Steven Yeun, who plays Glenn Rhee on AMC's The Walking Dead, knows his role is a rarity among those written for Asian-American men on TV. As Glenn, Yeun has not only survived four and a half seasons of nonstop zombie onslaughts, but also grown from a spunky sidekick to a genuine leader for Rick's family—as well as the show's main romantic lead. Audiences have watched Glenn and his wife Maggie fall in love, get horny, marry each other, lose each other, then sacrifice everything to find each other again—even as they’ve watched friend after friend get bit, shot or kidnapped. (Most recently Maggie's sister Beth. RIP.)
At a TimesTalk event on Monday, Yeun fielded a question about his role's evolution with an endearing combination of graciousness, humility, and real talk. Asian dudes fight, lead, romance ladies and have sex all the time, he pointed out. So why are roles like Glenn's still relatively rare on TV?
"I have to say, for me as an actor, I feel the most blessed, the most privileged in a way. I’ve gotten to transform over time this character and he’s grown so much. To play comic relief in the beginning, to play 'plucky'—that was the adjective to use—and now, to be considered a romantic lead or a leader, I’ve been very fortunate to play that entire gamut. Even to speak on a further level, to be an Asian-American male and play that has been fantastic.
Because we also have sex. In fact, per capita, we have a lot more sex. So, let’s just play it how it is! We know what we’re doing. And in all seriousness, in all honesty…I’m [not] putting all my eggs in that basket, but it’s more like, I’m glad that I get to be a part of this, I’m glad that I get to be a part of this shift, and I’m glad that someone like Scott [Gimple] and someone like Frank [Darabont] and someone like Robert Kirkman can look into those places and really dig out truth and show what the world is, and not just what the television tells you [it] is."
Fellow cast member Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick Grimes, and showrunner Scott Gimple gushed over Glenn as well. “Not only is he a leading man, I think he’s the hero of the piece in these back eight [episodes of Season 5],” Lincoln said, adding that Glenn is “one of my favorite characters.” And said Gimple: “From the way that Glenn dressed to the way that he looked at the world and his situation, he really has grown up…And he can still land a joke sometimes.”
The TimesTalk yielded another few cutesy tidbits about offscreen shenanigans between the show’s cast members. Lincoln swears that Norman Reedus, who plays crossbow-wielding Daryl Dixon, is “physically offended” by bad acting. “You know you’ve done a good scene if Norman will make eye contact with you,” Lincoln chuckled. “If he’s fiddling with his crossbow or looking at something over here, you know you’ve got to step it up.”
Lincoln also described his real-life paternal relationship with Chandler Riggs, who plays his onscreen son, Carl. “I’ve lived Boyhood. I’ve spent more time with that young man than my own son,” he said. “I love him. We’ve been through so much together.” He even bought Riggs an AK-47 for his birthday—though he may have been joking about that last part.