Will Yun Lee

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Interview by Gaby Eichberger/Christine Schmidt

 

Continuing our mycoven interviews, we were given the opportunity to talk to Hawaii Five-0′s smart villain Sang Min, aka Will Yun Lee. Will, who for example also has roles in blockbusters like “Elektra” or “James Bond – Die Another Day” in his portfolio, talked about his career, his impressions from various film and tv sets – like his latest film “Total Recall” with Colin Farrell -, his commitment to helping kids from problematic backgrounds and much more. Among other things, he did a shout out for Daniel Dae Kim as one of the forerunners in the struggle to find better roles for Asian-American actors, away from the usual stereotypes.
Once more, we were very lucky in our choice of an interview partner, since Will gave us very open and honest answers, on top of being a genuinely friendly and likeable person. We very much hope to be able to chat with him some more in the future.

 

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You have a very strong martial arts background and easily could have built a substantial career in that field. What made you branch out into acting?

I came out to LA at the end of 1997 after spending most of my life in the martial arts. My father was one of the first Taekwondo masters to come to the US and opened up schools all around the country. I pretty much lived in the studio my whole life, competed for 10 years and after that, I felt I needed a new challenge in my life. I wanted to be a white belt again per say…something that made me excited, nervous, while still being some form of competition. So I came to LA with a few bucks, lived on a friends floor and basically lived in a theater company learning, reading, doing everything I could in studying the craft of acting. And for the longest time I did not want any kind of crutch (ie. martial arts) in terms of acting, so I could properly study and try and understand the craft.

 

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What do you love the most about acting and is there an aspect of it that you dislike?

What I love most about acting is studying why people do things, why I do things. It’s very therapeutic for me. I guess what I dislike the most is probably what most actors dislike…auditioning. So many of the times you want to flesh out a character, but may only have less than a day to that…so sometimes I feel like I’m forced to turn in a “sketch” as opposed to trying to make something more fleshed out and nuanced based purely on time constraints.

 

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When you chose a role to play, what factors influence your decision, what is it you are interested in playing?

Unfortunately, a lot of times you are forced to make a character work for you, as oppose to ‘choosing’ to do something. I am not at a place in my career where I can “choose”, so I fight for roles like everyone else, and when I get the opportunity to do the job, I put my best effort to make the character “human”, with flaws and attempt to “lift” the character off the page in some fashion.

 

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When one looks at the catalogue of your work, it seems like you play quite a lot of villains. Is it more enjoyable to play the bad guys?

I don’t really look at “villains” as bad guys, but more try to find out why they do what they do and in some respect try to humanize why they do what they do. In terms of “liking” villain roles…hmmm…it’s more of what is more in the marketplace. I wish it weren’t that way for Asian males, but with the success of actors like Daniel Dae Kim, it does make things easier for all of us to get roles which cross many boundaries. Thanks for help paving the road Daniel! However, “Sang Min” has been probably my top 3 characters I have had the chance to play because of the freedom Peter Lenkov has given me within the context of the words.

 

mycoven.com
Sang Min has been given a back story and a good deal of depth during the course of season 1. Has he been fun to develop and were you able to work in some ideas of your own?

In the pilot, Peter Lenkov and Len Wiseman were amazing in terms of letting me try things that might have been a little too out there. Rarely does that happen in TV where things move so fast. I think that if people responded to Sang Min’s development, it’s purely because of the words given to me. I am just an actor given a really cool playground to play in.

 

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Would you be willing to share your experiences on the set of Hawaii Five-0 with us? How’s it to work at such a beautiful place and with such a great cast and crew? For instance, Peter told us he’s to remind himself again and again that he’s in Hawaii for work.

Hawaii 5-0 was a rare opportunity of work and play and witnessing a group of people who really take pride in their state and television show. Usually as a guest star, you kind of just do your scenes and go home. But every time I go to Hawaii, the cast and crew make me feel at home.

 

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As someone who has worked on both sets of big Hollywood blockbusters, like Elektra or James Bond as well as tv series, is there a difference between working on movies and series?

For me the approach is really similar in terms of coming up with a character, but what seems different for me, is the margin for error. TV moves really fast, so be prepared, prepared, prepared. 

 

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You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the movie industry. Has that been an opportunity for growth as an actor and has it influenced your own style in any way? Or is that more of a challenge?

I always take something away from working on a project. The last movie I did was “Total Recall” with Colin Farrell and on that set I was amazed how he set such an incredible tone on the set of being damn nice but what impressed me the most was how with each take he tried something new…choices I would have never thought of. So from that, I took away that you have to constantly keep yourself open and be brave enough to try new things.

 

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We have read that you moved to LA for career reasons. Was that a difficult decision to make and do you feel at home there by now?

I definitely feel at home now, but it was a scary decision. I think a combo of “inner ego”, mixed with some “naivete” made it possible to make a living in acting for me.

 

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Acting is undoubtedly an incredibly tough business to get into and staying on top of one’s game also seems very difficult. How hard was it to establish yourself in this “shark tank”? Did you always believe you would make it?

I definitely wouldn’t say I’ve made it. You have to constantly grow and get better. But, what I did accomplish that I am most proud of is being able to “turn on the lights” purely from acting…I am still amazed that I’ve gotten to do that. And I can say is that I am still as excited as the first day I started this business.  

 

mycoven.com
We have read that you’ve worked at the East Bay Asian Youth Centre with kids from difficult backgrounds and that this is still an ongoing commitment that is very important to you. Could you tell us a more about that? How could the fans support you in that matter?

That was a very special time in my life that I will always treasure. I could write a college thesis on and completely bore you guys to death. All I can say from working with a lot of kids in gangs, is that it taught me not to judge a book by its cover. I had the opportunity to be a counselor and a teacher to them, but I realized they were the ones teaching me. I am excited to leave for Atlanta at the end of this month to work with a group introduced to me by Amy Bakari. I will keep you guys updated about that. It seems like they are doing something very special over there.

 

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Have you set yourself a firm goal, or do you take it as it comes? In other words, where will Will Yun Lee be in 5 or 10 years’ time?

In 5- 10 years….hmmm…loaded question. I just hope to keep doing what I am doing with a bunch of little “Will Yun Lee Jr.’s” running around.

 

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That’s it from our side. Please keep us updated about your projects. Is there anything you would like to tell the German fans?

I just wanted to thank all the German fans for giving me an opportunity to be interviewed by you guys and just like you guys…can’t wait for the second season of H50!

 

Thank you for taking the time to come up with such open and honest answers that really gave us at least some insight into what makes you tick. It was such a pleasure doing this interview with you!

 

Will’s Homepage
Will on IMDb
Will on Twitter

 

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