Q&A: Michael Lee ’95 recounts ‘XO, Kitty’ and Broadway

Stanford alumnus and Broadway star Michael Okay. Lee ’95 made his American tv debut earlier this 12 months in Netflix’s “XO, Kitty,” a spin-off of “To All The Boys I’ve Cherished Earlier than.” Lee performed Professor Lee, a trainer on the South Korean worldwide faculty to which Kitty, the protagonist, transferred. 

Lee was passionate concerning the performing arts from a younger age. At Stanford, he carried out in “Gaieties,” sang a cappella as a part of Fleet Avenue and directed a present as a part of the Asian American Theater Venture (AATP). He began out on Broadway in the US and now has a profitable profession on Broadway in South Korea. He wrote to The Each day about his time at Stanford, his profession and his function in “XO, Kitty.” 

TSD: How did you start to pursue the humanities as a profession?

ML: After my sophomore 12 months in school, a few of my dearest buddies had been graduating. At that time I used to be a human biology main, and I believed my pure path in life could be to turn out to be a physician. However my graduating buddies had been all set on getting began within the leisure business, an concept that by no means entered my thoughts. Maybe it was as a result of I used to be from an immigrant household — a Korean household — the concept of veering off of a pre-professional life course appeared greater than unattainable: non-existent. So, I used to be intrigued by my buddies’ choices and determined to tag alongside.

That summer season all of us went to Los Angeles, obtained a two-bedroom condominium and went for it. All of them had numerous ranges of expertise within the fields that they had been heading into: movie manufacturing, writing, laptop programming. I had little to none. So I obtained a job telemarketing movies to assist earn cash and utilized for internships to movie studios. I landed one, the place I ended up being a manufacturing assistant, which was actually onerous work.

Lee in a Stanford dorm room after first becoming a member of The Fleet Avenue Singers. (Courtesy of Michael Okay. Lee)

TSD: How did you retain pursuing the humanities throughout this era?

ML: In an effort to keep my sanity and happiness, I began taking musical theater lessons at East West Gamers, the firstly theater of shade and Asian American theater firm within the nation. There, I used to be in a position to work on my craft of performing, and simply [letting] go and [being] myself. I realized extra about myself and met lots of actors locally who had been actually making a go of their lives as artists. It was extremely inspiring and thrilling. By way of them, I noticed that the pursuit of life within the leisure business was attainable and even noble. That summer season I made a decision that I’d change the course of my life.  

TSD: How did you get began in Broadway?

ML: It was throughout the course of my lessons that a number of folks advised that I audition for one of many present sizzling Broadway reveals on the time, “Miss Saigon.” At the moment, due to the dearth of Asian American actors in musical theater, reveals would maintain open auditions regularly. I went to my very first open audition and stood in line for 5 hours. After I lastly obtained an opportunity to get in and introduce myself, I used to be within the room for about 4 minutes, and that was it! Nonetheless, I should have made an impression as a result of I instantly obtained referred to as again. I used to be later requested to fly out to New York Metropolis for a closing callback for a Broadway alternative/understudy place. 

TSD: What led you to maneuver to South Korea?

ML: Within the U.S., most of the time, I used to be competing for roles which required Asian or Asian American actors. The producers and creatives who had a large sufficient inventive scope to see past race and ethnicity on the time had been few and much between. It’s gotten higher since, however nonetheless is a fairly important problem. Coming to Korea, my first job was as an American soldier in “Miss Saigon.” Somewhat than an Asian character, I used to be enjoying People, Frenchmen, Australians!  Coming to Korea, I’d be capable to develop my repertoire and proceed engaged on my craft way more extensively than wherever else.  

Secondly and maybe extra importantly, Korea was the proper place for me and my rising household. I first began in Korea in 2006, and I had my first son in 2009. As a stage actor, you at all times go the place the work requires you. Even after I go on tour right here in Korea, I might at all times discover a approach to get house if I wished to, whether or not by automobile or prepare.  

TSD: What has been your expertise residing in South Korea?

ML: I got here to South Korea after about 10 years of working in the US. It was a tradition shock when it comes to the language and traditions, however the course of was very comparable. As a result of the U.S. and Broadway have an extended historical past of theater and theater coaching. Truthfully, the talent degree of the performers in Korea then was not as excessive as within the US. They made up for that with two to a few instances extra effort throughout rehearsals. I’m at all times in such awe of how onerous my fellow Korean actors work.   

Nonetheless, having been within the enterprise for nearly 30 years, the one factor that may be very clear to me is that theater individuals are theater folks — regardless of the place you might be.  I’ve performed so many locations now, however the power and love is similar.  As they are saying, “There’s no folks like present folks.”

TSD: What was your expertise engaged on “XO, Kitty”?

ML: “XO, Kitty” was such a incredible expertise.  It was my first common function in American tv, and what a pleasure it was to have the ability to be a part of the “To All of the Boys I’ve Cherished Earlier than” universe. The forged and crew had been extremely pretty, and doing an American mission in Korea — my new house — was one thing that was indescribably particular. Each my worlds collide in essentially the most fantastic method. Professor Lee was an element I actually wished and a personality that I felt I might breathe life into.