The horror film MAYHEM opens in theaters today and it’s a rarity in that it stars an Asian American lead, in this case, THE WALKING DEAD’s Steven Yeun. Yeun spoke to the Hollywood Reporter about the film–where he plays a worker stuck in an office building infected with a deadly virus–and tackling an Asian American character “without an agenda”:
Yeah. It sounds like you have a kinship with Derek. The whole thing is about wishing he could just walk away from the corporate bustle and paint more. That’s where his journey takes him. It feels lucky, or like kismet, to find a character that you identify with so much.
Yeah! I think some people could brush off some of the scenes and ideas as maybe a little bit more obvious, you know? I don’t think the movie, for us, was trying to say anything necessarily brand new. I think we were just trying to tell a classic idea as straightforward, and grounded and realistic as possible, in a non-realistic situation. Even Derek being an Asian-American person says a lot. We never harped on it. We never focused on it to a point where it needed to be addressed as anything more than the character just not being a traditional person you’d see in that context.
I think there are little truths here and there that make this film much more full, and make it more poignant, even though people could brush it off by saying that we’re treading similar territory. Those are things that I really enjoy, experiencing what it’s like to have that cathartic moment. I know so many Asian-Americans who are just in the grind, and they’re not moving up. They’re just caught somewhere in the middle. While that’s applicable to everyone, there’s something, I feel, societally true about how Asian-Americans are perceived, too, and again, that wasn’t the sole focus for anything beyond just being another layer added onto this that I feel makes it more honest.
It’s cool how the movie makes this point about what you’re talking about, in regards to Asian-American casting without ever having to address it. For me, if I hear about this movie on paper — and there was a movie similar to this earlier this year! — the default hero will be a generic white guy. It’s great to see the movie just cast an Asian-American actor without an agenda. It’s there. That says a lot on its own.
Yeah. I think you hit it dead on. You know, sometimes it’s nice to change the view a little bit, then you get a deeper perspective of a singular thing. We’ve been seeing the same things over and over and over, and there’s nothing wrong with retreading themes and retreading ideas, but let’s tell it more fully. Let’s tell it more complexly. That’s essentially what our actual world looks like. I think that’s the direction I feel, and I hope, we’re all headed toward in society.
To read the full interview, go to THR: How Steven Yeun Is Showing a New Side with ‘Mayhem’