We all have our favorite actors out there, but there are some that make more of an impact on screen for more than just their name. Actor Will Yun Lee is one such actor having appeared in numerous films and TV shows including Hawaii Five-O, Electra, Die Another Day, Total Recall, Withcblade, Red Dawn, the upcoming The Wolverine and his latest film Four Assassins alongside Miguel Ferrer. Few have his ability to deliver the acting presence and ability as well as the skill in action as Lee and continue to prove he is a force to be reckoned with. I had the chance to sit down and discuss his latest film Four Assassins, his career and martial arts.
Bobby: You’re currently promoting your latest film Four Assassins, can you tell us a little about the film?
Will: Essentially, how it was presented to me was if you take the world of assassins and mixed it with the movie My Dinner With Andre. So it’s just an interesting story of four assassins that come together for dinner and one of them didn’t complete a job that puts everyone else’s life at risk on this basic nucleus of a team. So they all meet at a place to discover and discuss why it didn’t go down because there are consequences to be had. That’s kind of the essence of the movie and then you start discovering relationships and seeing where the cracks happen, then ultimately a guy negotiating for his life at this dinner table in Hong Kong.
Bobby: When you see a title and the box art for Four Assassins you think it’s going to be this hardcore action film, but instead this film is more on a personal level with the dialogue. In addition the structure to the film is interesting in the way the characters are explained. Was this the way it was written or just the way it grew as the film came together?
Will: That’s the way it was written. For me as an actor that was the challenge. I knew that the whole movie pretty much took place in this one location and I have always been interested in movies like Reservoir Dogs that take almost seems like a play where you’re confined to one area and make it interesting. Can you make it suspenseful and all that when you’re stuck in one location through an entire movie. So that was very intriguing to me and I know it is very different than the box art on the DVD leads you to believe.
Bobby: It’s actually a nice surprise as you step into this expecting the shooting and fighting, but it ended up being very Tarantino like. You’ve done so many things at this point, how did you get involved with this project?
Will: In this case the producers Stanley and Maria Orzel, we were actually fixing to shoot a completely different movie. We were getting ready to head to Hong Kong to shoot this movie and at the 11th hour that movie didn’t happen and they presented me with a different movie and asked if I wanted to shoot it instead. At first I was like, I don’t know and then they mentioned the Dinner with Andrea, so I said let me read this and that’s kind of how it all happened.
Bobby: You’ve been in the business for quite some time and always seem to have a pretty heavy work load, with a reoccurring character in Hawaii Five-O and numerous movies. How do you as an actor jump from various genres and be able to maintain that schedule?
Will: Sometimes it is a little bit deceiving where I have a lot of things come out and it looks like I haven’t been able to come up for air. But certain things were shot a couple of years ago and then suddenly they all come out at the same time. That kind of juggling is not so bad, but the frustrating thing is when you get a couple of things you’re not able to do because you’re on a different job. That’s probably the most frustrating thing.
Bobby: As a martial artist myself, I always have to ask anyone that does martial arts in their films what their background is if any?
Will: My martial arts background is Tae Kwon Do. My father was one of the first Tae Kwon Do Masters to come to the states in the 60’s. He had one of the first all-African-American fighting teams and I was basically raised in a karate studio since I was 3. It’s part of my blood, competing and all that stuff was responsible for a lot of me just growing up.
Bobby: That’s refreshing to hear. You are one of the few that I have talked to that has a Tae Kwon Do background which is where I come from. So it’s cool speaking to someone else with that background. I started when I was 9, not quite as far back as you and still teach today.
Will: Wow, cool that’s fantastic.
Bobby: Yeah I always thought watching you that might be what you studied, but nowadays never want to assume.
Will: We’re a dying breed.
Bobby: Agreed, while I love watching MMA but I think its killing tradition.
Will: I love watching the Akyama’s and those coming out in their uniforms. There is just something majestic about it.
Bobby: Yeah, I also have studied other stuff, but always look for the traditional styles to learn not just the fighting but the mental and spiritual aspect as well.
Will: That’s a good thing, but you're one of the last.
Bobby: Since we are on the martial arts subject. Are those roles something you go after or does it just happen? I mean are you wanting to go that direction more often?
