best job in the world, but I’m curious: As an actor on Season 5 now on a show, does part of you get a little restless at all?
You know, I get what you’re saying, and I think that probably is something that a lot of people in episodic serialized television struggle with. But our show really tries and strives to push each character. I mean I can tell you right now, yeah, I’ve been with this character for a long time, but I’ve also probably done every single thing you can do as an actor up to this point. I’ve done the romantic thing, I’ve done the action hero thing, I’ve done the nerdy comedy guy thing. With this breadth I’ve been able to grow a lot and show so many different sides of a person and be challenged to do so many different things — and I continue to be challenged — that to me, frankly, it is a joy.
But in the off-time, I do want to stretch myself, because I feel like all those things aren’t just for prolonging your career, rather, also you’re fortifying yourself as you grow with the show to come back and put more into it. I am not even close to the actor I was when I started this. I was like, “How do I hide behind this shrub so I don’t screw this up?” And now, I know that from so much good coaching, so much good leadership, by watching others for examples on our show, I’m able to come up and contribute and be someone that can really grow if necessary. And I think those are the things I do want to build as an actor. If I learn something on I Origins, I’ll bring it to this show. If I learn something here, I’ll bring it to I Origins or any other thing that I might do. And I think to me that is a greater journey as opposed to kind of getting over something.
The show is on top, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down, but when some shows get to Season 5 they start thinking about the endgame. How long do you think the show can go on? Obviously with the way comics are set up, it could go on seemingly forever. Do you see the show going on for as long as possible, or do you think it has to have some sort of finite endpoint?
I think we do need a finite endpoint. I think all good television should have a finite endpoint. Unless you’re doing procedurals. You gotta cap this at some point. And I don’t know when it’s going to be, but I think that there is a threshold at which point people might not buy the same thing over and over again. And I think we have the right minds in place that are completely aware of that. And it might take ten seasons, it might take whatever. But I think really what we’re focused on is trying to tell a great story. And if that happens in six seasons or seven seasons, awesome. If that happens in ten seasons, then whoever’s behind the helm is a frickin’ genius. And we have that person, so we’ll see what happens. I’m excited for the ride, but I mean, who knows if I’ll be along for the whole ride?
The Walking Dead has gotten a distinct lack of award recognition—a few things here and there, but not as much as you’d expect considering how popular it is. Do you think that the show gets enough industry respect? Do you guys feel like outsiders in any way?
I don’t know, I think that is a genuine thing to look at. I haven’t really thought about it too much. I would say sometimes, people don’t like the most popular thing, to root for the most popular thing. And that’s fine. I think for me, I’ve learned a valuable lesson from a lot of the people on our show that say really great things, which are like, “F— the awards.’ Excuse my French, but I mean, like, seriously. We’re making great television and we’re trying really hard, busting our ass to make this show as great it can be.
And in spite of how much success the show has gotten, we still have such a tightknit group of amazing individuals that haven’t let this get to their head really. And I think for us, that is something that we take great pride in. And we take great pride in the fact that people show up at Comic-Con and go apes— over what we’re doing. And I think that’s validation enough to be quite honest. What can you do with an award? I mean, even if you win one, you’ll forget the next year when somebody else wins one. We’re happy. I think clearly we’re really happy with what’s going on.
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