Steven Yeun Couldn’t Cry Filming the Church Scene in ‘Beef’

One of the most memorable scenes in Lee Sung Jin’s “Beef” is not of the escalating psychological warfare between Danny (Steven Yeun) and Amy (Ali Wong). It’s a subtle, wordless scene (except for lyrics) in Episode 3 where Danny is moved to tears in a church, the reasons for this display known only to him and never revealed to the audience.

Episode 3 is one of six directed by Jake Schreier, who spoke paired with Yeun as part of IndieWire’s Awards Spotlight. Multiple episodes included scenes in the church, so the “Beef” production team filmed them all during one week. When the time finally came for Yeun to weep openly in the congregation, he couldn’t.

“That is the thing about Steven… he will not give you a false moment,” Schreier said. “He wasn’t going to force it.”

Though Yeun and Lee share Danny’s Korean roots, both looked to Schreier for further guidance on the character, to balance his pain with its inner and outer forces.

“Sonny was a place I could go to like ‘Yeah…that’s shameful, right?’” Yeun said to Schreier. “Sonny and I, when we would talk, Danny would be left in judgment. And then when you and I would talk, there was a grace that you allowed Danny that also allowed me to recalibrate and just trust in the process of it all.”

When Yeun couldn’t summon the tears for that pivotal scene, Schreier spoke to him off-camera and then filmed another scene. When they came back with the full musical performance, that shift in Yeun’s feelings toward the character broke through.

“What does it mean to give real grace?” Yeun said. “Is it to take away everything and go like ‘It’s all about you, we’re here for you’ — because somehow that didn’t lead to the truth. When we just made it true and there was no judgment, when everybody else started singing, then I just started sobbing. That’s what this moment is for Danny; it’s not a moment of isolation, it’s a moment of deep connection.”

Justin H. Min and Steven Yeun in “Beef”ANDREW COOPER/NETFLIX

Another scene both loved was Danny’s Episode 8 outburst, when he learns that Edwin (Justin H. Min) didn’t burn down Danny’s home, but instead just bought magazine subscriptions in his name out of spite.

“What you did was not nice!” Danny shouts. “It’s not nice to do that!”

Yeun explained that Danny in that moment has created a narrative for himself in which he is the righteously indignant villain; when that turns out not to be the case, he has to divert the rage it inspired, leading to the enraged declaration.

“He’s still so prideful, that he can’t come all the way down and go ‘Hey, man, I’m so sorry I did this, it is not okay what I did,’” Yeun said starting to laugh. “Instead he has to yell at him one more time.”

Schreier added that no one in the scene is lying, a rarity in “Beef.” “That was this beautiful engine that Sonny fashioned that made the whole thing go,” he said.

Danny’s anger is honest, but like many other instances, it’s something he feels toward himself and directs at others.

Check out Yeun and Schreier’s full Awards Spotlight chat in the video above.

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