“Beef” stars Steven Yeun and Ali Wong as two people involved in a road rage incident that spirals out of control and begins to consume their every waking moment. And despite that Yeun and Wong have no actual beef with each other, that anger began to consume them outside of the show, too — except in real life, it came in the form of hives.
During a Q&A following the world premiere of “Beef” at South by Southwest, the actors were asked how they managed to decompress after performing such explosive anger on set.
“Our bodies shut down,” Yeun said.
“Steven and I both broke out in hives after the show. Mine was on my face. His was all over his body because he’s weak like that,” Wong said, to wide audience laughter. “It definitely took a toll on us, but we didn’t even realize until after the show ended. I mean, I won’t even talk about what happened to your elbow.”
She continued: “I don’t think we knew that was going to happen. If we knew what we were going to put our bodies and minds through, maybe we wouldn’t have said yes, but we’re really glad we did.”
Series creator Lee Sung Jin knows a thing or two about that kind of anger. Onstage, he revealed that “Beef” was inspired by a bout of road rage that he actually experienced himself.
“It was with a white SUV. A BMW, not a Mercedes,” he said, as Wong’s character drives a white Mercedes in the show. “It honked at me, cursed at me and drove away. And for some reason, on that day, I was like, ‘I’m gonna follow you.’ It didn’t end like it did in the show — that’s why I’m here, able to talk to you today — but it definitely made me think about how we live in such subjective realities where we project onto people we don’t know.”
“Beef” is not the first collaboration between Jin, Wong and Yeun. Jin was a writer on “Tuca and Bertie,” in which Wong and Yeun voiced lead characters. Jin said that Yeun was one of the first people to hear the idea for “Beef”: “We talked for like three hours. Conversations with Steven usually start like, ‘Hey, I want to talk to you about this show,’ and then three hours later, we’re like, ‘Why is God the way he is?’”
“What attracted me is that we got to play with something that we’re not asked to on the surface, which is our shadow selves,” Yeun said. “This whole show is every character’s shadow self, and we all have that. So to tap into that — and to get paid for it — is great. And hopefully to make you feel seen, too, because this shit’s very common.”
His prior connections with Jin and Wong made the role easier for Yeun. “It keeps you feeling safe, and it helps you to be more honest. You’re not left on your own vulnerability,” he said. “When you get to express this all in that safety of friendship on set, you go home like, ‘I don’t really explore that anywhere else.’ So it wasn’t too bad. It’s just holding up the tension that was really gnarly.”