The veteran Korean star has already won a BAFTA and Screen Actors Guild award for her role in the acclaimed drama

By Mia McNiece
April 21, 2021 12:43 PM
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Youn Yuh-jung never could have imagined she would be an Oscar nominee the first day she stepped on the set of Minari. In fact, she thought she had made a huge mistake.

"It was so hot and humid. I was wondering how I'm going to survive with this weather," she recalls of the summer shoot in Oklahoma. "I though I made a wrong decision. I wish I could go back on the plane and go back to Korea."

The veteran Korean star, who has spent more than five decades in television and film, now laughs as she recalls those early days on set. While filming, she tells PEOPLE, the entire cast, which includes Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Noel Cho and director by Lee Isaac Chung, formed a tight bond.

steven yeun in Minari
Credit: Josh Ethan Johnson

"We became very close, like a family," she says. "At night, everybody was coming to my house for dinner. We were sharing life together."

Youn, 73, plays the family's strong-willed matriarch in the drama about immigrants who migrate to a farm in Arkansas in pursuit of the American dream. After reading the script, she knew immediately that she wanted to be a part of the film.

"It was just so authentic and realistic to me," she says. "I was very impressed by Isaac's writing. His heart is very warm and his eyes are very clear to see the world."

Youn, who took home the Screen Actors Guild award last month for the role, can next be seen in the Apple TV+ drama Pachinko

If she wins the coveted Oscar, she will make history as the first South Korean actress to win for Best Supporting Actress.

Listen below to the episode of our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day for more on the 2021 Oscars. 

"It's stressful. I feel like I'm competing for my country. It's like the Olympics," she says. "I don't believe in competition, especially comparing acting to one to another. So being nominated to me, means I already got the award."

Sundance Portrait Studio
Credit: Emily Assiran/Getty Images for Pizza Hut

And while the first day of filming Minari may have gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, Youn says she will always cherish the last day on set.

"Isaac taught everyone how to do a big Korean bow that is really respectful for elderly people. You kneel down, head down, hand down, all of your body. He taught the cast and crew and they all did for me. It was very memorable."

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The 93rd Academy Awards are airing live on Sunday, April 25 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC.