Brian Tee is currently a Lead in 20th Century FOX’s summer blockbuster “The Wolverine,” with Hugh Jackman and Directed by James Mangold. This Fall, Tee can also be seen, starring in the highly anticipated Season 2 of “Mortal Kombat: Legacy,” where he takes on the role of the legendary iconic character “Liu Kang.” Tee is a talent in both Comedy and Drama. On film Tee seamlessly morphs within both genres. The consummate actor, Tee never stops honing his craft and embraces all mediums. Recently, Tee returned to the stage to rave reviews, for his lead performance in “Snow Falling on Cedars,” at the prestigious Hartford Stage. We sit and talk to him about his future projects and all his success. Read the full interview below…
So how did you go from pretty much falling into an acting class in college to being in big blockbuster films. Was the journey a tough one?
Brian: Tough is an understatement. Though I am blessed to be where I am now, I had humble beginnings, from student films, no budget projects, to extra work, I have done it all, but through it all, it has grounded me to stand tall and confident to whatever lies ahead.
Being articulate in Korean, why have you shied away from many Asian productions and focused on Hollywood? Did you see a real benefit to that?
Brian: I’m not sure I’ve shied away, but I do know that Hollywood, or LA is where I am from and where I’d like to continue to grow. I’m sure if the opportunity arose, to do work in Korea, Japan, China… anywhere in the world, I’d be open to it. But I’ll always come home and pursue productions in the states. To me, it wasn’t about the benefits, but more on where I’d like to grow, in life and career.
The new Wolverine movie is set [predominantly] in Asia. It’s also good when they get Japanese people playing Japanese people. Nobody in Asia was happy when Zhang Ziyi played a geisha in Memoirs of a Geisha. It all looks very authentic which is the right way to do it. What has this environment brought to the franchise and do you see it breaking barriers for comic book movies?
Brian: Authenticity is a word thrown around all the time, but to me, I’ll always side on giving the role to the best actor for the part. No one, doubted the great English actor Daniel Day Lewis playing the American, Abraham Lincoln. I don’t think it matters who, what or where… but if ones abilities are better or more right for the role, then that actor deserves it. I wish more roles were cast this way, but it is also the nature of the business, that not the best actor gets the part. What I hope is that more roles are open to the talented, from all walks of life. And if this movie does break barriers, it would be because of the performances that influence others to open their minds, for us in other roles… not just in Comic Book Movies, but all Movies.
I heard Hugh Jackman on set ate protein every two hours as preparation for his role. Did you have to adjust your psyche, habits, or mentality at all for your role as Noburo Mori?
Brian: I actually did as well. I changed my diet to fit the needs of the character. I also did a ton of research on the corruption of political power and the influences of the Yakuza and Organized Crime. With all of that, my psyche did change in a matter of speaking, as Noburo. Because he is a far cry from my own personal authenticity and integrity. So my habits did change with Noburo as well as my mentality that suited what I had to become to play him.
What are some of your favorite Asian films?
You also play the iconic character of Lui Kang in Mortal Kombat: Legacy and you are knee deep in other television productions as well. Is there any major difference between shooting for television or film?
Brian: There are many differences as well as similarities… but the main one would be time. TV is much quicker depending on the budget of the movie. But now, TV and Film are staring to merge with the pools of talented actors working in both mediums. Stories, are as compelling, characters are as complex and the talent both in front of and behind the camera are all the same, so there is not much difference in my opinion. My approach is the same with any character I take, the styles may differ but the “truth of the character” remains the same.
Lui Kang is also going to have a much bigger evolution throughout season 2. What kinds of character analysis can we expect him to go through? Any surprises?
Brian: Liu Kang is one of my most favorite characters I have ever played. He is such an iconic figure, but to really play him in truth, you have to strip away what he is and really get into who he is. And that is what we did. Kevin Tancharoen and the writers created such a compelling story that brought a groundedness that was exciting to play. Fan’s will see the heart and soul of Liu, but also in all the other characters in the series. That is what makes this season the “much bigger evolution” you were talking about. And as surprises… I think fans will be surprised with Liu himself and his struggle. But also, the best surprise for fans will be how MKL2 will be bigger, badder and better then before!
As an Asian actor, many actors have been outspoken about their frustrations of being typecasted (Jackie Chan comes to mind). How do you avoid being treated like a caricature and are certain you can pick roles that can evolve yourself as an actor?
Brian: I don’t feel there is ever certainty in this career path… but I do know that I can only control what I can bring to the roles I get. So I don’t worry about being “typecasted” as I take pride in the range of characters I have played throughout my career. I’ve played many similar archetypes, but each having their own “character” not “caricature”. Because for me, the evolvement of my acting comes in not what the role is, but what I do with it.
I know acting isn’t your only talent, as you love to write and produce. What is ahead for you in that realm? Do you have any seeds you would like to plant in the future?
Brian: I try to constantly keep moving and being creative, which lends itself to other ways of creating, such as writing and producing. So planting seeds is another passion of mine. I have a couple of projects, both in TV and Film in the works that we’ll keep watering and hopefully sprout soon.
Lastly, any advice you can offer up to struggling actors out there?
Brian: My best advise, before anyone even starts this career path, is to make sure you absolutely love it. Because if you don’t love it, you’re already struggling. You have to love it more then anything, and if that is the case, the “struggle” will be less daunting and/or severe. It will be the hardest thing you will ever try to do, but if you love it… and again, you absolutely have to love it, no matter how far you get, it will be worth it.
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