‘Walking Dead’ Season 3 Interview: Star Steven Yeun
'The Walking Dead' Season 3 premieres this weekend! And while most of the characters on AMC’s The Walking Dead spent a good portion of the show’s second season wandering around looking for Sophia or wondering if Carl was in the house, Glenn (Steven Yeun) was getting busy (and by getting busy we mean getting busy) with Herschel Greene’s adorably tough daughter Maggie on the man’s very own farm. High fives for Glenn who’s gone from a resourceful ally to an essential part of the group’s survival. With the 'Walking Dead' Season 3 premiere on October 14, fans are about to see that Glenn is more than just man-candy for Ms. Maggie Greene. He’s also a smart, crafty, zombie-killing badass.
We recently sat down with the Yeun to discuss Glenn’s transformation, the power of Maggie, and the absolute insanity of The Walking Dead’s third season.
When we first met Glenn on season one, he was this resourceful, but kind of timid, guy. He’s grown more into a leader and more of a badass over the past few seasons. Do you think Glenn is more of a man’s man now or do you think he was more important and resourceful back then?
I think this growth of Glenn is his way of seeing what kind of person he is. Not everyone can be Shane. Not everyone can be Rick. Not everyone can be Dale. But I think it’s Glenn kind of coming into his own, and the thing that’s interesting about being young and trying to do that is that you take cues from people ahead of you. So sometimes you might act untruthfully to the way you would normally do it. Maybe you’ll try to puff up like Shane. Maybe you’ll try to be a little more macho than you actually are. Maybe your power is actually in being resourceful and in being important, but yet you try to step into other territories that might not suit you as well. I think that is the cool part that I get to play, which is seeing a really honest portrayal of what happens when things are thrown in a characters direction and having to see if he’s ready for them or not.
Which Glenn do you prefer playing? Did you prefer playing that more naively timid, yet resourceful guy or do you prefer this let’s-g0-kill-some-zombies guy that you’re playing now?
I love playing him now. The first season there were glimpses of it too. There were moments that showed Glenn could be brilliant. He’s resourceful and he’s smart and he’s intelligent, but then he kind of just got sidelined by the other egos. The second season is him toughening up and understanding that, in this world, in order to survive you gotta have a little bit of balls. What that means to him is that you put on the extra layer of Maggie and living for another person. Then it just becomes a situation where how do you defend what’s yours. How do you care for another person other than yourself? The third season is him taking on that responsibility but still learning that he has a lot more to figure out before he gets to the end, which I think everybody does. I think everybody constantly grows.
I’m glad you brought that up because I was going to ask how much of that transformation do you think is a result of him finding someone to love in Maggie.
That was huge. In that moment where you see him kind of balk behind the dumpster when he gets shot at, a lot of people were confused by that. For me, it wasn’t confusing at all. It made sense. Glenn lived life invincibly, in a way. I don’t think he wanted to die, but I think he realized that he could make an impact and, if he had to die, why not go out a hero? You put a new responsibility on him with Maggie and now he can’t just freely roam around and make decisions affect just him. Now there’s another person that he has to look out for. He’s this kid who didn’t have much responsibility in the past that all of a sudden has the responsibility of another human. You see how that can be a crushing weight on your initially. He has to figure out how to take care of that.
Speaking of Maggie, tell me about your relationship with Lauren Cohan.
She’s brilliant. She’s a wonderful actor, gorgeous, and just amazing. Her and I are really tight and what’s really great is that the show imitates life in the sense that when Lauren first came into the second season, she was tight with her immediate family (on the show) because they got to meet each other first. And then she gets introduced and the whole awkwardness that plays onscreen is also truthful in real life. Lauren and I didn’t really know each other that well and then we kind of play that out. As we got closer and closer as the season continued and we worked together longer, we got tighter as Maggie and Glenn got tighter. Now that we have a whole season under our belts, we came into the third season just really close. We’re really willing to be there for each other as the characters are and this season is really cool in that aspect. You see two people just really coming together. They’re clearly in love and when you pit that against a zombie apocalypse you can witness how their relationship plays out in that environment.
You were one of the first actors on the show to really get close to one of the newly arrived actors during that second season. Now that everyone has to work with new actors in Danai Gurira and David Morrissey, were you able to give them any tips on bringing the newbies into the fold like you did with Lauren?
Yeah, but our set is also a really welcoming set. Everyone wants to make a good show and everyone wants everyone to feel comfortable and feel like they can thrive in this setting. But, at the same time, Andy sets an amazing precedent of professionalism and hard work ethic. It might jar you at first because I don’t know if this is typical of a Hollywood set, but you hear people show up and say, “Man, this is totally different than what I’m used to, but it’s great.” What’s awesome about it is that it shows. We bleed and sweat on this show. We put everything we can into it and people stay after takes. If their coverage is done and they can’t even see they’ll still stay for the other actors just to be there. Just so that we’re all in it together and we’re all finishing the scene together. It’s really classy on set and it’s all out of love and all out of the fact that we’re all trying to make a good show.
