In 2005, when Korean American actor Steven Yeun decided to pursue acting rather than get a job that directly correlated to his degree in psychology, you can imagine all the people who thought he was ludicrous. After all, as difficult as it is to maintain a successful career as a working actor, it’s even more difficult with the limited opportunities for Asian actors. Luckily, the odds didn’t seem to scare him away.
Fast forward to today and 30-year-old Yeun is now one of the most popular Asian actors in mainstream media. We can all rest assured that he certainly doesn’t regret his “ludicrous” decision to go into acting. “[Glenn] is a really exciting character,” Yeun told Audrey Magazine in an interview in 2010. “As an Asian American male, it’s something that isn’t very stereotypical and really kind of stretched to show a lot of dimensions.”
In addition to his role, Yeun also stretched his career in many directions. In 2011, he was nominated for the Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor on Television. In 2013, Yeun was on the list of of People magazine’s “Sexiest Men.”
With all this success, it’s safe to assume that Yeun is drowning in job offers right? Apparently, that’s not necessarily the case.
“People ask, ‘So, how are the roles now? You must be getting so many.’ And it’s like, I don’t know if you know, but I’m Asian still,” Yeun told TheWrap during an interview in July. “It’s not a complaint, that’s just how it is now. I think that if I had not been Asian, I probably would have a whole plethora of roles, at least to audition for, but it’s just not what has been written.”
And Hollywood certainly isn’t helping. Many Asian films, such as Oldboy, have been remade and recast with white actors, instead of simply opening up to the idea of more Asian actors on screen. (Looking at you, The Last Airbender.)
So is Steven Yeun, the man who took a leap of faith into acting despite the odds against him, going to sit around and just wait for more opportunities for Asian actors to pop up? Of course not. Yeun is taking matters into his own hands by writing and producing his own projects that will offer better roles to Asian actors.
Yeun is working on an adaptation of Kang Chol-Hwan’s memoir The Aquariums of Pyongyang, which focuses on life inside of North Korean concentration camp, as well as some comedies and cartoons.
Yeun’s drive to progress not only his career but also the opportunities available for Asian actors comes from a place many of us are familiar with: a desire to make our parents proud.
“I think my greatest fear is letting my parents down,” Yeun told Audrey Magazine. “That might be inherent in anyone, but coming from my perspective, it’s pretty inherent in the Korean culture. [My parents] sacrificed so much for me, and I said I was going to be an actor after they paid so much for everything. And yet they stood behind me and they were very supportive. I definitely want to make this a long career and definitely want them to be proud.”
I can’t speak for his parents, but I for one can say he is certainly someone the Asian American community can be proud of.