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GREATEST: Young Mazino

Cultural perspectives and the politics of fame with 'Beef' co-star Joseph Lee.

PHOTOGRAPHY: YUDO KURITA STYLING: DONNA LISA INTERVIEW: JOSEPH LEE INTRO: NICO AMARCA GROOMING: SIMONE FRAJND DIGITECH: DIRK MAI PHOTO ASSISTANT: DONOVAN NOVOTNY STYLING ASSISTANT: JASMINE AMINI
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Born Christopher Young Kim, Young Mazino was raised by conservative Korean immigrant parents in Montgomery County, Maryland, where his interests in the arts, apart from extracurricular music lessons encouraged by his mother, were often met with hostility or rejection. “I always felt like I was on the outside looking in,” says the actor. “But that was also fine because I think spending time alone is a great way to cultivate your own expression in forms of art. I took it as a blessing in disguise.” 

Like most young suburban Americans, Mazino followed the standard rulebook for living a happy, normal life: Stay out of trouble, get good grades, go to college, get a job. But he knew that this formula wasn’t going to work—at least not for the kind of fulfillment he was seeking. Realizing that this path had run its course, Mazino cut his college career short and moved to New York to pursue acting. He enrolled in classes at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting while juggling a full-time job in corporate finance, using whatever free time he had for auditions or filming small-role projects. When this double life became unmanageable, he decided to leave behind the comforts of a consistent paycheck and embark on a cross-country journey to Los Angeles. 

After years of struggle and disappointment, it’s unsurprising that Mazino’s initial response to landing his first major role, in Lee Sung Jin’s A24-produced show Beef, was more shock than excitement. “When Netflix called me to meet them, [I had] imposter syndrome,” he says. “I learned over the years that how to deal with rejection is to just shut down.” Soon reality would hit, though, as he found himself performing alongside award-winning actors Steven Yeun and Ali Wong. Still coasting off Beef’s success, Mazino is now learning to readjust his life as a public figure. 

Having finally gotten his big break, Mazino is now carving out what he wants his acting career to be. Sitting down with fellow Beef co-star Joseph Lee, Mazino reflects on the long road that led him to where he is today, why collaboration is crucial to a successful performance and how to maintain integrity while playing the “game” in Hollywood.

Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted before the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike, which began on July 14 and saw the guild take a unified stance against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers for better pay and working conditions, as well as contracts that include provisions on artificial intelligence.

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Acting wasn’t in my mind for a long time. When I did commit to anything artistic, it was oftentimes met with hatred.

Young Mazino

Was there a particular moment or event in your life that prompted your decision to pursue acting as your career?

Going to the movies was one of my favorite things as a kid. It was always a place of refuge. And then, as I got older, I gravitated towards performance, and it just felt like freedom. It wasn’t until going through an existential crisis that I decided to give it a shot. I was stuck in traffic once after work, and it was one of those very mundane moments where I felt like driving my car off the barrier. Then I realized, “I got to try something.” But it felt like a series of slow burning steps that led me towards the actual one-way ticket to New York.

You grew up in Montgomery County, Maryland. What was your childhood like?

It was very peaceful. There were a lot of trees, horses and fields. There was some diversity, but it was primarily white, Black and Latino. I was playing violin, going to church and performing. Acting wasn’t in my mind for a long time. When I did commit to anything artistic, it was oftentimes met with hatred in some way.

Did you spend a lot of time by yourself because of that?

Yeah. I mean, I had friends, but I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. I was the one friend that was outside of the window while everyone’s playing games. But that was also fine because I think spending time alone is a great way to cultivate your own expression in forms of art. I took it as a blessing in disguise.

I was always the weirdo who was into creative stuff. And now, a lot of those same friends are in this position. I think with the pandemic, they’re now looking for creative outlets, things that they’ve never even tried. It’s interesting to see life being flipped that way.

The same people that were throwing shade and doubting me will also hit me up and be like, “Hey man, I just wanted to say I’m happy for all your success. Let’s catch up sometime.” 

