Raymond J. Lee began his Northwestern career as a shy, pre-med chemistry major. His parents expected him to become a doctor, though he harbored a love for performing. In a drastic change of plans, Lee joined Boomshaka and dropped chemistry for RTVF.
Lee’s big breakthrough as a performer came in 2003, when he skipped class to audition for the singing and dancing reality series Fame. Although he did not win, Lee was chosen as a finalist. Since then, Lee has graduated, moved to New York City and performed as Simba on Disney Cruise Lines. He now stars as Eddie in Mamma Mia! at the Winter Garden Theater on Broadway. This is his biggest production to date.
How was the show tonight?
It was good, a long, long day. Ready to watch some TV and veg.
You’ve had a lot of success since graduating. How do you think your education at Northwestern has helped prepare you?
They really prepared me with my audition book. I still have songs from classes that I use for auditions. The student productions especially taught me a lot. When I did my first production out of school, I felt like I had done it all before, and it was nice to feel experienced.
You are the only Asian-American in the Mamma Mia! cast, which has a lot of diversity. Do you think Asian-Americans are underrepresented on Broadway?
Yeah, I do think we are underrepresented on Broadway. If a new show is coming up and someone wrote a part for an Asian-American role, it would be fantastic. Usually for final callbacks, I get typecast into the minority role. It would be nice for more people to know that Asians, we can dance and sing, and we’re not just doctors and lawyers. We’re just as talented as everyone else. I do feel like I’m trying hard to break open the doors. If I’m able to get a role as an Asian and beat out everyone else, hopefully that gives another Asian-American kid somewhere a chance to do the same thing.
How do you sustain such a high level of energy day after day and still have so much fun? Don’t you ever get tired?
There are definitely days when I’m tired. It’s important to rest, but I’m a New Yorker. During intermission I have a protein shake to pump myself up with energy. [...] A lot of people drink coffee. I used to have a venti before each show day, but I’m trying to wean off the coffee and drink more tea. I worked at the Starbucks in Evanston for a couple months and drank a lot of Starbucks. I saw that Starbucks moved into Norris now.
Yup, we call it Norbucks.
That’s crazy, it used to be the information desk. It was so different coming back five years after I graduated.
Oh yeah, it totally does. My Web site I had done a couple of months ago, and people have reached out. It’s always great to hear from people who have seen the show. It really rejuvenates and energizes me as a performer when I know I’m inspiring people. I want to help people realize their dreams. Once I had an Asian-American student e-mail me, and he was doing the banking route, but he said he really wanted to do theater. I e-mailed him back and told him to do it. If this is what you want to do, you have to pursue it.
You play Teddy in The Mikado Project, a film that’s in post-production. Can you tell me a little bit about that project?
I filmed it two years ago, and I did pick-ups last year. A good friend of mine wrote and directed the screenplay, and we had a great cast. It’s actually premiering May 1 at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival. It was my first film ever, so I learned a lot. There’s such a difference between film acting and screen acting. I’m so used to feeding off the energy of the audience. When you’re shooting a film, there’s no audience, and you’re acting to the camera.
You’re still really involved with Northwestern, serving on the board of the Northwestern University Entertainment Alliance. What is your role there?
I was on the board my first two years here, and unfortunately because my schedule is so opposite everyone else’s, I had to step down. I still keep in touch with a lot of the board members even though I’m unable to go to events. There is a strong Northwestern community here in New York, and we all keep in touch and see what everyone’s up to.
I didn’t appreciate the school until I left. We are an amazing school, but we don’t act like we’re entitled to it. We really do look out for each other. Having other people who graduated years before me giving me advice, telling me where to temp and where to live, was so valuable.
How have your parents taken to your career? Have they come to see you on Broadway?
It took a while for them to warm up to the idea of me being an actor. They finally saw the show a year after I entered. Now my mom always calls and asks about TV and commercial auditions. I didn’t have their support originally, I had to fight against them and what they wanted. We have since reached our nice symbiosis.
I am still in awe of how energetic you sound at midnight, right after performing in a show. How much sleep do you typically get?
I try to get at least seven or eight hours, especially with a double-show day tomorrow. I’ll take a nap in between shows too. In the beginning, I used to go out after shows and party it up a bit, but I’ve learned my lesson, and I try to take care of myself. My health is important, and I don’t want to get sick. It’s crazy, but I love my job. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.