Ali Wong’s Character in ‘Beef’ Was Originally a Middle-Aged White Man
“Ali Wong Beats Out Stanley Tucci for the Opportunity to Almost Hit Steven Yeun With Her Car” wasn’t on our 2023 bingo card.
The Netflix comedy/drama Beef was finally brought to market this past Thursday, and the reaction to the road-rage story about equally engaging and hilarious adversaries destroying their own lives over a parking lot mishap already has many critics and fans declaring it the “best show on Netflix.” Creator Lee Sung Jin wrote Beef as a semi-autobiographical extrapolation of his own road-rage incident with an unnamed enemy years ago, though a handful of creative liberties were taken in adapting Lee’s story into an A24 series.
Lee’s real-life nemesis was a middle-aged white guy, and the character now played by stand-up star Wong across from Lee’s self-stand-in Yeun was originally envisioned as a “Stanley Tucci-type,” according to Lee’s comments to Variety. In retaliation, Tucci will now shoot a stand-up special while pregnant.
Lee, Yeun and Wong had already grown close as collaborators during their work on the canceled animated series Tuca & Bertie, so the switch to Wong as the sorta antagonist in Lee’s story was an easy one. “If Ali were another race, I still would have wanted to work with her,” Lee clarified. “She really embodies so much about this character that is perfect, and she brings so many nuanced layers to the role.”
However, Lee did say that re-envisioning Wong’s eventual character as a person of color was a conscious choice, saying, “The reason I abandoned Stanley Tucci-type very quickly was because — especially in the modern era — you have to talk about race, and there’s so many other shows that do that very well. I really didn’t have much interest, nor the capabilities to handle that, to write about that. So that was a factor.”
To be clear, Beef absolutely doesn’t shy away from social commentary — Wong’s character is a wealthy, Mercedes Benz-driver who owns her own company, while Yeun is a struggling contractor in a dirty pickup truck. The class disparity is a constant undercurrent in Beef’s gripping first season, and the decision to cast these characters as Asian-Americans was made to deepen both their similarities and differences without engaging in an exhausting dialogue about race politics.
But that won’t stop a certain subtype of internet troll from beefing with Beef for denying a white Stanley Tucci-type his due. If Lee needs some restaurant recommendations when he’s forced to hide out in Italy, he’ll know who to call.