Heroes actor James Kyson Lee broke into acting when he landed a guest role on JAG back in 2003. Since then he's appeared in a range of roles on TV and in movies—but is best known for his current role on Heroes as Hiro's sidekick, Ando. I chatted with Lee last week about breaking into the entertainment industry, his passion for music, and what's on his TiVo.
TV.com: Do you believe the rumors that Heroes is going to be canceled?
James Kyson Lee: Oh, I think it’s just a rumor. I feel really good about coming back next year and hopefully for many more seasons.
How do you think the show is doing in its current 9pm time slot?
Well, I think the reason they moved us off, tried—because they were experimenting with the whole Jay Leno primetime variety show. But I feel like our show is really meant to be sort of a 9 o’clock—mainly because it’s where we started and we’re there for so long, you know, we just felt like we sort of became a staple in that hour and people really liked the Chuck-and-Heroes combination. There’s a certain synergy about the two shows, I feel like it’s just a natural sort of pairing.
Getting into the entertainment business has been a bit of a wild journey for you. You sold your car for $1,800 back in 2001 and bought a one-way ticket to LA. How confident were you about your chances?
Yeah, by the way, I would never recommend anyone else doing that because it was so naive and overwhelming to move in that fashion. But I spent the first couple of years in LA doing educational theater and doing shows for kids at the public schools, which was a lot of fun and very rewarding. I felt like I was doing something meaningful. And children are a great audience, because they have an instant response and a connection to what’s happening on stage. So, that was sort of my first experience, you know, just performing on stage.
And you know, I really knew nothing about Hollywood, I was just having fun and kind of rediscovering myself through acting. And then I landed my first gig on a serial called JAG, which was on CBS at the time, and that sort of launched, I guess, this path on television.
How did you get your role on JAG? Was it luck, or the destiny you and Hiro talk about so often?
I don’t know if it was sheer luck. I remember hearing about it through a theater company, and somehow went to the audition. It was for a guest star [role], and I had never gone to a television audition before. ... I remember a friend of mine, who’s done [TV] here and there, instantly became my Obi Wan. He sort of gave me the lowdown on how you go in and sign in and there will be other people waiting in the waiting room. I was just like, okay, I’ll just run with it. And next thing you know I got the call back, and I got a call that they wanted to cast me. I wasn’t even in the union at the time—we have to be in a union called Screen Actor’s Guild. And so CBS actually paid for me to join the union.
Before you broke into acting with you were mainly a musician. What's your background in music?
Yeah, LA was the first time I’d tried acting. When I was at college, believe it or not, I was in a hip-hop group. ... Music has been in my life in one form or another for a while. I was in a garage band when I was in junior high school. And that was sort of like my other fantasy, you know, if I never went into acting. And when I came out to LA I actually discovered jazz music while trying out acting, and so I’ll go into these random piano bars in LA when they have singer nights, and they’ll have a piano player there and people do try singing. Usually the jazz demographic is a lot older and mostly white. And you know, when I walked in, people would just look at me like I was completely lost. And it was just a really funny experience to look back on.
Did you ever perform at these jazz bars?
I would sing. I wouldn’t count myself as a singer per se, but I do a lot of music. So, and I was just kind of exploring what jazz singing was at the time. So, yeah, I’ve done a few at the mic here and there. But that was several years ago. It’s been a while since I’ve even played around with that.
Not only do you sing and play music, but you're also a pretty talented basketball player; you play in the NBA celebrity league. On a scale of Peewee to Lebron, how good are you?
Wow. Man. I used to be a lot better when I was younger, but now I’m just trying to keep up on the court. I play point guard, and I think I’m about, I don’t know, a 5, between 1 to 10, just kind of in the middle. I am playing a lot of Ultimate Frisbee actually, a sport that I played back in high school and haven’t played for a while. And you know, it’s only known in certain parts of the country, but it’s a great, great sport. And I’m starting to play in some leagues here in LA, and I’m loving it.
Does the cast of Heroes ever throw a disc around on the set?
That’s funny, that’s a good question. You know, we’ve done football and playing catch, but yeah, you’re right, I never thought about breaking out the discus. Ultimate is one of those things where you just don’t know who plays, you know, but, yeah, maybe next season I’ll bring it on and see if we could put on a little game.
You already know the ending to every episode of Heroes. Do you watch the finished episodes?
If I’m not home I’ll TiVo it. And also on Fridays, a little known fact, on set during lunch time, we actually project it on the wall. And the cast and crew all have lunch together. So, you know, we used to do it in one of the sound stages and that felt like you’re at a drive-in theater because it's a big screen on the wall, and there’s food all around. It was a really fun thing, a nice way to just kind of be together and preview the upcoming episode.
What other shows do you TiVo so you don't miss?