Spoiler alert: Do not read if you haven’t watched the current season of “The Walking Dead.”
Steven Yeun has gone from “The Walking Dead” to an animated life. The actor, who was horribly dispatched in the seventh-season opener of the AMC drama, can currently be seen in “Voltron: Legendary Defender,” flying a red metallic lion into space as he helps save the universe.
Yeun had already taken on the role of the mysterious Keith, the orphaned paladin (pilot) of the red lion, in Netflix’s reboot of the ‘80s cartoon series, aware of the brutal end that was going to befall Glenn Rhee, his “Walking Dead” character.
“It’s all a little bittersweet,” says Yeun. “I feel great, though. It feels good to have completed something.”
We caught up with Yeun to talk about “Voltron” — which recently launched its second season — and his role while seeing if we could draw any connections between Keith and Rhee.
Did you join “Voltron” because you remembered playing with the lion toys as a kid?
The way I became involved with it was because I had worked with [“Voltron” executive producers] Joaquim [Dos Santos] and Lauren [Montgomery] on “The Legend of Korra,” and it was a great experience. And for me, knowing Voltron, when they asked me to be involved, I said ‘Yeah, sure! How do I jump in?!’ I’m an ’80s kid. I watched different versions of it. Growing up Korean, I had that version. There was also a Japanese version. Yeah, it was just one of those formative things that happened when I was younger.
In this second season, there were a lot of changes with Keith. Can you go over some of them?
Keith is a complicated character. He operates a little differently than the other paladins. He’s not the only one with a difficult family history, but his centers around the way that he is. He’s hotheaded for a reason, and he’s very talented without a lot of ways or things that he can use to express that. His naivete mixed with his sheer will to make things happen for himself means his hotheadedness may be be viewed as a defense mechanism. He comes from an obviously difficult and mysterious past that pushes him to be great. He’s really complex and fun.
Voice acting — how different is it for you, and how does a voice director like Andrea Romano help that out?
It allows you to do things that you wouldn’t normally be called upon to do. It’s really fun to do ADR [automatic dialogue replacement] and try to match it up, finding those perfect moments where the dialogue and sounds really do measure up to what’s being shown on screen. In terms of Andrea, she’s invaluable. She molds your performance and also listens to see if maybe a better performance could be out there.
You’ve obviously had to keep storytelling secrets before, and even did so in not publicizing your appearance at last year’s Comic-Con panel, so how is it with “Voltron” since you’re most likely a season-plus ahead?
I’m OK with keeping secrets. With this one, I feel like it’s not that hard because it’s so good. Just like “The Walking Dead,” you’re excited to see how people react when they see something like this. For me, I tell no one, and it’s been fine.
Speaking of “Walking Dead” are there similarities between Glenn and Keith — besides them both being survivors?
I think their only real similarities are that they come from a very honest place. It seems like Keith takes care of things in a very different way than Glenn. Keith thinks with his heart often, and sometimes his heart is very fiery, and I think that leads him to brash decisions. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong. You look at someone like Glenn and he’s someone that thinks with his heart, but his mind has got a very solid grasp over it to the point where he’s able to make intelligent emotional decisions. Obviously one is older than the other, which might have a little bit to do with it, but they’re definitely way different characters.
Where would you like to see Keith go not only this season, but in possible future seasons?
The direction that he’s headed in right now is exciting, to see him face his fear [of leading] ... Maybe he didn’t get to see the clearest example of what it takes to be a leader, or maybe he did get to and he thinks that it’s a terrifying thing for him. In that way, that trip is always fun to play. It’s just nice to be that cranky, brooding kid for a while that gets shoved into a leadership position.
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