It’s a lot of insecurity and the inability for them to have an outlet, which causes them to look down on other people who are just trying to do their thing. How did your family upbringing shape you as a person and as an artist?

My parents were quite conservative. They were very religious and went to church multiple days a week. My dad is a computer engineer with five masters in cybersecurity and computer systems, but his PhD is in theology. Being the only son, I was raised with this militant idea that men don’t cry or show emotion. Every morning, if I was awake, he’d say bye before going to work and be like, “Yo, if anything happens to me, you’re the man of the house. You have to protect the family with your life.” My mom was always encouraging my extracurricular, artistic stuff like violin or reading. She wasn’t very vocal about it, but she knew I had this weird energy that needed an outlet. She kept me busy with all that and away from all kinds of trouble. 

Does your mom take credit for who you’ve become today? 

Oh, she’s just constantly worried. I’m sure she is proud, but internally, she’s still wracked with fear. Growing up, she was always my biggest critic. She’d be like, “Why can’t you just do what the teacher tells you to? Why can’t you follow the rules?” Now, she understands, but she still gives me crap all the time.

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How did you end up in New York? How did it affect you? 

New York was quite an impulsive decision. I think everyone was waiting with bated breath, wondering if I was actually going to do it. Then I just booked a ticket and packed a suitcase. I found a place off Craigslist for 600 bucks a month. There were roaches and mice and bedbugs. I probably knocked out a decade of my life just inhaling bed bug spray because I did it myself. I couldn’t afford an exterminator. That was my entrance into New York. Then serendipity occurs, and I find the right people. Somehow I get this full-time salaried job that enables me to survive. After about a year of struggle, I found a nice place where I can pay my bills, pay my rent, do auditions and become an actor. It eventually opened up into seven years of training, working on films and the audition grind. I wanted to know if this was just a pipe dream that would go away after a year or two, or is this something I care about? I do remember even on shitty sets there was an energy that I gravitated towards. New York is a very romantic place, and everyone’s struggling. There’s an expectation that you’re hustling.

It’s in LA, too. It’s a safe place for your delusion. How did you balance this double life of working in corporate finance and acting? Did you feel like you had to develop a split personality to assimilate in both settings?

Yeah. I was terrified that I would lose my job if they found out I was running to auditions during lunch, or leaving a little early, or using my vacation days at random to shoot short films. When I joined SAG, I went by my stage name, Young Mazino. Then, during the office hours, I would be Chris Kim. I was in a state of, “Don’t think, just do.”

In either world, did you go to people to talk about this stuff? Could you open up to anybody?

My boss. I was like, “Listen, I’m an actor.” And she was like, “I get you.” She would cover for me. She’s still a friend, and she really looked out for me. But at a certain point she was like, “You have to make a decision. You could be comfortable and have this life, or you have to leave and just go all in. You can’t just be lukewarm in both.”

I love stories of people pivoting or trying to finagle two worlds because I really feel like you can draw from both sides. In some ways you can be more grateful for the position you are in today because you had this whole other career, which could have taken you down a completely different path. What was your initial reaction when you got the callback for Beef?

Nothing really changed. I had learned early on that as the stakes get higher, so does the disappointment. So I was like, “Alright, let me take a look at what I missed and see what I can do better.” I wasn’t too peppy about it.

Really?

I was excited as hell, but it was mostly nerves. As you know, the job isn’t done until it’s done. And it doesn’t matter if I’m at the table read or on the first day of shooting, it’s not until the show is out that I’m like, “Alright, the job is done.”

That year before the release of Beef, you and I would be texting each other, and there were a couple months where we didn’t hear anything about the show. Yeah. It’s painful, man. 

I understand you completely. What were some things you learned from your Beef co-stars in relation to navigating Hollywood as a newcomer?

Well, I see that there’s people ahead of me that have gone through a lot more and done a lot more, along with balancing a family at home. Seeing that, it’s inspiring. Your art, the painting, has taken on its own life and career. I’m realizing it’s possible to do both. It’s not just a side thing. I used to look at my music as a very integral but small part of my life. But when I see how much time and energy you commit to your craft, I’m sure that fuels your acting too. It’s all intertwined. I’m realizing that it’s all about the expression. Whether it’s through canvas, your own body or performance, they all feed each other.

