J Lee @jleefilm
Photography by Maries Danila @maries_danila
Grooming by Rosiekia Artis @artis_thee_artist
Styled by Kenee Thompson & D'shaunte McKnight @keneeanddshaunte
Interview by Ashira Provost @_ashiraprovos
What originally inspired you to take on an acting career?
I’ve always liked entertaining people. I went to school for classical piano, theater and drama and then one day I just knew that this is exactly what I wanted to do. So after I graduated, I went back home to St. Louis to be the musical director for “West Side Story”. Once that was over, I paid some bills, packed my car and drove to LA.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an actor?
I couldn’t tell you any disadvantages because I love what I do. I love telling stories. Creating art. Making people feel and think. Creating and bringing characters to life. Every project is new and presents new opportunities. The hours are long? I don't know if that even counts as a disadvantage because if you like what you do, it doesn't feel like work.
What are you proud of?
Making my mom proud. Playing at Carnegie Hall. Still having my high school 300 hurdles track record. Always getting back up after getting knocked back down. Remembering all the life lessons my piano teacher Sister Alice used to tell me. My family. Being able to cook catfish. Having a solid 15-foot jumper. Buying my first piano. Inspiring people to #DoBetter and #DoTheWork. Knowing Karate Kid and Menace II Society damn near word for word. My friends who are now getting the recognition they deserve. Joining Alpha Phi Alpha, Fraternity Inc (’06) Buying my first electric toothbrush. Being a spaceman. My tattoos. Seeing my homie Michael B. Jordan on the front of my cheerios box. And still having my pound puppy, Buckey.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
Batman AND The Joker. My mother. Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven, Seth MacFarlane, Don Cheadle. My uncle turtle. My sister. My piano. Stephen King.
Do you have anyone you admire and would love to work with in the future?
See above. But also, would be dope to work with my fellow St. Louis natives, Sterling Brown and Jon Hamm. Michelle Obama. Love what Ryan Coogler is doing. Steven Caple Jr. Dee Rees. Big fan of what Jordan Peele cooks. Donald Glover is a beast. All of the kids from Stranger Things. I just wanna ride bikes with them. Chris Nolan. LeBron James. Antoine Fuqua. Ava Duvernay. And legit—all of my friends that are grinding in the shadows right now so you don’t even know about them yet. Them, and whoever reads this and says, “I wanna work with that dude J Lee.” I’m in. Big Boom.
What were the biggest struggles you had to face to get to where you are?
All of my struggles led me to where I am now so I’m thankful for every single one of them. If you’re aware enough, you’ll learn from your struggles. You’ll embrace the struggle. You’ll learn to value the struggle. Because once you get past it, you’ll appreciate the journey you took to get where you want.
Are you and your character alike in anyway?
Yeah. I think John LaMarr and I are both thinkers and solution oriented people who also have a sense of humor. John is a lot quieter in his observations though. Oh, AND we look just alike.
How has your character grown since the first season?
John is now Lieutenant Commander and has been promoted to the chief of engineering. He’s still the smartest person on the ship (save for Isaac who is A.I.) but still has his moments of being silly and fun. When he first met his new Orville crew he was slightly skeptical but after spending time with them and going to battle with them, they’ve become somewhat of a family.
What other projects do you have coming up?
I just finished directing a film called “Wednesdays…” in which I wrote, directed and starred in. It’s a dark comedy loosely based on my time in therapy. I wrote the first draft of the script 5 years ago and people loved it and seemed excited about it but was never able to get anyone to give me the green-light. So I gave myself the green-light. Looked at my account, came up with a number I could realistically shoot the film for and then started making calls. I brought on two producers (Steven Love and Jacquin Deleon) who helped bring the film to life. I’m also prepping to do a piano concert in the spring. I have 3 other scripts I’ve written and will be hopefully taking out at some point. I told you, I remembered all the lessons Sister Alice taught me. And one of those was “never rest on your laurels.” So it’s back to work I go. Boom.
What are your goals for 2019
To continue to grow as a person. Artist. Friend. Son. Man. To continue to do better and hopefully make this place a little better. To keep writing, directing, laughing, making stuff up, learning. I love my life.
OH! I would love to do a backflip. Yeah. Before the end of 2019, I will love to have done a backflip. Yeah. Boom.