Young and Hungry
Meet Rex Lee
On comedy and having a character written for you
Rex: I definitely come from a time when if you wanted to be an actor, you had to take a class, and there wasn’t a lot of TV or film acting classes; it was all theatre. So you’d do comedic scenes, and you’d do dramatic scenes. Over the years, I guess I kind of “got” comedy. My degree is in music, and there is something about that that I think helps; it helps with timing because there’s something about the idea of music and how you make music that helps me with my timing.
I play piano. I don’t anymore. I can’t play at the level that I want to be able to play at. It’s almost like sitting at a piano and fooling around is not pleasing to me.
On accepting the role of Elliot and working on “Young and Hungry”
Rex: I just thought the writing was really funny and smart. I’d gotten spoiled with the last few jobs I had; I just don’t want to deal with bad writing at all. I thought the writing was good, funny, smart, and I thought the show was show sweet and had heart. It never occurred to me that that might appeal to me, and once I was confronted with it, I was like, “Oh. That’s really cool. I want to be a part of it.”
I think David [Holden] wrote the role with me in mind; I had never met him. So he was already writing for me, and then I agreed to do the role. Then he got to know me, and now I think that they do a good job of writing for me.
On his acting style
Rex: I like to think I’m a good enough actor that even if it isn’t written to me, I can do it. I have this weird skill. It doesn’t matter how things are worded, it doesn’t matter if its not the way I would talk, I can make sense of it.
I haven’t done a lot of Shakespeare, but if I was in a Shakespeare play, I could do it; I could have it make sense to me and hopefully make sense to an audience. I could do that. So anytime I’m working, if I’m given a script, and if I would actually say “I really like water,” but the script is “Water really pleases me.” That’s not how I would say that, but I can deliver it and make it believable. I like to think I’m a good enough actor to do whatever.
I was born in Ohio, When I was a year old we moved to Boston and when I was 9, we moved to LA. So I lived in LA the longest. When I was a kid I said I wanted to be an actor, but then I never thought about it again after I was a kid. I went to college in Ohio. Unrelated to having been born there. Oberlin. I got into acting because I was there, I played music, halfway through I realized I do not want to be a professional musician. I knew from the time I was a kid I wanted to be creative, but after I quit piano, I didn’t know what to do. I was floundering. I studied a dance for a little bit, but then I have this weirdly shaped body, it’s pretty common for Asian guys—I have a long torso and short legs. I was like, I don’t think this is going to work to be a dancer. And I knew it wasn’t the perfect thing. I went to my very first acting class in college, and I was like ahhhh. Now I’m in college, taking a class, and this is what I always said I wanted to do. The light bulbs went off and this is what I’m supposed to do with my life.We chatted about music school and changing gears before becoming a professional musician. Rex and I share a similar background of several years as a music major and then changing gears part way through college.
On working with Kym Whitely
Rex: We definitely get along. Kym’s a mom, and I love her, but sometimes I look at her and we’re talking and I think, “Wow, your life is so different than mine.” As it should be, her life is all about her kid. So I cannot relate to you in this moment, but I’m in awe of her.
It’s funny, it’s not something I predicted would have happened. In the early scripts, I thought I was bickering more with Emily’s character. I had lines toward Yolanda that were of that ilk, but I never would have predicted that we’d be this weird sort of duo.
They bring in a choreographer that is anything dance-related—there’s another dance later on in the season that you will enjoy—but I don’t tell her that I’ve had any dance training so she basically treats me like I don’t know how to dance and that suits me just fine.
I just love that David writes funny lines, and I get to be funny. And because I’m not one of the people who shows up trying to improv a lot, ad lib, I love that he writes funny things for me. I read it and I’m like, “I can make that funny.” And that feels good. Because I like to be funny.
How do you connect to your character? Are you anything like your character in real life?
Rex: I definitely come from a school of acting that’s all about figuring out how to be a character and amplifying that, so when I started working on Elliot I really was aware f the fact that Jonathan’s character made all the money, he’s the millionaire, but Elliot likes thinking that he rule she kingdom and that to a certain extent, that’s how I live my life too. My kingdom’s really messy but I rule it. I’m the ruler of my kingdom.