Actor Jason’s Lee “Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove” Vaults Him onto Amazon Prime
New York-based actor Jason Lee is on a roll.
The Taiwan-born actor, who fell in love with François Truffaut and French New Wave cinema growing up, is now making significant inroads in Hollywood. First, he is appearing as a series regular on Eighty-12, on Amazon Prime Video. And, he will appear on another Amazon Prime series this year, CherryBomb. He previously earned the Excellence Award at the Taipei Fringe Festival for his role of “Father” in a stage adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis.
Lee, who is building a broad stage and screen resume along with music and musical theater credits, says he owes his success to a quote that Napoleon used — “Put your iron hand in a velvet glove.”
Jason Lee astutely observes, “An iron fist or hand in a velvet glove is an idiom which I love and feel connected to it — it’s someone who seems to be gentle but is in fact forceful and determined. Most people who like me or my performances, view me as a talented, nice guy. But deep down there is an inner toughness I possess, which I let out when I’m doing things that I’m passionate about — like the series Eighty-12 and CherryBomb — and pursuing my goals.
Lee’s present success has also been informed by his educational background. For example, he previously attended National Central University in Taiwan where he was a French major and got to see a variety of French films in Laboratoire de la Lumière Magique, a movie library named after the Lumière brothers. He recalls, “Studying French gave me an opportunity to know a different western culture.”
He also got to study at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute, and says, “It was bliss to study at Lee Strasberg as I had a chance to learn the craft of Method Acting under prestigious teachers. To me the most important lesson I learned from Lee Strasberg was ‘Know thyself and be yourself.’ In order to play the character and tell the story, you must first know yourself well.”
He has been using those lessons in his work now for the two Amazon series, explaining, “Eighty-12 is a coming-of-age story following twelve characters, each based on one of the Zodiac signs. Over the course of seven episodes, their stories interweave and culminate in the final episode. I played the role of Libran, a character based on the sign Libra, who is an exchange student coming to the US on a scholarship. I felt very familiar with this character after reading the script. He’s like me in my former high school years, and our struggles are pretty much alike: trying to fit into the circle, wondering how to express his feelings to the girl he likes, etc. Because of this empathy, I found the connection and resonance between him and myself easily, and it wasn’t a big challenge for me to embody the character and tell the story.”
He continues talking about his other series, CherryBomb, an international production with a cast and crew from more than five countries. He explains, “CherryBomb is a comedy made to promote female empowerment and representation of immigrants in the United States. The most valuable lesson I learned from this production is what seems easy on the page is not easy to shoot on set. We have to do our homework before shooting, and anything can happen on set, so it’s important to have a clear mind and instinct in order to solve any challenges that suddenly come up. As an actor, I had to be prepared to redo the scene multiple times for backups or if there were any technical issues.”
Living and working in New York also offers advantages: “One of the benefits of being in New York, is that you can meet people of different cultures from all over the world, and you have opportunities to collaborate with them. I appreciate the chances of working with talented and dedicated people, and it’s always a new learning experience every time I join a project and prepare for a role, because I get to know more about myself and have self-reflection.”
That goes back to the lesson of ‘Know thyself and be yourself.’ And along the way, directors are discovering Lee’s strengths. For example, as he was born and raised in Taiwan, he’s fluent in Mandarin and Taiwanese. He also has conversational French. Among his many skills — Tai Chi, singing, dance, and stage combat — he’s also certified in unarmed fight by the Society of American Fight Directors.
And, as for his music talent, his pop/rock icon growing up was John Lennon; he has learned different musical instruments such as percussion, flute and guitar; and, he was even the lead vocal in a band during his university years. He quips, “Being a musician was one of my very first dreams in life.”
Now, that music talent has also gotten him into musical theater: “The most challenging part of being a musical theater actor is that you have to be a ‘triple threat’ — meaning you must be good at singing, dancing and acting. I’m pretty confident about my singing and acting, many thanks to the teachers who have been instructing me so well, yet dancing is what I’m still working on even as I’m eager to learn and improve my skills. I felt very lucky to be cast and perform in some musical productions, and the experiences taught me that you can give a terrific show as long as you’re a team player wanting to help and grow with each other, then everyone’s hard work will contribute to the outcome.”
Another quote that Jason Lee lives by is by Oscar-winning director/actor, Woody Allen who once said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.” In light of this, Lee has picked up tips along the way that he’s happy to share: “Look out for opportunities and seize the chance as soon as you can, don’t dither. Reach out to and stay in touch with people whom you would like to collaborate with in the future. Treat auditions as a chance to bring your talent and gift to the people behind the table, and once it’s done move on to the next one. This career isn’t easy. Personally, I feel it’s important to find a balance between networking, developing your craft and living your life outside of acting. Stay safe, healthy and strong, so you can pursue your goals and dreams. If you find yourself losing the joy or just getting really tired, don’t be afraid to take a breather if necessary. You might find some new inspiration and motivation.”
Some of Jason Lee’s movie credits, include: Tribe, The Woman & Mr. Crocodile, Happy Birthday, Don’t Overthink, Shakespeare’s Shitstorm. His theater credits, include: Yell-Low, My Best Friend, Music as Text, Richard III, Fort Dicks: The Musical, The Banquet, Here to Recruit You.
Upcoming, one of the directors of CherryBomb is writing a feature script about growing up and leaving home for the next Great War. Lee says it’s also a metaphor of young adulthood, and the director wants Lee to be in it: “I’m grateful for the invitation, and can’t wait to work with him again since we enjoyed our collaboration.”
His overall goal is to continue working with inspiring directors who have a strong vision for their work: “I’ve learned that if you work with experienced directors who are intelligent and passionate, you will learn a lot from them, because they will teach you about art and life. More diversity and representation has been a hot topic in the entertainment industry these years, and I aspire to put my effort and talent into my work, telling the audience that Asian actors are more than just being stereotyped as nerds or Kung Fu fighters. The truth is, not every Asian actor’s specialty is martial arts like Bruce Lee or Jack Chan, even though there’s nothing wrong with learning fighting skills and doing a fabulous action scene. I look forward to the more obvious progress in the industry, and am excited that more Asian talents and stories about Asians are highlights in some outstanding upcoming productions.”