Yeah, I spoke with Norman a few weeks ago and he said you all got together to watch the first episode of season three and you could hear a pin drop.
Yup. People really are proud and it permeates not just with the cast, but also with the whole crew. The crew is amazing. They’re all amazing so they should feel complete ownership of the show. Every single aspect of it is due to them and to us and to the writers and the producers and every single cog. Everyone’s really excited about what we’re doing and I think that’s what keeps us coming back considering the stuff we’re trying to do is pretty miserable. (Laughs)
You and Maggie were both really well drawn and detailed characters in the comics. Were you a fan of the comics before you got the role?
Yeah, actually I was. I had read that comic about five years before this show was even getting to casting. I remember reading it and thinking it was a cool, fun comic and then I kind of fell off of it and when I heard about this audition, I knew I’d heard about this thing before. I realized that I’d already scoured through everything that was written about five years earlier.
How do you think that effected your portrayal of Glenn?
It was scary at first to not mess it up. What was cool is that I’ve been very fortunate in that everything kind of played out perfectly. This was my first big series regular gig and I remember coming onto set during the first season and wondering, “How do I not mess this up?” So you see, as an actor, I was playing a little bit timid and trying to learn, but it fit perfectly because Glenn is a little bit timid and trying to learn. In the second season you can see that I, as Steven, felt a little bit more ownership of the show and I wanted to do a good job and there are moments that I really tried to step up. There are moments that I tripped up. There are moments that I still fell back because I wasn’t completely there yet, and that was all perfect for Glenn as well. This season, I really feel like a true ownership of the show because there are people now that really held it down for us last season that are actually physically not there anymore. For instance, Jon [Bernthal] was such an amazing presence on set. So professional, so amazing, and he was awesome. And Jeff [DeMunn], same thing. You lose those and you realize that you physically have to fill those gaps as an actor and as a character. It all kind of follows suit. It’s pretty amazing.
Do you think they’re going to come at you with the razors now? Are we going to see Glenn get his patented haircut?
I don’t know, man. I mean, I think there are details from the comics here and there that might be saved for another time or they might not be shown or they might transfer to somebody else. But who knows? I’ve got a lumpy head, but if it has to be done, it has to be done.
So you’re up for it if they decide to do it?
Yeah, I mean, dude. I’ll do anything for this show. Yeah.
I’ve seen the first few episodes of season three and I actually think The Walking Dead’s premiere is the best TV premiere of the Fall season. And I think one of the reasons I love it so much is because it’s absolutely bats--- crazy. How has it been for you filming some of this craziness and some of the things that fans have been waiting so long to see?
Oh, man. We’re just itching. We’re really trying to make a good show and we’re just kind of isolated in the boondocks of rural Atlanta. It’s not like we’re on a soundstage in LA where we get to go home to Venice or wherever. We’re going home to a bungalow or a hut. It’s so cool because we don’t get affected by everything on the outside world until we’re out here and then we realized that we really want people to see what we’ve been trying to do. All these insane things that Glen [Mazzara] and his team have pushed forward have been amazing. It’s very ambitious and I don’t think we could have pulled off a lot of the things we ended up pulling off without the crew and the cast that we have. We leave it all on the floor and we’re trying to do things by the seat of our pants to get things done in eight days. These episodes that we get, a director will come in and start hysterically laughing and say, “This is a twelve day shoot.” Or they’ll say, “This is a month long shoot.” And we finish it in eight days. Trust me, it’s as frantic as it looks.
That’s one of the things that surprised me about the premiere. I won’t give anything away here, but I will say that you guys put so many things in that premiere that I had thought were going to take a while to happen. It’s jam-packed with all this awesome stuff that I think will ultimately give you plenty of time to settle into this prison a little bit. That must have been crazy.
It was crazy. That first episode was crazy. When we got together and watched that first episode, I remember thinking, “When is this episode supposed to end?” (Laughs) It’s only forty-something minutes, but there’s so much stuff happening in one sitting that it’s absolutely crazy.
Does it feel like home now though, being there in the prison?
They made that place terrible in a great way. It’s so miserable in there, but that’s what helps us. As an actor, it’ll never feel like home, but as a character you’ve got to make due with what you have, right?
You’ve gone from fan favorite on this zombie show to being a bit of a household name now. What’s next? Do you have any films coming up that you’re interested in doing?
Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff that I’d love to do. I’m writing a lot and just kind of seeing what’s out there. I think, for me, the priority at this point is the show. I’ll see what other opportunities that opens up and hopefully I can get a shot and do it some justice. So we’ll see what happens.
'The Walking Dead' Season 3 premieres on AMC on October 14 at 9 PM ET.