Steven Yeun is trying his best to stay centered. The “Minari” star was just nominated at the SAG Awards for his performance as Jacob, the patriarch of a Korean-American family who is hoping to carve out a life in rural Arkansas in the 1980s. He is now gaining Oscar buzz, where he would become the first Asian-American actor nominated for Best Actor in Academy history. “I’m glad to add to any larger movement and progress,” says Yeun in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “I’m proud of that, but I also want to make sure that I don’t get swallowed up by those things and that I’m defined by those things.” Watch the full interview above.
In crafting the script for “Minari,” writer-director Lee Isaac Chung was inspired by his own family’s struggles to make it in America. But Chung stressed to Yeun that he did not have to play the role of Jacob as if it were Chung’s own father. “It never felt like I had to fit in or mold into some conception of what he wanted,” states Yeun. “It really felt like we were connecting together on, at least for me and him, an internal journey of what it means to be a father.”
Throughout “Minari,” the camera focuses on Jacob’s face as he wrestles with the conflicting thoughts and emotions in his head. As Yeun describes him, Jacob is “mired in duty,” devoting much of his time to cultivating the farm while his marriage gradually crumbles. “He’s sometimes trapped in his own head,” explains Yeun. “He’s asking to not feel like he’s the only one bearing the burden of this family and their future on his shoulders, but I think over the course of the film, the thing that he learns is that he’s not the only one bearing the burden of this family.”
The cast and crew of “Minari” did not set out to make a political film, but it comes out at a time where hostility towards the Asian American community has increased. “It’s a real shame but also not surprising that we’re still in a moment like this where people react out of fear and hate,” observes Yeun. The actor is hopeful, though, that the film’s warmth and universal themes of family will contribute positively to the discourse. “What I always loved about this film and this experience was that this film had a lot of love in it and had a lot of heart and deeply wanted to connect to everybody. I hope it adds a positivity to this moment.”
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