Yuh-Jung Youn is one of the most celebrated actresses of the season, collecting dozens of awards and nominations from critics for her work as the no-nonsense grandmother Soon-ja in “Minari.” She also just became the first Korean actress individually nominated at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. “What’s happening to me?” Youn ponders in an exclusive new interview with Gold Derby. “I didn’t even expect having awards from America.” Watch the interview above.
Youn was drawn in by the script for “Minari,” written by the film’s director, Lee Isaac Chung. The screenplay draws on Chung’s own childhood, including his relationship with his grandmother. This is a key component to the film, with young David (Alan Kim) struggling to understand his grandmother but learning to appreciate her over time. Youn found something recognizable in that dynamic, having not treated her own great-grandmother as kindly as she could have. “I was so rude and bad to her,” she admits. Throughout the filming process, Youn thought about her great-grandmother. “I didn’t know her sacrifice and her devotion. I didn’t realize it at the time.”
Soon-ja could be considered the comic relief of “Minari,” with her blunt observations and behavior providing the biggest laughs in the film. But Youn didn’t read the character as funny on the page and think about playing her in an intentionally funny way, even if comedy is organically drawn out of the situation. “When I read the script, acting funny I didn’t plan on, but because of the culture difference between David and Grandma, I think it’s naturally, to the audience, comedy,” observes Youn.
The rapturous reception to “Minari” from critics and audiences has been surprising to Youn, who first got a taste of it when the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last January. She recalls thinking, “Oh, this is more than enough. People understand our situation and our movie,” and assumed that might be the end of it. But with “Minari” accruing major Oscar buzz and finally being released theatrically this month, the film is now reaching a new peak in awareness. “It got bigger and bigger, so I don’t know what I’m going to do with my English,” she laughs.
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