Acting opposite Steven Yeun in Netflix’s hit show BEEF, Young Mazino is an exciting new face on our screens. In the fantastically dark comedy, which follows two frustrated and vengeful strangers after a road rage incident, Mazino plays Paul, the younger brother to Yuen’s Danny. The onscreen brothers are down-on-their-luck Korean-Americans living in California after their parents lose the family business. Butting heads on everything from careers to dating, Paul and Danny nevertheless have genuine love for each other that is portrayed with nuance by Mazino and Yuen.
I chatted with Mazino about his budding career, the representation of Asian-Americans on BEEF, and working with Yeun.
How did you first get involved with the show, and what was your first meeting with the showrunner Lee Sung Jin [also known as Sonny] like?
It was just an audition I got from my New York agent at the time. I was back home in Maryland, so I sent a tape and forgot about it — 'cause that's how you protect yourself from all the L's you acquire as an actor — but I heard back. I got a [chemistry] read in L.A. and that's when I got to meet Sonny, Ali [Wong], and Steven.
I had looked up the breakdown, the details of the show, and immediately I could tell that this was not an ordinary project. I mean, A24, Netflix, Ali, Steven. That's when I discovered Sonny. When I saw his writing credits on some really big shows, I could immediately tell, and even from the audition sides, that this was a damn good writer.
Your character Paul is the younger brother to Steven Yuen's character, Danny. They struggle to connect sometimes due to a generational divide. Can you talk about that relationship?
There's a lot because not only is Danny Paul's older brother but because their parents had to go back to Korea, Danny ended up being almost like a father figure. When that gets blended, the dynamic shifts, especially as they get older, and Paul enters into adulthood. I think when people see the show in the latter episodes, they'll see the story behind them growing up. And it begs the question, does Paul need Danny as much as Danny actually needs Paul?
I think when you love someone, you gain strength from them. When you care for someone and have someone you have to look over, it empowers you.
But what happens when the dynamic gets shifted and the one being taken care of wants to just be free and be on his own? That creates a lot of friction, especially given that they're not exactly in an ideal situation, economically, so the hardships of just getting by — combined with the familial dynamic being kind of twisted because of circumstance — it creates a lot of friction. I've seen that growing up. I mean, I have two older sisters, but I know a lot of similar Danny/Paul dynamics in friends and people in the community that I came from.
There's something in the show that I don't think I've seen before, which is the Korean-American church being depicted on screen. Can you talk about how it was filming those scenes and about their cultural specificity?
So, in Korean-American culture, church plays a huge part. It's almost more about the community than the religion. For me growing up, during the school week, I was one of a handful of Asian kids, and my Asian-ness was very — I could feel how Asian I was in high school. And yet, every Sunday [church was] where I would go and feel at peace and feel at home and be surrounded by other Korean-Americans. That's a huge part of Korean-American culture.
Safe to say that any community that has a lot of roots can get very toxic, and [the] church is susceptible to that too. Beef and chaos — it comes out in religious groups just as much as any other community.
We see you a lot with your shirt off on the show. The physicality of Paul is — [and other instances] when we see really ripped Asian guys — part of a new representation on screen. Can you talk a bit about that and how much of that comes from the writing, or how much of it came from you?
Sonny, the showrunner, asked me a few weeks before production to bulk up as much as possible. I think it's very reflective of Paul's inner psyche. I guess it's a surprise that Asian men can also be very masculine and look jacked, but I think beyond that — while he has this physique that would allow him to be much more confident and have that kind of "fuck you" energy, he still is a little bit repressed. Internally, he still doesn't have that inner confidence because he's, in a sense, a lost boy. And no matter how many pounds of muscle you pack on, it doesn't change your internal mechanics unless you have enough introspection to get into that.
Maybe that's meta in a lot of other Asian-American dudes, and I hope they can relate to that. You know, that whole notion of guys going to the gym and looking cut so they can get the girls, but in the end they just get a lot of other dudes being like, "Yo, what's your regimen? What kind of pre-workouts you on?" And there are no girls in sight. It's a parallel to that, for sure.
Going back to the relationship with you and Danny, how was your relationship off-screen between you and Steven? You're newer in the industry, and he's a bit more established. Did you have a bit of a brotherly relationship?
I'm definitely a rookie in comparison. The thing is Steven is such a talented and successful actor. And yet, in person, outside of the set, he's so real and so chill and so down-to-earth. Same with Ali. We met up a few times to get familiar with each other, but what really brought us together and what helped us find that dynamic we were looking for was basketball.
We met up on a court in Pasadena and just balled out and played one-on-one for a while. By the last point, the last play, we were both in the air, and I was trying to score, and he was battling me. And we clashed, and we were both trying to win. In that spirit, in that moment, we kind of found something. And we were like, "Oh, that's it right there." And we worked off of that for the show.
My last question is more of a fun one. Were there any other Cho company puns that were cut out of the show?
[Laughs] Not to my recollection, but I did want to get "Cho Bros" tatted on me somewhere, but my sisters were like, "Don't do that."