Black comedy series Beef, created by Lee Sung Jin, has given us so much already—the best TV series of the year so far, a reason to renew that Netflix subscription, and of course, breakout star Young Mazino in the role of Paul Cho. The series follows a road rage incident between Danny Cho (Steven Yeun) and Amy Lau (Ali Wong) that escalates exponentially with every episode. If you haven’t seen it yet, I won’t do you the disservice of more details. Go watch it!
Mazino plays Danny’s younger brother, on the surface a standard-issue West Coast Korean gym-bro obsessed with gaming and cryptocurrency. But he reveals layers of earnestness and unexpected wisdom as his life gets swept up in his brother’s drama. We spoke with Young Mazino about his journey so far, what comes next, and how he narrowly escaped living a version of Paul’s life through acting.
“If I never moved to New York, if I stayed in Maryland and never pursued anything, if I didn’t have art, music, or passion to cling onto, I think I could have easily gotten swept up into the same mind state that Paul was in,” Mazino explains. “The big difference was I also had good infrastructure. I had two parents who sacrificed a lot to help me thrive and provide an education and sent me to a bunch of extracurriculars where I could develop my affinity for music or art, for acting. But I did drop out of college.”
Mazino recounts a turning point moment: “I was going to night school and working at a dead end, windowless office job, doing some data entry to see if the nine-to-five grind was something I wanted to do. I remember I would be in the dark and in traffic on the way to work, and then I’d leave the office in the dark, stuck in traffic again. I realized you have to define life by yourself and not listen to anyone, so I broke out of my Sisyphean trap. I moved to New York when I was 21 or 22 and then just got lost there. I had acting and I got to meet a lot of other creatives and artists so my career trajectory changed there. It was very vulnerable because I feel like Paul was me in an alternate life. If I didn’t have the infrastructure, if I had a very toxic older brother who wanted to keep me down, I could easily have been pulled into this life.”
Beef is a rare example of Asian representation where the plot does not hinge on identity. There’s no “very special episode” trope to unpack the model minority myth, no tiger moms or microaggressions to confront. Sure, it’s about being Asian in a repressed generational trauma kind of way, but more than anything else, it’s a study of unhappiness packaged into anger exploding out into the banality of everyday life.
For Mazino, this essential humanity of the story was what drew him into the role.
“It goes beyond the color of my skin and my complexion. Of course, growing up, I went through a whole thing of identity and felt like I was, for some reason, less than,” he says. “I think that has to do with portrayal in media and media is powerful. Going far back into the 1920s, the Asian man has been this very meek, tiny little man. But I think Asian American men and women, and everyone, are capable of just as much savagery and just as much beauty as the next person.”
Beef’s confrontation of trauma and the humor that comes along with it blurs the line between laughing and screaming and illuminates the question Mazino jokingly poses: “Why do I have so much angst when my life has been so lukewarm? Why do I feel so much of this? And then I come to realize it’s because it’s in my blood, because there’s residuals of trauma and war, oppression, and all these things that sit in my DNA.”
He adds, “But it does make for dramatic storytelling.”
Young Mazino looks to the future now, excited to meet whatever comes his way.
“I would love to work with a list of filmmakers and directors and writers that I have been adoring. But the dream role would just be whatever the universe has waiting for me,” he says. “I would love a role where I can really dig into it and have enough for me to work on to get lost in.”
We can’t wait to see what’s next.
Beef is now streaming on Netflix.