The actor also talks about the importance of playing an Asian-American role model
“I will find you.” Those were Glenn’s final words to Maggie on The Walking Dead while he was in the midst of being pummeled with a barbed-wire-covered baseball bat. For the man playing Glenn, Steven Yeun, saying goodbye to his on-screen wife was as poignant as it appeared, especially since the actor recently got married himself. “It’s emotional to talk about, because Glenn does represent so much,” says Yeun of filming Glenn’s final moments. “Even for myself, being newly married, you know that love, and you know what his final wishes are, that he would go so far to say even in his broken state, ‘I will find you.’ That’s heavy.”
But what do those final words mean? “I think he means a lot of things,” says Yeun. “Part of it is that he’s just had his brain knocked in and is glitching. And maybe he’s going back to a time when he was looking for Maggie when they were separated. Maybe he’s trying to leave a lasting legacy of what it is to be Glenn in that moment and to be selfless and say, ‘Don’t worry, I will always be here,’ or ‘There’s nothing that can separate us,’ and that could definitely be it. But I think the beauty of this particular situation is the fact that it’s so layered, and you can draw whatever you want out of those words.”
While speaking with Yeun about all things Glenn and Walking Dead, we also asked him about playing a strong Asian-American lead character when there has been a scarcity of those roles on TV. “I actually just got back from a CAPE function, the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment,” says Yeun. “And one of the founders mentioned she went to this camp in Michigan called Sae Jong Camp where kids who are Korean Americans go to get more of a cultural awareness, whether they’re adopted or whether they’re Korean immigrants — whatever the case may be.”
What she told Yeun greatly disturbed the star: “She mentioned that she was so saddened to hear that they all thought they were ugly. That they all thought that someone who looked like them wasn’t supposed to be on television, or that someone who looked like them wasn’t supposed to be desired or heroic or cool, and that’s such a f—ing bummer. And I do remember feeling that way myself growing up. I didn’t have a Glenn. I didn’t have someone to watch on television. I didn’t have someone where I can say, ‘That’s my face, and my face is being accepted by everybody watching this program.’ That’s the greatest honor that I’ve gotten to experience.”
What makes the character of Glenn so special in Yeun’s eyes is that his ethnicity was not his sole defining trait. “I’ve had the privilege and great honor to play a character like this that didn’t have to answer to anything other than his own character,” he said. “He didn’t have to answer to why he was so Asian, or why he did that or this based on his being Asian. None of that mattered, it just mattered who he was as an individual. That was the most important thing. We went into so many households around the world, and people got to see what it’s like to be an Asian-American person, and they got to see an Asian-American person completely normalized as they are. And it got to a point where most people didn’t even acknowledge the fact that he might be ethnically different than them. … That was the coolest part. You get to watch people completely cling on to a character that has similarities to them in every single way except for their face, and that is beautiful and wonderful and I’m very proud of that. One of my favorite things that I always see is when I see kids that are not Asian dress up as Glenn for Halloween. That makes me very, very happy.”
You can read the full Q&A with Yeun in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly on stands now, or buy it here. And subscribe now to receive a free Walking Dead tote! For more Walking Dead scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.