Though many of you know Steven Yeun from his time on AMC’s The Walking Dead as the heroic survivor Glenn Rhee, the actor has been popping up in all sorts of unexpected places lately, namely in the realm of animation. He voices the character of Keith in Voltron Legendary Defender and the bully Steve in Trollhunters, both from DreamWorks Animation and available to stream now on Netflix. Yeun was also recently announced to be voicing the lead character in Sony Animation’s Christmas movie, The Star, a character which just so happens to be a talking donkey.
I recently had a chance to chat with Yeun about all things animation in a talk that ranged from his favorite cartoon shows as a kid, to his entry into the world of voice-acting, to his current and upcoming projects. We’ve yet to hear whether the excellent Voltron or the smash hit Trollhunters will be renewed for a third and second season respectively, but here’s hoping Yeun and company get to continue exploring their characters and the rich mythological settings they appear in.
But before we got into his future projects, I was curious to find out where Yeun got his start in voice-acting:
Yeun: To be quite honest, I don’t know. I did some in Chicago and I would do commercials here and there. It was always really exciting. Then somehow, some way, someone let me in the door and I’ve been really lucky to do these things. I don’t know if there’s a rhyme or reason, I’m just very fortunate.
I think everybody dreams of being in an animated movie, or something like that. For me, it was always a goal and something I looked forward to hopefully being able to be a part of. For me, the enjoyment is also being able to play something I would never be cast in, so it’s been really fun to do that.
For example, not too many actors get to play the pilot of a giant robot lion who flies through space battling monsters. Yeun did, and will hopefully continue to do so as Keith in Voltron. Without going into spoiler territory, Keith discovered some pretty big truths about himself and his family in the closing episodes of the latest season. Unfortunately, Yeun couldn’t confirm nor deny that Season 3 is in the works, but he’s excited to expand on that discovery if it’s possible:
I will say, the people involved are wonderful, Joaquim [Dos Santos] and Lauren [Montgomery] are fantastic. For me, I’m more excited [to see] where they’re going to take it. Obviously with where we left off, there’s a lot more we can go to.
Fans of both Voltron and Trollhunters might be pleased to know that Yeun voices two totally different characters in the two Netflix series. Here’s some insight into how he channels Keith vs the bully Steve:
You can go as far as changing up the voice and that type of thing. I don’t know that within the context of these two characters I’ve been able to explore a wild change in my voice. I know with Steve I get a little bit more guttural; the way that he speaks is very different. I think I channel two totally different people. Keith, when I voice Keith, I rarely sweat if ever. With Steve, I’m always sweating, which is kinda gross, because I just get super, super physical with the character. It’s definitely fun. It’s more of a mood choice before it is a voice choice.
There’s a fun sequence in Trollhunters in which Steve loses a tooth and Yeun makes a bold choice in his performance that helps the character stand out. Here’s how that came about:
Rodrigo [Blaas] said, “Hey you don’t have a tooth.” And I said, [lisps] “Okay, I guess I’m just going to talk like this the whole time.” If anything, parameters like that make it a lot more fun to play because it’s limiting but at the same time liberating because you’re forced to play a thing that you might not normally do. That was a lot of fun to do that, for sure.
Though show creator Guillermo del Toro recently confirmed that the cast and characters of Season 1 of Trollhunters would be returning if a second season was ordered, Yeun wasn’t so sure what the plans were for Steve:
I don’t know. I hope we get to see more of Steve. I like Steve. I think he has a complicated history, so maybe we’ll get to see that. I don’t know.