The Best Actor contender reveals why he felt intimidated taking on the role that could lead to his first Oscar nomination

It's always scary to go personal, but for Steven Yeun, Minari hit close to home in more ways than one. The Walking Dead alum found the film not just personally significant, stepping into the role of a Korean-American devoid of tropes or clichés as he's run into all his career, but on a larger level, too, in the way its '80s setting and focus on an immigrant family touched his own background and experiences.

"For me as an actor, especially a Korean-American actor, I really am just looking to play a human role," he says. "When you get that opportunity in a script that has you in it, that gets to be full in America, you jump at those opportunities."

Yeun joined EW's The Awardist podcast to discuss his critically acclaimed turn as patriarch Jacob Yi in Minari, as well as its very long (and increasingly triumphant) awards journey, having premiered (and swept the prizes) at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival over an entire year ago. The timing of his Awardist appearance feels pretty serendipitous as well: Already this month, Yeun has received Best Actor nods from SAG and Critics' Choice, key barometers on his path to a potential first Oscar nomination.

Credit: David Bornfriend/A24

It couldn't be for a more fitting project, one in which Yeun really found himself as an actor in ways that hadn't happened to him before, for the recognition. "Working in America [before Minari], I was mostly asked to play visions and ideas and concepts of [how] I'm perceived in America — I was asked to play those archetypes," he says. "Full disclosure, I gladly welcomed playing those, because in some way I couldn't even see an alternate version of myself in some ways."

In turn, he felt "terrified" of joining the Lee Isaac Chung-directed project, on which he's also credited as an executive producer (after wrapping another lauded project over in Korea, Burning). "I've felt intimidated by other roles in the past, but this one was scary," he says. "It was scary for a lot of reasons. It's a story that's not necessarily unseen or unheard of, but that hasn't been told before in this context."

In our conversation, Yeun also discusses the brilliance of his SAG-nominated Minari cast; the movie's long road, having finally received a virtual and select theater release via A24; and what he hopes to take from Minari into the rest of his career. Watch the chat above, or listen to it in our podcast episode below.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

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