“It’s not about us being enemies. It’s really about these two people having a connection”: Lee Sung Jin, Ali Wong and Steven Yeun on Beef
Beef is a new series premiering on Netflix this April, starring Ali Wong (Always Be My Maybe) and Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead). Created by Lee Sung Jin, the story follows two very different people whose lives get messily tangled up after a road rage incident between them goes viral. Wong plays Amy, a hardworking and self-made entrepreneur who’s aiming to sell her business for a $10m deal in hopes of finally being able to spend time with her family. On the other side of the coin, Yeun plays Danny, a contractor struggling to make ends meet, living with his brother and shouldering the burden of financing his parents.
Moderated by Henry Goldblatt, the March press conference for the show is full of laughs, inside jokes and Yeun trying his best not to spoil anything. They discuss themes within the series, their own road rage experiences, and emblematic scenes they found throughout the filming of Beef.
Sung Jin makes it clear that in the early stages of making Beef, he wasn’t looking to tackle any specific themes or create any statement in particular: “Probably what I spend the most amount of time on is making sure the beats feel good, and then all those other things just kind of happen organically. You just try to add textures and specificities that feel true to life and true to people you know, and then all those themes naturally bubble up. It’s definitely not top-down, where I’m like, ‘I want to tackle identity’ or anything like that.”
This extends further into the cultural representation of Beef. The series touches on faith and the Korean church, and, rather than using that as a vehicle for Asian representation and exploration of religion, Sung Jin insists that it’s mostly just about incorporating experiences that were real for himself and therefore resonate for the characters as well – specifically, Danny, who is also of Korean descent in the series: “It really was just thinking about Danny and what his life would have been like. He would have absolutely grown up in the Korean church; Steven and I did as well.”
Sung Jin and Wong also discuss their own road rage experiences, his, in particular, marking the blueprint for the series’s premise. He describes the event as “a typical road rage thing” that got him thinking about how people perceive their subjective realities and how they in turn project those assumptions onto other people. Wong, on the other hand, recalls an incident when she was just 16 years old: “This guy, he was drunk and I don’t know why he was angry at me all of a sudden. But he was so angry that he did pull up on the driver’s side in the lane that was going opposite of traffic. He looked me in the eye from his truck and was like screaming all sorts of expletives at me. All I could focus on was losing him.”
Another standout discussion from the conference are scenes they each think are emblematic of the show. Sung Jin kicks it off by referencing an event in the seventh episode with the two leads. While not giving away any specific details, he does describe it as “quite powerful, but so minimal, and very existential”.
Wong chimes in with hers, which is the closing scene of the first episode. For her, it’s getting to know Yeun and creating that safe space for both of them to connect through their characters: “Because I didn’t know Steven and his process that well, I was like, ‘Okay, since we’re playing enemies, in between takes and during lunch, is he going to throw a doughnut at my head?’. That sort of set the precedent. Because, really, it’s not about us being enemies. It’s really about these two people having a connection.”
Yeun closes the discussion with some representative scenes of his own, alluding to the finale episode of the season: “A lot of the quiet moments were, for me, really fun to unpack – just kind of being in a vulnerable, natural condition internally and externally between Danny and Amy.”
Beef is released on Netflix on 6th April 2023.
Watch the trailer for Beef here: