‘Beef’ Star Joseph Lee Finds Humanity in Being Collateral Damage

What happens when you are the casualty of two opposing forces who threaten your way of life? How does that affect a person — being the collateral damage? For Beef actor Joseph Lee, who plays George, a man whose wife Amy‘s (Ali Wong) battle with the stranger she had a road rage incident with, he thinks about his own experiences dealing with people and setting boundaries.

“Playing George was a bit of a meta experience for me,” Lee told The Nerds of Color during a roundtable. “I’ve been trying to establish boundaries in my life through intense therapy. I feel like that is ultimately George’s struggle — he doesn’t have an idea of himself so because of that, he doesn’t have boundaries with the people around him.”

In the upcoming dark comedy, Beef tells the story of Amy (Wong) and Danny (Steven Yeun) — two strangers whose lives converge during a road rage incident. Danny is a failing contractor with a lot of personal issues, while Amy seems to have it all — a successful business, a fancy home, loving husband George, and sweet daughter June, she is struggling like the rest of us. Their encounter leaves behind a trail of tears for the people in their lives, including George.

Beef. (L to R) Joseph Lee as George, Ali Wong as Amy in episode 103 of Beef. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023

George comes from a family of famous artists, but doesn’t seem to have what it takes. Though George has striking good looks and seems to be the ideal husband and father, he struggles to rise above his father’s shadow and begins to feel the weight of being a stay-at-home-dad. Also, since he was raised with money, he’s never had to get his hands dirty — albeit his art pieces, causing him to feel a bit inadequate for his sexually-frustrated wife.

“It’s interesting to be able to present something that actually exists — that men are struggling to define their own masculinity,” said Lee. “That’s not only within our characters but that’s apparent in society in general. It’s interesting and exciting to show one shade of that.”

It has to be shared that George is not the bad guy here. He’s not the villain. Lee revealed that the character may go through what many stay-at-home parents deal with — the loss of their identity, but he truly loves his family.

“George is a dreamer at heart,” Lee revealed. “Yet, because of that responsibility towards his family, he had to suppress that and ultimately have his identity swallowed in the name of his family. I think that’s [common], especially in immigrant families.”

Beef. (L to R) Ali Wong as Amy, Joseph Lee as George in episode 103 of Beef. Cr. Andrew Cooper/Netflix © 2023

Speaking of immigrant families, with the majority of the cast being of Asian descent, Lee didn’t register the series as an Asian American show. He just read an incredible script and slowly realized he didn’t have to explain any of the cultural nuances in each scene while on set. 

“I think the best way to describe it is — it feels like showing up to a dinner party where the table has been set before you and you don’t have to wait for the food to wook and you don’t have to waste time explaining who you are with small talk,” said Lee. “You just come and eat. That’s how I felt on set every day. I could show up as myself and get to work.”

He is proud that there is a series that provides different types of Asian men — from Paul’s (Young Mazino) “Greek statuesque body” to Yeun’s misguided handyman Danny to Isaac’s (David Choe) gangster persona. For George, Lee got to play a tender side of a husband/father and artist. “I felt seen throughout the entire experience. That to me is the future of not only Hollywood, but where our society is headed. We’re excited to be part of that ride.”

Beef premieres on April 6 on Netflix.