Will: Honestly my first couple of years in Los Angeles I stayed away from anything that had martial arts in terms of auditions. I decided to come to LA and be a white belt again as something new. It wasn’t until I started getting comfortable doing plays and I started feeling like maybe I’m a yellow belt now and starting to get a sense of what acting is. Then I became more open to go and do something that had some action in it and that first movie was Die Another Day with Pierce Brosnan. I thought this is cool; I get to speak Korean and do martial arts. One of my dad’s favorite characters was Sean Connery as Bond, so this would be a cool thing for him to go see in a movie, especially since my parents were like going to LA to become an actor was the stupidest thing you can ever do. It was really nice to be able to go to this movie and do the martial arts that he taught me and the Korean that he taught me.
Bobby: With you shooting Hawaii Five-O and all these other parts as an actor you have to change accents and change voices. How hard is it to adjust these characters using the various dialects?
Will: Early in my career I was really hesitant to do any kinds of accents because the majority of the Asian people I grew up with, we grew up as Americans. As I became bolder as an actor, if the character had some integrity or had something to play, I felt if I was a different race like Caucasian and did a Scottish or British accent that’s kind of the way I approached it. It’s a skill set and if I can do it with some honesty, then I should think of myself as an actor first. It always pushes and pulls at me in terms of is this the right one to do it for, is it telling a certain story. Like the Hawaii Five-O character came from a late night Hollywood Casino, not that I go there often, but I was really into Texas Hold’Em. After going to a few with my friend I was like what am I doing here, but I saw this guy who was so interesting and intimidated everyone at the table and we were playing at 2 to 4 dollar tables, which was just ludicrous. I just found him so interesting that I said I want to play that guy one day and that’s kind of where Hawaii Five-O came from.
Bobby: Before I let you go, I not only cover the TV, movies, and martial arts, but also comics. I know you recently just finished working on The Wolverine and also did Elektra. Is this a genre you are interested in getting into or was it just one that is more like another role to you?
Will: The two most exciting things for me to get to work on The Wolverine was getting to work with James Mangold, the director who directed 3:10 to Yuma and Walk the Line as well as getting to work with Hugh Jackman. I can’t say much about the film, but the things I got to be a part of is such a beautiful story because going back to what you talked about with tradition in the martial arts, they put so much energy into creating this beautiful Japanese culture that laced it throughout and weaved it into the movie adding it into a Wolverine movie. I just thought it was so cool and that was what I was so excited about. When I saw one of the sets we were working on it was just so unbelievable. I think that is really all I can say is that I was so excited to be a part of the James Mangold and Hugh Jackman movie. Everyone always says that Jackman is the nicest guy you will work with and you’re like not the nicest, but he is literally the nicest guy I have ever worked with.
Bobby: That is cool to hear, the Japanese storylines in the Wolverine books are some of the most popular and to hear they paid that much attention to detail is sure to make the fans happy.
Will: Don’t get me wrong, it is a big summer tent pole action movie but at the same time there are a lot of nuances that they needed someone like James Mangold to bring it out.
Bobby: Cool, is there anything else you have coming up or would like to promote?
Will: Yeah I have other movies coming out, but I am excited for Four Assassins. My buddy Miguel Ferrer was just talking about getting together and watching the movie, so I’m excited for it to come out on DVD.
Bobby: So have you seen a completed cut of the film yet?
Will: Yeah it’s fun and different. I have to take my hat off to the director because there was a good portion or me thinking that it wasn’t going to work just because it was so dialogue heavy and how do you get an audience to sit at a dinner table with you with four assassins, but it was surprisingly suspenseful and funny, so I really enjoyed that experience.
Bobby: Yeah I was a bit concerned myself watching it because I thought it was going to just be an action movie and then they started just talking, but the way it was structured and the clever dialogue made it more of a clever film that just happened to have some action sprinkled in.
Will: It felt more like a European action movie and I love that.
Bobby: Do you have any kind of web site where the fans can keep up with what you have going on?
Will: Just my name at willyunlee.com, there’s actually a web documentary series with a group of people that you may enjoy. It follows my training and how it interlaces with my experiences in Hollywood. Check it out, as a fellow Tae Kwon Do martial artist I think you will enjoy it. Right now there are only two episodes, I hurt myself on a film set and have to get my knee checked before I continue training.
Bobby: Can’t wait to check it out. I appreciate you taking the time to do this and hope you get well soon.
Will: Thanks Bobby, it was my pleasure.
Make sure to get out and get your copy of Four Assassins when it hits DVD on February 19th.
Be sure to head over to Will’s official site featuring his awesome docu-series about his training to test for his black belt again. It’s an aspiring story for any martial artist. To check it out at http://willyunlee.com/