Steven Yeun, Lee Isaac Chung talk representation and emotional origins of 'Minari'

Minari tells the story of a Korean-American family that moves to a farm in Arkansas for a chance to achieve the American Dream. It's inspired by the real-life childhood of director and writer Lee Isaac Chung and stars Steven Yeun as the patriarch, Jacob Yi. Chung, Yeun and co-stars Alan Kim, Yeri Han, and Yuh-Jung Youn recently spoke with Yahoo Entertainment about the film.

"I represent whatever I represent because I can't change my face," said Yeun of the role he's at least partially played in the recent increased visiblity and popularity of films with Asian casts and creators (Crazy Rich Asians, Parasite). "And I hope that we get to see more Asian-American Asian actors get their shots and do their thing and really push the boundaries of how to connect all of us together."

Watch more from Yeun in the above interview.

Video Transcript

- If you're here with us for the first time, please stand. What a beautiful family. Glad you're here.

KEVIN POLOWY: Isaac, this is a story based loosely on your actual childhood, about your own family who relocated from California to this Arkansas farm in pursuit of the American dream. How tough or emotional was that for you to put something out there that's so intimate and so personal like this?

LEE ISAAC CHUNG: You know, when we premiered this at Sundance, I joked at the start. I started to introduce it and to thank my wife. And I started to cry. And I was like, I'm so tired of crying about this movie. I remember I said that.

And that's kind of what it felt like making this thing. There were just so many moments that the emotions welled up that I'm not wanting them to. Like, I need to make the film. I feel like I'm the project manager of sorts. People are looking to me to get this made. But it is what it is. I mean, I made it as personal as possible.

So those things just naturally crept up. And even with all these Zoom calls, people asking me about my little grandma and something starts to happen inside of me. So hopefully, that honesty was worth it. For me, I do feel like I needed to do it and I needed to make it. So yeah, it's been a wild ride with that.

KEVIN POLOWY: I'm curious to know as Koreans what you think this story says about the immigrant experience in America and also, you know, the pursuit of the American dream.


KEVIN POLOWY: Stephen, most of us discovered you on "The Walking Dead." Since then, you've done this string of amazing films between "Okja" and "Burning" and now "Minari" or "Minari" as white folks have been calling it for the past year, all great in their own right, also all films where we've gotten to see you speak Korean. What do you enjoy about being able to sort of pivot back and forth between languages in roles, sometimes in the same movie, like in "Minari?"

STEVEN YEUN: It's been an incredible, wonderful journey to kind of be able to play these parts that also help to get to understand myself a little bit better, unlock some things that maybe I hadn't connected to in a long time and also build a language skill so I can talk to my parents a little bit better too.

The Korean aspect of things wasn't necessarily something that I sought out. It just happened to be the projects and the spaces in which I was able to play more fuller of a character. And so I sought those opportunities out more. And I just kind of find myself here. And it's pretty great.

KEVIN POLOWY: "Minari' is inherently part of a larger conversation we're having right now in the industry about representation. How important is that aspect for you guys, to tell or be part of stories that help propel the visibility of Asians and Asian-Americans on screen?

LEE ISAAC CHUNG: I think in general, I'm just so supportive of any effort to show that our human experience is much more varied and diverse and particular than we think. There's no monolithic norm, really, in this country. So if we can be part of that, and not to just push forward Asian-Americans, but really, every single person in whatever walk of life, if they've lived on the, quote, unquote, margins or as outsiders or in a way that they haven't been portrayed on the screen, I'd love to see more of those stories, just for myself as a person.

KEVIN POLOWY: And to follow that up with you, Stephen, I mean, there have been some really great success stories lately between an Oscar winner like "Parasite," blockbusters like "Crazy Rich Asians." Have you been encouraged by those sort of strides, or you feel like Hollywood still has a long way to go?

STEVEN YEUN: Yeah, I think, again, like, I represent whatever I represent because I can't change my face. And I'd love to operate from this place continually. And I hope that we get to see more Asian-American, Asian actors get their shots and do their thing and really push the boundaries of how to connect all of us together.

I think it's always up to us as people, individuals to challenge systems and institutions. I think representation, at its base, is a great first and foundation. And we need to be able to imagine a reality in which we can also exist. But then also, we can't forget that we also have a shared humanity, I think. And that's something that we tried to tackle with this particular film, not as its core reason, but the way that we tried to make it was from a place of humanity.

- But I don't like grandma.


- Grandma smells like Korea.


KEVIN POLOWY: Alan, how much fun were those scenes to have that rivalry with Yuh-jung in this movie?

ALAN KIM: It was really fun. The pee part with especially my favorite.

KEVIN POLOWY: Did you learn to love Mountain Dew making this movie? Did you did you actually drink the Mountain Dew? Did you go method?

YUH-JUNG YOUN: Mountain Dew on the set was really warm. It looks like really pee. So nobody want to drink that Mountain Dew.


KEVIN POLOWY: I love it. I love it.

Did you drink a lot of Mountain Dew in this movie?

ALAN KIM: Yeah, I drank a lot of Mountain Dew. Like, after the-- well, I drank Mountain Dew. The first time it was when I said my favorite, my favorite with the Mountain Dew. I poured it in my cup and drank it. That was the first time I drank Mountain Dew.

STEVEN YEUN: You hadn't had Mountain Dew before then?



KEVIN POLOWY: Did you find yourself, like, suddenly a little more hyper after drinking than Mountain Dew?

ALAN KIM: A little.