You might tune in to the Cinemax crime drama Banshee for the high-octane fight scenes featuring its usually shirtless leading man, Antony Starr. But you should stay for Job, the cross-dressing hairstylist-turned-computer hacker played by actor Hoon Lee. Landing somewhere between fierce and fearsome, the character gives the dark series.
Hoon Lee (born 1973 in Plymouth, Massachusetts) is an American actor who currently plays the role of Job on the Cinemax series Banshee and voices Hamato Yoshi / Splinter in the animated Nickelodeon series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and plays the role of the King in The King and I on Broadway.
Lee graduated from Harvard University in 1994. He appeared in 2001 in the Broadway production of Urinetown. He played many roles over the years until he was cast as Rosencrantz in a musical version of Hamlet. In 2008, Lee won a Theatre World Award for Distinguished Performance in Yellow Face.
In television, Lee got his first role as Dr. Mao in an episode of Sex and the City in 2003. He also made guest appearances in Law & Order, Fringe, Royal Pains, White Collar and other series. He also had small roles in movies such as Saving Face, We Own the Night and The Oranges.
In early 2012, Lee made a cameo in Premium Rush. In March 2012, he was cast as Job, a crossdressing computer hacker, in Banshee.
On June 18, 2015, it was announced that Lee will succeed Jose Llana in the role of the King of Siam in Lincoln Center's Tony-winning revival of The King and I. Lee formally joined the cast on September 29, 2015.
The Cinemax action series Banshee tells the story of Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), an ex-con and master thief who assumes the identity of the sheriff of Banshee, PA. It’s the perfect cover for him to try to win back the love of his life (Ivana Milicevic) and hide out from the dangerous gangster (Ben Cross) that they both betrayed years earlier, while attempting not to get into too much more trouble.
During this recent exclusive interview with Collider, actor Hoon Lee – who plays the bad-ass transvestite computer hacker named Job (truly one of the best new characters on television), that assists Lucas in his criminal enterprises – talked about what attracted him to the very unique role, how the look for the character came about, doing action scenes in heels, Job’s great dialogue, his favorite episodes this season, and the courage in Job’s lifestyle and choices. He also talked about voicing Splinter for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: When this character was presented to you, did you have any idea just how fabulous he would be?
HOON LEE: I liked the character, right away. There’s a lot happening with him and there’s just so many places to explore. That’s not something you always find in a role. If it’s something that you look at and it’s very easily understood, on the first pass, there’s a good chance it could be kind of flat. So, when you look at a character and you’re like, “Wow, that’s really unexplored terrain for me and there’s a lot happening here and different angles to him,” and you’re not sure what his motives are, you’ve got a good shot at working towards something interesting.
How was Job described on paper, when you got the character description?
LEE: I got a couple different descriptions. I think the one that really stuck out to me, at the beginning, was the one that said, “A beautiful Asian woman who we don’t realize is a man until he speaks.” That was the bit that had me speaking to my agent and asking him, “They know what I look like, right? I know some men who make really beautiful women, and that’s not me.” But, they had a sense of the attitude they wanted from the character and the combination of fierce and strong, but also something really intriguing and different. That’s what I fastened onto the most. In the various descriptions that were floated to me, that’s really what started to emerge, more and more. They wanted a character that really had a ferocity and a core of strength, to be coupled with this more feminine and technical presentation.
How did the look for this character come about?
LEE: The design team, as a whole, and Patia Prouty, specifically, who was our lead costume designer, have really co-authored this character. We explored a lot of it together, over a period of time, and we’re still doing that. I think we’ve got a much better read than when we first started, for what the character is going to be like, visually. It was really exciting to be able to collaborate on that.
Do you ever worry about hurting yourself while doing action scenes in the wardrobe and shoes?
LEE: Oh, god, yes! I have no idea how women do it! I don’t know how they regularly walk around in heels, to be honest. It’s such a precarious thing, but the team is always very safety first. In general, there’s a lot of concern from the production side about your safety and well being, and it’s the actors who go, “No, we can do it! Just go!” They’re careful about how the fights are choreographed, so I would always have the opportunity to look out for my own safety, and that was great. So, I never felt in danger. It was really more of a question of a certain level of comfort in the outfit itself. That’s something I’m working on. Hopefully, we’ll all be better off, in future episodes.
Did they want to see what you’d look like in wardrobe, at any point during the audition process?
LEE: No, they never asked me for that. Maybe other people feel differently than I do, but I always feel like, when you go into an audition, your best chance at success is to be as comfortable as you can be. Some people I know, who went after this role, who were friends of mine, did present in drag or in make-up. If that’s how they feel connected to the character, then that’s what works for them. But, I know for myself that I often feel like I can’t second-guess the way that they are envisioning the character. I don’t know what the character looks like to them, so if I take a guess at it, I could be 180 degrees in the wrong way. So, it’s generally more helpful for me to just be confident and comfortable, going into the audition. Hopefully, I’ll give them enough that they can imagine the rest.
Is Job an easy character to get into the mind-set of, or does the wardrobe help?
