October 4, 2023

Pedro Pascal and Steven Yeun on Zombies and Road Rage

HBO’s “The Last of Us,” based on the video game of the same name, finds Pedro Pascal’s Joel in a post-apocalyptic landscape similar to “The Walking Dead,” the zombie series that landed Steven Yeun his breakout role in 2010. When Yeun returns to TV in the Netflix series “Beef,” which chronicles a gnarled feud sparked by a traffic accident between a contractor (Yeun) and a vengeful entrepreneur (Ali Wong). He and Pascal discuss humility (including Pascal’s faceless performance in “The Mandalorian”), shame, and the chaos of driving around Los Angeles on April 20.

Pedro Pascal Steven Yeun Actors on Actors Cover

Pedro Pascal Steven Yeun Actors on Actors Cover

STEVEN YUN: How much did you know about ‘The Last of Us’?

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PEDRO PASCAL: Uh, next question.

YOUN: OK, cool.

PASCAL: I knew nothing about the game. The first things that came to my mind were the scripts written by Craig Mazin. I was like, “This story is great.” And my cousins ​​said, “It’s a video game, idiot!”

YOUN: I feel strangely connected to you in all sorts of ways. One is when I was shooting “The Walking Dead” – a show that’s kind of spiritually connected to your show – the Last of Us game came out and I played it for 12 hours straight.

PASCAL: Are you serious?

YOUN: I remember finishing it and coming in catatonic the next day. Like, “Guys, something just happened to me.” And then to see you play that part. You fall into your characters in a way that I find so graceful. Is this the right word?

PASCAL: It’s a very interesting choice of words. Because, especially when you mentioned “The Walking Dead,” I remember noticing you and thinking… This is going to sound really off-putting.

YOUN: I’ll take it. I’ll take it all.

PASCAL: I was like, “That guy is a star.” So I drank it afterwards.

YOUN: Oh man. I am surprised. The journey continues to self-efface. That’s what I mean by your courtesy. I see no judgment in your performance. I see real love in your performance. When I think of “The Mandalorian,” people can really get trapped by that role. Who among us is brave enough, and also – I don’t want to gas you too much – selfless enough? “I’m going to enter this character that may not show my face,” and then still land it in a way that won’t trap you. These characters are part of your journey, rather than eating you.

PASCAL: This is really going to be a compliment fest because your observations are so good. “Beef” is a perfect example of someone who isn’t haunted by zombies, he’s not flying a ship across the galaxies, but there’s just so much danger in the average of his life. How many people have told you their stories of road rage? Because I have one that happened yesterday.

YOUN: I had one yesterday too.

Pedro Pascal Variety Actors by Actors

Pedro Pascal Variety Actors by Actors

PASCAL: Yesterday was a day. It was my fault. I’ve had three incidents and they were all my fault. I cut someone off, and I look to the side, and there’s a big blob of saliva – as visual effects put it there, man – just dripping down the side of the passenger window. And my sister was like, “Fuck!”

YOUN: Holy shit. Like a sphere from the driver’s side? Did he just give you a hard loogie?

PASCAL: He spat at me.

YOUN: What have you done?

PASCAL: I was shocked. It aroused no anger in me. It definitely humbled me and shocked me, scared me a little bit, bothered me.

YOUN: I wonder if your awareness of not reacting negatively to that is that you recognize that person is trying to connect with you in some way.

PASCAL: They want me to drink their saliva. It made me feel guilty. I was like, “Gosh, people go through

YOUN: Yes, especially yesterday. I went crazy yesterday.

PASCAL: We’re going to turn this into a discussion about traffic in Los Angeles on April 20. I sat watching “Beef” with envy, in terms of how much it reflects such a living truth that can happen anywhere, but happened to me yesterday in Los Angeles. Which made me admire your performance even more because I thought, “You nail it right.”

Steven Yeun Variety Actors on Actors

Steven Yeun Variety Actors on Actors

YOUN: I feel like the task is always, no matter how hard it can be, not to let your character down. To really live in their reality. I really look within. “Where am I? Where is the part of me that deeply understands this person? Where is my Danny? Where is that part of me that feels isolated or alone or cringing or rude or whatever? I would go to the set every day walk and say, “Fuck, what am I supposed to do? Should I fall out of a tree?” And everyone just looks, and I look sad.

PASCAL: Was that a challenge, or did you see it as an opportunity to lean into the wealth?

YOUN: I think when I was younger I always thought, “Why do things happen to me?” And then when you grow up and do this job too, you think, “Oh, things are happening for me or because of me.” It was this thing where I had to use my own shame that I’m sure connected to Danny in that way, like, ‘Don’t ever let Danny down. Never release people on bail.”

