Q&A: Netflix dark comedy ‘Beef’ premieres at SXSW

Angela Lim and Sage Dunlap

Starring Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, the upcoming A24-produced Netflix series “Beef” follows two strangers who seek vengeance on one another after a road rage incident. Ahead of the dark comedy’s world premiere at South by Southwest on Saturday, The Daily Texan spoke to its cast and crew members about the inspirations behind the project.

The Daily Texan: What steps did you take to get into character?

Steven Yeun: I don’t think there was a step-by-step process, but I knew I was going to engage in going through all my base, terrible instincts and (then) trying to find humanity and a justification behind all of those instincts. They aren’t rooted in judgment. … You get mad, but it’s coming from a real place of feeling oppressed, misunderstood or pushed down. That was really interesting, fun and cathartic to express. 

Ali Wong: I did do some work, but I have to really thank the heads of our department, the costumes and set design. If you look at (Amy’s) house, all those wooden flats are seemingly very sad, but they also make Amy feel like she’s in a cage, so that helped me feel trapped. My clothes were all a neutral palette. I wear a lot of fun, loud things that are very expressive of my inner personality, (but) Amy wears a lot of neutrals. She has these insane thoughts, which also made me feel trapped. So, I really have the art director and the head of costumes to thank — and the writing of course.

DT: Aside from film, you also have experience in directing music videos. How does your experience in that realm influence your directorial style?

Jake Schreier (director, executive producer): In music videos, I work with a lot of different artists, and sometimes people have very different perspectives than my own. I hope that when we make a good video, it feels as much like theirs as it does mine as a piece of work. For something like (“Beef”) that was so personal to so many people involved, a lot of it was about leaving room for those people to bring themselves to the work and creating space for (them) … rather than trying to enforce a vision onto them.

DT: This show was inspired by your own road rage incident. What about that moment stuck with you?

Lee Sung Jin (creator, showrunner, executive producer): It was a standard road rage thing. The light turned green, and I didn’t go fast enough. (There was) a lot of honking and cursing from this other car, which was a white SUV, much like the show. It stuck with me because I projected a lot of assumptions onto this person, and I’m sure he did to me as well. That made me think, “Maybe there’s a show here about two people who are very stuck in their subjective views of the world.” I told Steven about the idea, and he (got) attached very quickly. Then, that led to Ali, and now we’re here.

DT: What compelled you to join this project after reading the script?

Hikari (director): As a director, you get so many scripts — a lot of TV shows. When I read this script, I went through it like I was drinking water, just so fast. Every page, every word that I saw, I just visualized. And working with somebody like Steven Yeun or Ali Wong is just such a beautiful experience.