LEE: It’s really complimentary. There’s a back-and-forth in the development of the character. It really does start with the script. I’m very, very thankful and grateful to the writers, Jonathan Tropper and David Schickler, and also the executive team, as a whole, with Greg [Yaitanes], Alan [Ball] and Peter [Macdissi], ‘cause they put something down on the page that was really exciting and interesting, and then they were open enough to allow me to have a conversation about that. So, it really starts on the page, but I felt like the writers wrote a character that has a lot of runway. As we started to develop looks, and tried endless hair and make-up tests, it started to inform the performance. And as the performance started to become clearer in my mind, that started to lead to more concrete ideas for the presentation.
Was there extra thought given to how Job would look, the first time viewers got to see him?
LEE: Oh, yeah, definitely! There’s a real drama to the character. The character is a showman, or a showgirl, on several levels. He’s very conscious about his appearance and his presentation. It’s an extremely extroverted presentation. It never felt like it was simply, “This is what I feel.” As with drag queens, not to generalize, but there’s often a performance quality, which is often why they do it or how they get involved, a lot of the time. So, there is a performance quality to Job and it’s part of his identity as a renegade and an outlier.
Will viewers learn how Job got connected to Lucas Hood (Antony Starr) and Rabbit (Ben Cross)?
LEE: I think so. I can’t be sure because the storytelling aspect of it is something best left to the writers, directors and editors. Being a new show, it’s something that is an evolving process for people. I do think they have a very strong point of view on it, with when to use the flashbacks, and how much to reveal when. I’d be leary about commenting with any certainty about what the end result will be, over the course of the season, but the central theme of Banshee, to a large extent, is that nothing is as it seems. In a lot of ways, it is a very classic, modern American story. The flashbacks will be informative because it’s a thematic of the show that you will learn new and surprising information about these characters that maybe is counter to what you think you know about them.
You’ve had some great lines on this show. Is all of that scripted, or do you ever improvise any of it?
LEE: I’m biased, clearly, but I feel like Job has a lot of the good lines. There’s a lot of great interaction with him and Sugar (Frankie Faison), in particular. I wish I could take credit, but the writers are so good that it would be foolish of me. Then they would actually make me improvise. They’d be like, “You think you’re so smart? You do it!” They certainly are extremely accommodating and open to collaboration and conversation. I think we’ve got a collection of smart actors that are able to help the scenes along. It’s a very self-sacrificing bunch, as well. You often take your cue from your leads, and Antony [Starr] is the first one to say, “You know what? Maybe we should give this line to Job. This doesn’t seem like something Lucas needs to say.” I think that that’s all a great tribute to the fact that everybody is driving towards the best product possible. I’m just hoping that the writers continue to enjoy writing for job ‘cause that’s what I feel, coming across the page. They have a good time writing for him.
Do you have a favorite episode from this season?
LEE: It’s tough to say, really. We had this great opportunity, which sometimes is considered a luxury, in that we had a lot of our scripts, early in the process, and the writers had a good handle on the full season, right from the beginning. On the one hand, that was great for us because it gave us the opportunity to think in a larger arc. Particularly with new material, a new show and new characters, it would have been very easy to get trapped in a moment-to-moment mentality. But, on the other hand, as a result, I feel like each episode really slots in like a puzzle piece, so it’s hard to pick out one that I feel is my favorite. Even the ones that I’m not in, I really enjoyed hearing about them and reading the scripts and dropping by and seeing what was happening because there are set-ups for the things that come later and pay-offs for the things that have come before. I think that Episodes 9 and 10, which is our season finale, are just going to be really spectacular. They’re going to answer a lot of questions, but it’s very much the pay-off for the season. They were really amazingly fun to shoot, and it’s where a lot of the characters come together, some for the first time. It was great to be able to work in that environment and feel like we were all coming together.
If everybody manages to make it through the season in one piece, is this a character that you’re looking forward to getting to explore some more in Season 2?
LEE: Oh, absolutely! I hope it’s somebody that people feel resonates with them and that they can identify with, for different reasons. I certainly feel that way. I don’t consider myself, in real life, to be a mirror of Job, but Job is somebody that I think, in a lot of ways, is forging his own reality in the world, and that’s something that a lot of us struggle with. There’s a courage to his lifestyle and his choices that I think a lot of us wish we could make. That doesn’t necessarily have to do with his appearance, his gender-bending, or anything else. He’s just saying, “This is who I am and I’m going to put that out there.” To a certain extent, he’s also saying, “This is who I think I am today, and I’m going to put that out there. Tomorrow it might be different.” I find that quality really admirable. He’s certainly just a blast to play. But, I think it’s a character that’s going to polarize a lot of people, too. At the end of the day, if someone looks at a character like Job and can say, “There’s something there that I really understand,” than that would be great. That’s somewhat the point.
What’s it been like to also voice Splinter on the Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles animated series?
LEE: This past year was such a blessing, in so many ways. I grew up with comic books and cartoons and action movies. To find myself in the position to do work in these mediums, and to work with a character like Job that does feel unique and like someone I can make my own, is just an opportunity I couldn’t have even asked for. It’s just pure luck, really. When we went to Comic-Con with Teenage Mutant Nina Turtles, the turn-out was so great that I was like, “Oh, okay, this is going to do all right.” It just was so clear that people had grown up with these characters and loved them. I did, too, but I wasn’t sure if people had outgrown it. But, I’m glad we haven’t. I’m glad we’re all immature together.
Banshee airs on Friday nights on Cinemax.
Interview by Christina Radish www.collider.com