Interview by Jana Letonja

Young Mazino is a Korean-American actor, who’ll be starring in his breakthrough role in Netflix’s and A24’s series ‘Beef’, which premiered at SXSW in March and premiered on Netflix on 6th April. He’s been called a scene-stealing discovery by Vanity Fair. Prior to ‘Beef’, Young guest starred on popular series like ‘Prodigal Son’ and ‘Blue Bloods’.

Young, we’ll be seeing you in Netflix’s and A24’s series ‘Beef’ that follows two strangers, a failing contractor and an unfulfilled entrepreneur, involved in a road rage incident that begins to consume every thought and action of their lives. How was it filming all of the action and car racing scenes?

The entire filming of the project was glorious in more ways than one, other than the staircase scene in episode 4. That  was terrible. I remember towards the end of the episode, during an action scene I accidentally kneed Steven in the ribs, which I felt terrible about. 

Tell us more about your character, Paul and what’s his story.

When we’re introduced to Paul, he’s hunched over his computer inundated by video games. He’s practically broke, but spends two thousand dollars to wear a gold chain that doesn’t match with the rest of his clothes. He’s trying to make it big with crypto, a ticket out of the dopamine cycle he’s been stuck in for years now. In his younger years he had big ambitions, like going to college and studying business, but for some reason that never came to fruition. From then on,he’s regressed, becoming trapped in his older brother’s shadow. He’s become completely helpless in some ways, relying on his older brother Danny emotionally and financially. He is not in a good place. But everything changes when we begin ‘Beef’. 

What would you describe as the most memorable moment from the set?

There was one scene that we were having trouble with. It may have been the dialogue or blocking, but we had to do a hard stop to fix it. I remember being in the room with Sonny, Jake Schreir and Steven, brainstorming together on how to get this scene right. In that moment, I took a step back and realized “Wow, I’m actually doing this. I’m actually working with some of the most talented people I’ve ever met“. I took a beat to remember that moment with so much gratitude. As a cinephile and actor, working on such an amazing project with people way more talented than me, I couldn’t ask for more. 

Before ‘Beef’, we’ve been able to see you as a guest star on many successful series. Which guest role made the biggest impression on you and you wish it would’ve lasted for a longer period?

My first guest role was for a long-running show ‘Blue Bloods’. I won’t go into it too much, but that experience helped solidify what it was that I truly wanted as an actor and what things I was willing to discard. Sometimes it’s harder to find truth in my character when the role is limited to a few lines. There’s just not enough time or substance to pull from, versus a character like Paul in ‘Beef’ who has so much complexity and nuance to play with over the course of ten episodes. 

Vanity fair called you a scene-stealing discovery. How does this make you feel? Why do you think they gave you such a flattering compliment?

I try not to give compliments nor criticisms much gravity, although I do find relief in the general response to my performance. It feels chill. My job as an actor is to find truth under imaginary circumstances and the rest I leave to the wind. Also, it’s really the superb writing and directing that served as a beacon during my pursuit in building Paul’s character. Stories like ‘Beef’ are so rich in every aspect, it defies genre and my work felt similar to working on a full-length play. There was something Shakespearean about ‘Beef’ and when you work on something like that, with auteurs like Sonny, Jake, Hikari, not to mention scene partners like the amazing Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, how can one not do well? I appreciate the love though, truly. 

What sparked your passion in acting and what made you actually decide to seriously pursue it?

I was into acting before I knew what acting was. I had a lot of alone time as a kid, so naturally I fell into movies. When my parents left the house, I’d grab one of the VCRs on my dad’s shelves and watch my favorite movies over and over again. Then I’d reenact my favorite scenes, oftentimes going off-script to create my own improvised adventures. 

Then throughout my education, I’d always sneak in a theater class or join the school play, musical, recital, etc. But it wasn’t until an existential crisis and a defining event when I was 20-21 that I decided to drop out of college to move to NY, where I eventually got into the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. In short, what began as a form of play, became a form of escape, which is now a pursuit of truth. 

You’ve done also quite some theater before film and TV. How do TV and theater compare in your eyes?

They say film is a director’s medium and theater is an actor’s. But both are art forms I appreciate deeply. Film is a very different process in that you have multiple takes for each scene, which are spread out and sometimes shot out-of-sequence. For a play, once you start, it goes until it ends. No director to reset the blocking or fix a messed-up line. After all the prep, it’s just down to the actors sharing the stage. And a live audience to watch it all go down. There’s something magical about live performance, but there’s also magic in doing a scene with different takes and having the editors cut it up to form an entirely new story. I’d recommend watching some of the video essays by Kogonada on the Criterion Channel.  

You’ve been formally trained as a musician. How come acting prevailed over music, career wise?

Music is the life-blood that pulses through my soul. I’d be dead if it wasn’t for music. And I mean that literally. Music has rescued me from the lowest valleys I’ve traversed thus far. I learned early on in my adolescence that music was something sacred to me and I didn’t want to lose that original love by trying to make a career out of it. 

What are some of your biggest dreams and goals for your career?

I just want to make art. I want to work on stories that reach into the atoms of our being. Unveil the leviathans wading in the abyss. But also, if there is a way to make enough money to ensure my parents are well-taken care of as they get older, that too. 

Tell us more about your other upcoming projects.

I’ve worked on some indie passion projects before and after ‘Beef’, but aside from that I’m editing a film I shot while backpacking the Great Divide, a trail that goes from the border of Mexico to Canada, with a friend in the summer of 2021. His narrative edit is screening soon, but I’m cutting my own POV film which will be a bit more loose, abstract, flowy.

photography ALVIN KEAN WONG