Interview – Steven Yeun on channelling televangelists for ‘Nope’

Oscar® winner Jordan Peele disrupted and redefined modern horror with Get Out and then Us. Now, he reimagines the summer movie with a new pop nightmare: the expansive horror epic, Nope. The film reunites Peele with Oscar® winner Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out, Judas and the Black Messiah), who is joined by Keke Palmer (Hustlers, Alice) and Oscar® nominee Steven Yeun (Minari, Okja) as residents in a lonely gulch of inland California who bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery.

Thanks to Universal Pictures, I got the chance to sit in on a roundtable with one of the film’s stars, Steven Yuen (The Walking Dead, Minari), on his character, Jupe, and shooting in the Californian heat!

I’m sure there were many reasons you wanted to work with Jordan Peele! Can you share a few of those reasons, and why Nope stood out to you?

Steven Yeun: I think for me, the first and foremost reason was working with Jordan. I’ve been a big fan of his, for some time. As a director and as a human. And, you know, when he offered me this role, I wasn’t hesitant, but I wanted to see what he wanted to do specifically with this role. And in talking with him and excavating the character, and him opening up the collaboration to build out the character, more specifically tailored to me, I knew that he was someone that I could trust, and is such a great director to, kind of just, follow. So, for me, it was really, Jordan.

I think what caught my attention when I first read the script was the layers in which he was speaking. I think he was speaking, on first glance, I don’t want to say easy, but a little gentler to access the adventure story, just a fun story. And then when you start going in deeper, looking at the characters, what they’re saying, all the little details he has in the script, then, you know, he’s trying to get several layers deeper with it. And then when you have the conversation with Jordan, you realise that he’s trying to touch something that not many people think to even touch. So yeah, again, it really all just comes back to Jordan for me.

Did you mould your characters evangelical mentality on anyone specifically?

Steven: That’s funny that you say that. There were a couple ideas that we threw around. I don’t know if I’d like to name specific names. But yes, there were, like, evangelical pastors that we looked at that and that we thought about. We thought about Willy Wonka, sometimes. There was just this cultish way about him as well that I really wanted to tap into. So yeah, we did not not look at all your favourite TV evangelists.

I think the scary part of it is that at some point, as you get deeper and deeper, the separation between yourself and the character becomes less and less. Because then you’re hitting something so based and so fundamental, that you’re like, “Is this me”? So, it gets tricky that way, but it is really nice when a character can be so full that way.

Can you also elaborate about your characters complex and relationship with pop culture, fame and nostalgia?

Steven: Yeah, I think Jupe is all of us in some way. Maybe he’s slightly infantilized. Perhaps he is the sum of everyone else’s expectations and projections upon him. I think he’s kind of touching, you know, the gaze, the way in which we see each other. The way in which we’re kind of domesticated and trained to respond to what we’re seeing. Sometimes it gives us comfort sometimes that you know, it’s a constant rejection of us to a degree. And then what happens, when you’re a child and you’re subject to being a Hollywood star, and then more specifically with Jupe, what’s it like when you’re actually not the main character, but you’re one of the side characters? There’s many layers to him that I think we all try to touch. But in that way, I think he represents all of us to live in that type of isolation, where maybe there’s a true version of himself somewhere, but it’s hidden under many layers of other people’s expectations.

You’re no stranger to shooting in the extreme outdoors, for instance, The Walking Dead. Was Nope equally challenging shooting in the outdoors of the Californian desert?

Steven: You know, they were so considerate. They had these cooling vests that had all this, like, really ice-cold water flowing through to cool us down because it was in Santa Clarita and I was under that huge tuxedo. But also, I don’t think I ended up using it! [laughs]

There is just something really nice about being in it, you know? You got to think of it like Jupe is submitting himself to something larger than him. That maybe he hopes it takes him with it in a multitude of ways, not necessarily literally, but maybe through fame or spectacle. I think heat’s the last thing Jupe is thinking about in that moment. And so, I didn’t end up really considering that much either. And also, I hydrated! I drink a lot of water.

Thanks again to Universal Pictures for the chance to chat with Steven! Nope is in Australian cinemas August 11.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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