Steven Yeun, who played Korean-American Glenn Rhee on The Walking Dead, says the character started in stereotypical dress resembling that of Short Round, the sidekick played by Jonathan Ke Quan in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
“I look at things like Glenn, and I’m still grateful that I actually got a chance to make him human, because if we’re gonna be honest… In the beginning, the first couple episodes, Glenn was human, but he was also very expected,” Yeun told EW.
“There’s a reason why the first costume designer had me wear Short Round clothes, you know? That’s not maybe on purpose because she was like, ‘I want you to be Short Round.’ But she was relying on the systems that she knew, and the images and ideas that she knew of what Asian people are to her.”
In his earliest appearances, the pizza boy-turned-runner wore a baseball cap that could evoke imagery of Short Round’s weathered New York Giants ball cap. That look, inspired by the character’s appearance in creator Robert Kirkman’s comic book series, would be dropped by Season Three.
“[The costume designer] was like, ‘Here’s a thing that I picked out, and it looks just like Short Round. Here’s a Japanese flag that we want you to wear,’” Yeun said. “And in my head, I’m like, ‘Why would I choose that?’ I could choose that, but why would I choose that? And it’s just that type of pervasive starting point.”
Yeun, who has since moved on to headline Okja, Voltron: Legendary Defender and Lee Chang-dong’s Burning, believes Glenn’s vicious and violent death at the hands of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) meant giving the character a “lasting impact.”
He said at Walker Stalker Con Nashville in 2017 that the memorable and gory execution prevented Glenn from fading into the background and gave the character “this great exclamation point.”
Yeun later opened up to Vanity Fair about the controversial death, explaining that the moment was “like holding up a battered skull to the world to be like, ‘Don’t forget, this Asian person existed in this medium and now he’s f—ing dead.”
“That’s super cool,” Yeun said. “I’m cool with that.”
Glenn’s memory continues to live on in The Walking Dead: the character played a bit role from beyond the grave in 903 when his widowed wife and mother of his child, Maggie (Lauren Cohan), made a major decision spurred by his memory. Maggie also continues to treasure the pocket watch that was passed from father Hershel (Scott Wilson) to Glenn before both men met violent ends.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.