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How Nope's Steven Yeun Looked At The History Of Child Actors In The Making Of The Jordan Peele Horror Movie

SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Jordan Peele’s Nope. If you have not yet seen the film, proceed at your own risk!

Ricky 'Jupe' Park, the character portrayed by Steven Yeun in Jordan Peele’s Nope, is a guy with… issues. He’s a successful showman and runs what appears to be a profitable business in the tourist trap Jupiter’s Claim (which is now a very real attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood), but he’s also a guy with a traumatic past involving a career as a child actor and a violent on-set animal attack. Outwardly he’s a man who always seems to have a smile on his face, but he has a deep internal complexity – and that was very much something that the actor reveled digging into, both in collaboration with the film’s writer/director and via independent research.

I interviewed Steven Yeun earlier this month during the Los Angeles press day for Nope, and our conversation opened by digging into the character’s psychology. He broached the subject of trauma at a young age and how it can shape who you become as an adult, and he noted that it’s something that we hear a lot about when it comes to “child stardom,” but it’s also something that is part of everyday life. Said Yeun,

Jordan [Peele] really opened up the door for collaboration. There was an idea of who Jupe was on the page, and then we really got to talking about him and switched some things and altered certain backstory things and really found a motivation for him. I think for me, what was the most interesting is that, in the end, I feel like Jupe is in all of us, you know? What does trauma do in your life? What does being told who you are at a young age do to you? And that might be in child stardom, but it kind of in all of us too. So I thought about that a lot.

When Ricky 'Jupe' Park was a kid, he had big roles on multiple shows, but the most notorious was a sitcom called Gordy’s Home. The series starred Jupe opposite a real chimpanzee, and it was swiftly cancelled when the animal co-star had an outburst during production and savagely attacked the adult actors and filmmakers. Jupe seems to shield himself from the events by acting like it was a big pop culture moment he was a part of, and he even has a private, secret museum with props from the set. He processes his own trauma as spectacle, even describing it to Daniel Kaluuya’s OJ and Keke Palmer’s Emerald through the lens of an old Saturday Night Live sketch – which fits directly into to the broader themes of Jordan Peele’s Nope.

Hollywood’s notorious treatment of child stars in general very much fits with what it is being said with the sci-fi horror film, and Steven Yeun noted that there were documentaries on the subject that coincidentally were coming out as he was digging into the role. It seems that material was part of the tapestry, so to speak, but the actor was seemingly more engaged with the existential questions that the character presented him:

It was interesting; when we were making the film, a lot of documentaries were coming out about that. And there's obviously the storied careers that we all know. I think for me, what I wanted to focus on the most was really just the way in which our selves are formed. Like, who are we? Are we who we want ourselves to be? Or are we kind of like the sum of other people's projections onto us? And what does that do to your life and what does that do to your motivations, and who are you in the end? So yeah, it was a very existential, isolated exercise.

It’s fascinating material that will surely only grow more fascinating with more viewings and further dissection. The film, which just had a solid second weekend at the box office, is now playing in theaters everywhere (you can purchase tickets to your local cinema online (opens in new tab)). Read our Nope Ending Explained feature for a dissection of the movie’s fantastic UFO; look forward to all of the exciting genre titles set to come out in the coming months with our Upcoming Horror Movies calendar; and if you’re a fan of the actor, check out our Steven Yeun streaming guide.

Eric Eisenberg
Eric Eisenberg

NJ native who calls LA home; lives in a Dreamatorium. A decade-plus CinemaBlend veteran; endlessly enthusiastic about the career he’s dreamt of since seventh grade.