Actors Stephen Yuen and Daniel Henshall talk about Okja and working with Bong Joon Ho

While in Australia for the red carpet premiere of Okja – which also closed the Sydney Film Festival and is now streaming on Netflix – we caught up with two of its actors, Stephen Yuen (The Walking Dead) and Australia’s own Daniel Henshall. We learn more about their roles, the film and working with the film’s iconic director Bong Joon Ho.

What’s it been like being down in Australia for the premiere of this film?

Stephen Yuen: I had such a wonderful experience shooting the film. Sometimes you have that experience and then you have that time in between where you kind of forget what you did…

…how long ago did you film it?

Stephen Yuen: We filmed it last year. And yeah to come back and relive that experience with wonderful people that you worked with is truly magical in that way.

Tell me a bit about working with Bong. What a visionary director to be able to work with.

Daniel Henshall: Absolutely. It was a joy. I thoroughly enjoyed it from start to finish. He’s very personable he’s very gentle. He’s very generous. He has an incredible vision. And he imbues you with confidence to help realise that vision. So, from meeting him, you’re made to feel welcome. He’s like your friend’s Dad. He makes Dad jokes. He makes you feel at ease. And then you have the confidence to be what he needs or wants you to be.

And then on set he has a precise idea of what he needs, and what he wants from a frame, and you fit those marks. However he encourages you and emboldens you to embody that in a way he hasn’t envisioned. So then that’s your time to shine, and you have the confidence to do so. So I’m very grateful. And I know it sounds like I’m beating the idea of how great the experience was over the head, but I genuinely mean it. It was genuinely free and wonderful.

There’s been a lot of talk about the freedom that Netflix provides as a studio. How important do you think that freedom is for Bong as a director, and for you as an actor too.

Daniel Henshall: I think it’s integral to Bong. You know it’s not his first rodeo. It’s important for him to have autonomous control. And that means a lot to him. And I don’t think you get a film like Okja without that freedom. I think people, within a certain system, would be trying to control what he’s putting out there. And make it a little more salable and commercial. But Netflix and the production team gave him the opportunity to make the film he wanted to make from the outset. And that’s unique, and very special. And I think we are privileged too because of that. And I can’t wait to see what people feel about it.

So tell me a little bit about what we can expect from your character in the film.

Stephen Yuen: My character, his name is K, he’s an interesting cat, he’s part of this group called the ALF (Animal Liberation Front), and they have an agenda of how they want to help Okja, but it’s also a group made up of individuals. Individuals who have their own agendas within the group’s agenda. So he’s an interesting dude.

What was the dynamic like working with this CGI creature?

Stephen Yuen: We had a group of guys – the head guy’s name was Steve, and he would control this puppet, that was about the same size as Okja was supposed to be. And they did such a wonderful job. It was clearly not real, but the emotion he was able to convey, with these broad movements, were just awesome.

Okja is streaming now on Netflix. Image from Netflix.