Steven Yeun told Conan O’Brien on Monday that the real-world threat of the COVID-19 pandemic had blindsided him, even after working on a show about virus-spreading zombies for seven years.
“I’m one of the lucky ones. We have a house, I have a family, and it was all beautiful and we have all of those nice things,” said Yeun, who played fan-favorite character Glenn Rhee on “The Walking Dead.” “But what was crazy about the pandemic is the battlefield is yourself. ... You’ve got to find out about who you are during that time, and there’s a lot of stuff to clean up in there.”
Yeun called the early days of COVID-19 lockdown a moment where “everybody was in panic fight or flight” as they tried to figure out how to fight against an invisible virus — a scenario reminiscent of some of the apocalyptic scenes he’d been in on TV.
“I’ve kind of simulated that on ‘The Walking Dead’ with what weapons you choose or people that you hang out with or vehicles,” Yeun said, adding that none of this had translated into usable skills. “I was like, what do I do? And all I said was, ‘We’re all going to die.’”
The onset of the pandemic in the U.S. coincided with Yeun and his wife, Joana Pak, moving into a new house with their two young children.
“Wow, we’re so lucky we’re going to get this new home, we paid for the home, we were there for two weeks and then all of a sudden we were locked in a cage, with the four of us,” Yeun said.
The star jokingly added that without his wife’s support and planning, “we’d all be dead.”
Yeun recently became the first Asian American nominated for an Oscar for his performance in “Minari,” a film in which he plays a Korean immigrant father trying to settle his family on a farm in rural Arkansas.
The actor said that he was “still processing” his Oscar nomination, and called the experience of being associated with such a prestigious award in the midst of a pandemic “bizarre and strange.”
Watch the full interview below.