PASCAL: I’m curious how much you have to deal with yourself to fulfill an assignment. Because I don’t really like being busy with myself.

YOUN: The way you approached Joel, the performance I watched all along, this depth of pain, guilt, shame, sadness, everything was just suppressed. And that is a lot of internal work.

PASCAL: It’s kind of nice to have permission to feel, contain, or express anything. Something that occurred to me when you mentioned process is how lonely it can be. With age, I have become a little scared in some cases. I can feel like I’m not in it, and I don’t know how to get into it, and I don’t know what to do to get into it, other than just breathe, no bail, let all the feelings be and be present.

YOUN: Did those performances end up being some of the performances that you watched back and thought, “I liked what I did there”?

PASCAL: I watch less and less. That feeling I get when I see myself takes me out of the experience in a weird way that I just don’t have the patience for anymore. It can be edited in a way that you have no control over. You really have to give everything and then give up completely.

YOUN: How often does the day dictate the performance, even if it’s not directly related to what’s on the page? Sometimes I walk in like, “I feel like the hell out of today.” But that works. There is an unconscious process that takes place that I am not always aware of.

PASCAL: I think it’s so smart to lean into the subconscious process. Because I tend to control the experience and the very painful growing experience of letting go of expectations.

YOUN: I got to work with this particular director, Lee Changdong. We were half way through the movie “Burning” and he said, “A movie makes itself.” And I thought, “I don’t know what that means, but okay.” He’s not trying to control anything. I remember when we did this one twilight scene that we only had a magic hour of 30 minutes each time to shoot. And we shot that over the course of a week. We shot it, he looks it all back and he says, “We’re going to do it again.” So we go next week and do the same thing. And then suddenly, one of the shots, a flock of geese flies by and reflects on the window pane. He’s like, “That’s it.” That is not for everyone.

PASCAL: None of us had that. It was 12 months of “Ah, shit! Oh well.” And how scary it was to know you were going into an experience away from home for 12 months – with a teenager.

YOUN: Yes. Bella Ramsey was great with you.

PASCAL: I could tell they were cool. I knew that. I couldn’t have wished for a more anchoring, generous, thoughtful teenager. And I don’t mean to say that patronizingly. They were 17. They had their 18th birthday while we were shooting, and that would have sucked. I relied on Bella for so much of the experience. We were both scared and shy about that, but Bella just inspired me to grow up about it.

YOUN: That last image, when they look at you to see if you’re telling the truth. That is a whole journey experienced together, all shades.

PASCAL: I really don’t think I’ve met anyone like Bella. They brought out the best in me as a person.

YOUN: And the symbiosis is that they also have their own growth through that experience. That’s why this stuff is so strange to me sometimes. You’re working with a deer, or a young kid, and it’s so scary because every time they’ll tell you if you’re fake. If you are a liar they will tell you every time.

PASCAL: Can I ask about Ali? Your characters are separated from each other for so much. How much closeness did you have with each other during the experience before actually having to confront each other as characters?

YOUN: Ali is my polar opposite in many ways. I think a more naive, less experienced version of myself would have tried to force some kind of chemistry: “Let’s hang out and do the thing.” There was a level of professionalism that felt like Ali would take care of her side, I would take care of my side, and there will be an interesting tension every time we get together. What I like about Ali is that she pulls you aside and just talks nonsense.

PASCAL: It’s really brilliantly written, because the two opposing figures of your show end up together in nature. Where was it in the schedule? Was it towards the end?

YOUN: The schedule was gnarly because one day I’m doing a scene from episodes 5, 8 and 2. And I was like, “What the hell is going on?” But we recorded episode 10 ourselves.

PASCAL: You were on a
journey that is the definitive beginning of a new journey. Getting them super sick and high together, bringing them to their knees.

YOUN: Total submission.

PASCAL: Out-of-the-ass, out-of-the-mouth, out-of-the-mind, out-of-the-heart submission.

YOUN: I look at your finale the same way.

PASCAL: I have not seen it.

YOUN: Didn’t you see it? You crushed it! It felt very inhabited.

PASCAL: I saw it all until then. I have done nothing all this time and therefore my attachment to the experience is strange. As a man approaching 50, to feel this very innocuous, semi-angry, emotional attachment to an experience that has passed… It continues, but there will never be another meeting with Bella for the first time, working with Craig, with the whole crew, with my friend Coco, who did my hair, and all the family that went through it. I think it was like falling in love, and to the point where you think, “I’m not falling in love.” You know? Because it hurts too much.

Set design: Lucy Holt; Production: Alexey Galetskiy/AGPNYC

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