How does Beef feel different from other shows and movies starring Asian or Asian-American characters that you watched growing up?

Working on something where the cast is primarily Asian and the story’s grounded in the Asian-American diaspora, rich and poor, felt like I was back in drama school, where you are just an actor. You are not where you come from. You’re not your culture. The experience on Beef felt like we weren’t Asian; we were all collectively artists and actors working on a story. That was really refreshing.

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The experience on Beef felt like we weren’t Asian; we were all collectively artists and actors working on a story. That was really refreshing.

Young Mazino

You make a really interesting point. I felt like I had to define my own masculinity at such a young age because of what I was seeing represented on film. You see these examples of weak Asian men and immediately your response is, “Wait, hold up. I have to fucking turn this around.” I remember from an early age just trying to prove to people, “No, I’m tough. I’m tough.” What are the most rewarding aspects of collaboration in regards to acting and working with a scene partner? What are some of the challenges to that as well?

I think my acting can get better or worse depending on my scene partner. I’ve learned a lot about receiving energy and giving that energy back, so it’s always rewarding when you have generous scene partners like Steven [Yeun] and Ali [Wong]. The challenge would be when I’m working with an actor who’s much more internalized. Those are the most tiring days because if I have to do it all on my own, that takes a lot more energy.

When acting out a scene, what little nuances or cues from your co-star can influence your performance?

I think when they start going off script and adding their own personal zest, or when physical objects, like props, enter into the space. That helps me break out of my own mold, and that’s why it was great working with Steven.

Speaking of improv, in your chemistry reads, did Sonny [Lee Sung Jin] have you improvise some of those scenes?

Yeah, during the first chem read, we went off script, and there were some good moments there. Sonny was spitting out ideas, but, at the time, I had no idea he was the showrunner. He was like, “Alright, just put the scripts away, and let’s just see what happens.” I remembered that being the most magical moment. Being able to let go like that. 

That’s like freedom.

It was only after I found out that Sonny was the showrunner, I was like, “Oh, this is going to be fun.”

What do you find most surreal about being in the public eye?

I’m most surprised when people are so excited and happy to interact with me without even knowing who I am. They’ve only seen what I’ve done with the work, but [they give] me the benefit of the doubt that I’m this person they’ve imagined. On the downside of that, I sometimes feel like I’m more of a spectacle to people rather than just another human being. 

I think the saying is true. It’s more like, “I don’t feel like I’ve changed, but I think the people around me have changed.” Because of that, I have to move a little differently just to protect my boundaries. Do you feel like you’re getting used to it?

I think I’m acclimating to being a public figure. It’s a little surreal, and it’s a weird thing to even say.

Are you looking to take your career in any particular direction, especially with your next projects?

I just want it to be tasteful and intentional because I have a whole list of directors I want to work with. I have projects that I want to work on, and things I want to do. But all that aside, I just want to have a career where I look back on each of those movies or series and feel like those were projects that I genuinely wanted to work on. I don’t want to get to a point where my craft and something I love has become a cash cow.

Yeah. You could have done that at your corporate gig.

I just want a career where I can take care of my loved ones and myself, pay my rent and afford to eat what I want to eat. I want to work on dope projects. It’s really that simple. On sets that feel like Beef. I just want to get back to that energy and to work on something with collaborators that care, that are just here because they love it.

You got to manifest it, baby.

I want to do quality work as long as this industry will allow me to. I just want to surround myself with good people because being a part of Beef was incredible. I’m so lucky to have made friendships out of that. And working with you was really cool because it’s fair to say that this is both of our breaks. It was nice to be able to look over at you and be like, “Oh, we’re on this ride together.” We’d always be texting each other like, “I’m proud of you, man. How are you handling everything?” But throughout it all, I just love having a brother there to have this similar journey with and be like, “Dude, this is pretty crazy and special.” 

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