And then there is, of course, the pressure of being an Asian American actor when roles with some heft are few and far between and the backlash from a community starved for humanizing portrayals can be harsh. Early in his career, Yeun turned down an acting gig in Chicago because, as he put it, “they wanted me to play Long Duk Dong.” But, for actors that do play stereotypes, Yeun reserves his judgment.
“Honestly, if you could make that fun, and you can do it and you can make that your own and have fun doing it, then, God, by all means do it,” says Yeun. “I don’t personally want that character to represent us in terms of the fact that we’re American. We speak English. We pay taxes. We grew up in Michigan. So for me, it’s just I couldn’t do that honestly.”
Luckily for him, he’s landed a role that doesn’t compromise his principles, and he’s not about to squander it. “I just hope to kind of do right, you know? If it definitely forwards, you know, kind of like helps the Asian American male to really permeate throughout Hollywood, then I don’t know if I can take that torch, but I’d love to do anything I can to help that.” But in terms of his own career, says Yeun: “My biggest struggle is to never become that guy that got hired because they needed to cast this role Asian American. I don’t want to be that guy that got added just because he had to fill the look rather than the actual abilities.”