Steven Yeun's 'Glenn': Slaying Zombies And Getting The Girl : Code Switch The actor talks about his role on The Walking Dead and shares his real-life immigrant story. The hit drama returns to AMC this weekend.
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Steven Yeun's 'Glenn': Slaying Zombies And Getting The Girl

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Steven Yeun's 'Glenn': Slaying Zombies And Getting The Girl

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Oh, yeah, music to the ears for millions of "Walking Dead" fans. AMC's "The Walking Dead" holds the record for most-watched cable drama, and it's back this Sunday after a short hiatus.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

For those of you who have yet to be bitten, here's a quick synopsis. It's about the zombie apocalypse and a group of survivors trying to stay alive in Atlanta, Ga.

GREENE: So pleasant. Well, ahead of the show's return, Shereen Marisol Meraji, from our Code Switch team, profiles an actor who's been slaying zombies for five seasons.

STEVEN YEUN: My name is Steven Yeun. I'm an actor, and currently I play Glenn on "The Walking Dead."

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Glenn's the Korean pizza delivery guy turned zombie-killing ladies' man. And Yeun made up this back story to help him get in character.

YEUN: Obviously, Glenn's from Michigan, which is awesome.

MERAJI: Yeun couldn't shake his own Michigan accent, so that's why Glenn's from there, too, and they're both from traditional Korean immigrant families. The character Glenn ended up in Atlanta for college. His parents wanted him to be a doctor or lawyer, but he rebelled by playing video games and delivering pizzas, failing to reconnect with his family before the zombie apocalypse.

YEUN: I think he still harbors some guilt about that. But this is all my thoughts. None of this has been cleared by AMC (laughter).

MERAJI: Not long after you meet Glenn on "The Walking Dead, you do find out he's Korean-American. One of the characters, Daryl, impressed by his bravery, says...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WALKING DEAD")

NORMAN REEDUS: (As Daryl Dixon) You've got some [bleep] for a Chinaman.

YEUN: (As Glenn Rhee) I'm Korean.

REEDUS: (As Daryl Dixon) Whatever.

MERAJI: And then in later episodes, it's no longer Glenn correcting his fellow zombie apocalypse survivors.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WALKING DEAD")

MICHAEL ROOKER: (As Merle Dixon) Damn near killed the Chinese kid.

REEDUS: (As Daryl Dixon) He's Korean.

ROOKER: (As Merle Dixon) Whatever.

YEUN: He's Asian. You have not seen this before, America. So let's address it and then let it go.

MERAJI: Yeun loves that Glenn is able to own his heritage without it defining him as a character. Besides couple of references to his Koreanness, he's just like everybody else on the show, doing his best not to get devoured by the undead. And his Asian-American fans are eating it up.

HARRISON PAK: It's just great to see someone who's of Asian-American descent playing an Asian-American character. And he's - you know, to be frank, he's...

MERAJI: I'm going to stop Harrison Pak right there because some of his frankness won't fly on family-friendly radio. Pak was in a sketch comedy group with Yeun called Stir-Friday Night! in Chicago before he got his big break on "The Walking Dead." And what Pak is trying to say is that it's great to finally see the Asian guy get the girl. Her name's Maggie by the way.

PAK: A hot white chick on the most-watched cable drama in the history of TV. So - and the funny thing is, like, no one's saying anything about it, you know? Like, maybe it takes the zombie apocalypse to transcend racial politics.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WALKING DEAD")

YEUN: (As Glenn Rhee) Maggie, I love you. I should've said it a long time ago and it's been true for a long time.

MERAJI: Steven Yeun is now something of a sex symbol, with teenagers to grown women of every race and ethnicity swooning on social media. But the way he tells it, he wouldn't be anything without his parents' sacrifices. When he was around 5, they left Seoul, South Korea, where his dad was a successful architect, to come to North America. Their first stop - Regina, Saskatchewan.

YEUN: My cousins had told me that the first job we all collectively did was putting chopsticks in those paper sleeves.

MERAJI: From chopstick sorting came a denim jean stacking at his uncle's store in Michigan. His parents eventually saved enough to open up a couple of beauty supply stores in Detroit, where Yeun says they still work on their feet for 10 to 12 hours a day. But between church and work, he says his parents always make time to watch him on "The Walking Dead."

YEUN: They do. They don't understand it completely (laughter). So they get, like, some bootlegged version with subtitles. My dad one time called me and said, please tell Melissa thank you for saving you guys. And I'm like you know it's not real? He said just thank her. And I was like all right.

MERAJI: After being saved and doing some saving of his own on "The Walking Dead" for five seasons, fans are wondering if it's Steven Yeun's character, Glenn's, turn to meet his maker. And - I'm just going to use this national radio platform that broadcasts to millions of people to beg AMC not to do it. Please, please, please do not kill Glenn. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.

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