Beef ’s Young Mazino on Filming a Love Scene with Ali Wong and Joining The Last of Us

If you were to put together a shortlist of people who had a pretty good 2023—Nikola Jokić, Greta Gerwig, Ice Spice—you’d be hard-pressed to not include Young Mazino, who, prior to his Emmy-nominated supporting role as Paul Cho in A24’s award-winning series Beef, was a struggling actor who had just moved back home to Maryland. A virtual unknown. And then, against long odds, two dreams came true at once.

“A few months before Beef I had written down in my journal that I wanted to work with Steven Yeun and that I wanted to work on an A24 project,” Mazino recalls over Zoom. “And I had no idea how that would manifest. So when I saw the breakdown for Beef I remember being a little, well, shooketh.”

It’s been all hockey-stick growth for Mazino ever since: as a shirtless love interest to SZA in her music video for “Snooze.” A cameo in the upcoming A24 film Opus written and directed by former GQ editor Mark Anthony Green. And most recently, Mazino landed the role of Jesse in season two of the hit HBO show The Last of Us, which starts shooting soon.

Mazino’s big year culminated last night at the Emmys, where he wore custom Givenchy—an avant-garde, double-breasted black suit with a single button—alongside jewelry by Givenchy, Omega, and Chopard.

Wearing fashion is “definitely a new thing,” says Mazino. “I was never in a place to purchase any luxury thing. I was always searching for clothes at thrift stores. But [my stylist] Amanda Lim has been opening my eyes to the world of fashion. She's helped me lean into that.”

I actually met Mazino years ago, pre-COVID, playing indoor basketball in Brooklyn. In addition to being the nicest dude, he was one of the nastiest hoopers I’ve ever played with. Handles, shot, tenacity—he was the total package. Then, a few short years later, Beef premiered and I watched him go from a few hundred followers on Instagram to 129,000 in no time at all. We caught up a few days prior to the Emmys as he was nursing a lightly tweaked ankle from pickup.

GQ: So what kind of things are you writing down now in your journal to manifest?

Young Mazino: I’ve been writing down more gratitude lately. Because I feel like I’m on an upswing. I feel like whatever I wrote down in the past is still manifesting.

You always seemed to have a little bit of Mamba Mentality in the way you carry yourself. How do you bring that into your acting? Like, are you always trying to pick yourself apart in the tape?

Yeah. Like, I didn't sleep when we were shooting Beef. I was of the mentality that I will leave no scraps behind—I’m gonna give it my all. I couldn’t help but stay up at night when I got home, and I would just rewind and replay, like, every single take. If there’s anything that's strange or weird, I would take notes. For me it was like repetition. My process is to get the reps to the point where by the time I'm on set, there's nothing that will catch me off guard. That’s the work, but it's also part of why I love it. It's like this obsession that I can't get rid of.

Tell me about The Last of Us. How did you end up landing the role of Jesse?

I played the video game and I was already aware of the show, but it wasn't like a typical audition process. I think I got it just because of the momentum from Beef. It kind of felt like the next right thing, because I was getting a lot of other scripts and a lot of other offers and things to work on. But it’s a really fantastic show at the head of the zeitgeist.

Well, you know, there's a somewhat storied history in the U.S. of Korean dudes becoming beloved stars in zombie shows.

[laughs] When we were filming Beef I talked to Steven a little bit about his experience—that The Walking Dead was a really cool thing for him to work on. That high-stakes environment.

It was kind of a trip like watching you blow up on IG, from like a normal amount of followers to a famous-person level.

It’s a little bizarre. But I’m just trying to stay grounded. I try not to really get into my DMs either. You just realize a lot of it's just noise.

What was your Beef audition like?

That was a pretty intense audition process. I had moved back to Maryland. I sent a tape and then I went over to LA to do the camera for the role of Paul. And that's actually what I met, Brian [Yeun, Steven’s brother]. It was like three of us, and he was one of the finalists.

And when I met Sunny [Lee, who created the show]. He was super kind. I could tell he had a world of things going on in his mind. If there ever was a visionary, he was one of them. So I took it upon myself to really deliver. I just said I would bring all that I can to the character and he wouldn't have to worry about that. So I just came in as prepared as I could.

When you first arrived on set and you’re around people like Ali Wong and Steven, people who have like these sort of incredible resumes already, what was your first impression of them? What were you hoping to learn, if anything?

Oh, I remember stifling my nerves because I needed to do well. I needed this job! But I was definitely nervous. On my first day on set, I had a show up and my only line was, “Hey, I fucked your wife.”

Wait, that was your first line you had to deliver?

Uh huh. And, and so that was the first day of shooting and then I kind of just jumped into it after that.

You had a somewhat famous intimate scene with Ali. What were your workouts sort of like during that period?

I tried to bulk how Paul would bulk. I was living in Santa Monica and I didn’t have a gym membership. So I was running to the pier, where they had those pull-up bars. I would just work out with the dudes out there and I would go ham until my arms felt like noodles. It was a very basic workout.

On the morning of having to shoot that love scene—the gratuitousness between two Asian American people felt weirdly like a big deal at the time—what was going through your head?

Oh, it was chill because Ali and I took the time to get to know each other before we started shooting. So by the time we got to that scene, we were comfortable with each other. I understood the scene and I understood the bigger picture—film history and how emasculated Asian men have been. And so, I didn't hold anything back and I wanted it to be as, um, lusty as possible. [laughs] But a lot of that was very kind of choreographed. We had the intimacy coordinator. It was like a fight scene.

Did you guys actually play basketball on set? Like, did it get competitive at all?

It was funny because we were setting up a shot and there's some dude guarding me and he's like getting ready. And there's an energy about him. And I’m supposed to cross him up and get to the basket. Right before we start, he's like, “You know, I auditioned for your part.” And there was like tension. I was like, “Word.”

And when we started shooting, the first thing that happened was we like bashed our heads. [laughs] So someone else had to step in to remind him. They're like, “You're supposed to get crossed!” It was just funny.

So you’re going to spend the next few months shooting the Last of Us in Vancouver. Do you know how many episodes you’re going to be in?

I think, like, seven. But in between or after that, when I have some time, I'm trying to work on some other stuff, some roles that are still in the early stages. But right now I'm focusing on getting my ankle healed so I can ride horses and shoot guns.

Man, I gotta say: It’s cool to see you so in-demand.

I had no idea things were going to pan out. Honestly, sometimes, it was a lot of uncertainty and doubt. So it's nice to come full circle and catch up.

What’s the coolest part about being a famous dude now?

Financial stability is nice. I was a struggling human—a struggling actor for so long. To not be struggling feels unnatural to me, like always being against the tide. But I'm finally in a place where I can just be like, “I'm an actor.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Originally Appeared on GQ

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