One of the most memorable scenes in Lee Sung Jin’s “Beef” isn’t that of the escalating psychological warfare between Danny (Steven Yeun) and Amy (Ali Wong). It’s a subtle, wordless (except for lyrics) scene in episode 3 where Danny is moved to tears in a church, the reasons for this performance 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. The multiple episodes included scenes in the church, so the “Beef” production team filmed them all over the course of a week. When the time finally came for Yeun to weep openly in the congregation, he couldn’t.
“That’s the thing about Steven … he’s not going to give you a fake moment,” Schreier said. “He wasn’t going to force it.”
Though Yeun and Lee share Danny’s Korean roots, both turned to Schreier for further guidance on the character, to balance his pain with his inner and outer strengths.
“Sunny was a place I could go to like, ‘Yeah…that’s shameful, isn’t it?’” Yeun told Schreier. “Me and Sunny, when we talked, Danny was left to judge. And then when you and I were talking, there was a grace that you gave Danny that he also allowed me to recalibrate and trust the process of all of this.
When Yeun couldn’t muster tears for that pivotal scene, Schreier spoke to him off camera and then filmed another scene. When they returned with the full musical performance, that change in Yeun’s feelings towards the character exploded.
“What does it mean to give true grace?” Yeun said. “It’s to take everything away and say ‘It’s only about you, we’re here for you’ – because it somehow didn’t lead to the truth. When we made it real and there was no judgment, when everyone else started singing, then I started sobbing. That’s what this moment is for Danny; it’s not a moment of isolation, it’s a moment of deep connection.
Another scene they both loved was Danny’s outburst in episode 8, when he learns that Edwin (Justin H. Min) didn’t burn down Danny’s house, he just bought magazine subscriptions in his name out of spite.
“What you did was not nice!” shouts Danny. “It’s not nice to do that!”
Yeun explained that Danny created a narrative for himself in that moment where he is the villain rightfully outraged; when that turns out not to be cast, he has to deflect the anger he inspired, leading to the enraged declaration.
“He’s still so proud, that he can’t go all the way down and say ‘Hey man, I’m so sorry I did this, it’s no good 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”. “It was this beautiful engine that Sunny modeled that made it all work,” he said.
Danny’s anger is honest, but like so many other cases, it’s something he feels towards himself and directs towards others.
Check out Yeun and Schrier’s full chat in the Awards Spotlight in the video above.