Originally, you might’ve become a fan of Steven Yeun after seeing him play Glenn Rhee on The Walking Dead, but the actor has retired the character’s signature baseball cap and gone on to build quite a distinguished — and versatile — career over the last few years. Here, we’ll take a look at some of Yeun’s best roles, ranging from his work on TV shows and Oscar-nominated movies to his voiceover work on hit animated series.
The Walking Dead
No matter how many other great roles Steven Yeun plays, fans of The Walking Dead will always fondly recall his breakout role, Glenn Rhee. After finding himself confronted with the realities of a post-apocalyptic world, Glenn stepped up and became a Walker-killing force to be reckoned with. Not only did he save Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) countless times, but he went on to become one of the group’s foremost leaders.
While Glenn was sidelined in later seasons — and kind of confined to a romance plot line between him and farmhand-turned-zombie-killer Maggie Green (Lauren Cohan) — we’ll always remember Glenn as the character who kept the group grounded and provided much of the show’s heart.
In Minari, Yeun yet again scored a role that showcased the power of defying the odds. The 2020 feature follows the tale of a Korean-American family who moves to a small town in Arkansas in the 1980s. Yeun plays the role of Jacob Yi, the family’s patriarch who longs to follow the American dream.
The family soon learns the challenges of starting their own farm first hand, as they struggle with uneasy Ozark neighbors, the threat of financial ruin, and the antics of their delightfully foul-mouthed grandma (Yuh-Jung Youn). Overall, Minari is one of those movies that will probably make you cry for all the right reasons and showcases some of Yeun’s greatest acting yet. The film has already racked up an impressive collection of awards and has earned several Academy Awards nominations, including Yeun’s history-making Best Actor nomination.
Not only did Yeun play the role of K, a radical environmentalist, in the movie Okja, but the role was specifically written for him. Directed by Oscar-winner Bong Joon-ho (Parasite), the action-adventure movie follows a young South Korean girl named Mija who sets out to save a genetically-engineered super pig named Okja.
Yeun’s character, K, is a member of a radical group that attempts to rescue Ojka from the corrupt company that initially bred her. In addition to his role, Yeun later reported that he ended up serving as an unofficial translator for the American members of the cast.
Want to see Yeun in a more unsettling light? Check out his work in the award-winning Korean noir film Burning. Yeun wowed critics with his portrayal of Ben, an enigmatic rich guy who may or may not be a psychopath. As the mysterious plot unravels, a young man named Jong-soo runs into Hae-mi, a girl he grew up with.
Jong-soo begins to fall for Hae-mi, who asks him to watch her cat while she’s away on a trip. When she returns, however, it’s with the enigmatic Ben she has a run-in with. Let’s just say that things take a strange turn — so strange that you’ll be thinking about the film long after the credits roll.
The Legend of Korra
In addition to his many on-screen roles, Yeun has also racked up an impressive number of voiceover credits. He’s voiced characters in animated shows like Voltron Legendary Defender Motion Comic, Trollhunters: Tales of Arcadia, and, of course, 2013’s The Legend of Korra.
The Legend of Korra was a follow-up to the beloved Avatar: The Last Airbender series, and picked up 70 years after the events of Avatar. Korra, the new element-bending Avatar, attempts to hone her skills — and reckon with herself. During season two, she learns a thing or two about her cosmic past from the original Avatar incarnation, Wan, who is voiced by an ever-charming (and heroic) Yeun.
Tuca & Bertie
Yeun’s voice talents aren’t limited to action-adventure shows. In Tuca & Bertie, he more than proved his comedic chops — and lent a lot of heart to the series. The adult cartoon revolves around the friendship between two 30-year-old bird-women voiced by Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong.
So, where does Yeun’s character come in? Tuca, a carefree toucan who is living her best life, and Bertie, a neurotic songbird, form an unlikely friendship and live as roommates in Bird Town. When Bertie decides to move in with her Robin boyfriend Speckles (Yeun), Tuca moves upstairs to keep the decidedly not-safe-for-kids fun going.
Sorry to Bother You
Some Yeun fans may have missed Boots Riley’s satirical Sorry to Bother, despite the film’s critical success. Although he has a smaller part, Yeun certainly makes a lasting impression. In the film, he plays a character named Squeeze, who befriends his coworker Cash (Lakeith Stanfield), a Black telemarketer who adopts a “white voice” while at work to find success.
Squeeze, a union leader, tries to recruit Cash to join the fight for their rights as workers. And then — things take quite the wild turn the further Cash climbs. Despite its hilarity, the film is insightful and incisive — and you certainly won’t stop thinking about that ending.
In 2017’s Mayhem, Yeun gives a stellar performance as Derek Cho, a man who finds himself quarantined in an office building where a mysterious virus has broken out. Rather than make people sick, the virus affects the minds of its victims, causing them to act out their deepest impulses with no sense of morality.
Cho teams up with a former client, who has her own score to settle, as the virus rages through the building. Together the two fight to survive among the infected executives. A wild blend of action and horror, Mayhem is a great watch, especially for Walking Dead fans.