If you’re an actor you probably know how important having a showreel can be. This self-promoting tool which serves as a talent demonstration for casting directors is a critical asset to have in today’s online casting reality. For Jason Lee, a New York based actor and one of the rising stars of the new Amazon Prime Astrological Drama Eighty-12, this is quite accurate. He submitted his showreel to the casting team as part of the initial audition process and was then invited by the show’s director, Louis Rocky Bacigalupo, to what he thought was a standard call back, but was in fact the first table reading for the show. Jason later found out that it was his showreel that booked him the part, because it included a scene that looked exactly like what the director had in mind for “Libran”, a foreign exchange student who represents the astrological sign of Libra.
According to Jason, the exchange student is a common stereotype for an Asian looking actor to portray. In fact, Jason recently took part in “Yell-Low”, a theatrical piece which discusses the role of racial stereotypes in the lives of Immigrants in western countries. The show, which premiered in 2019 at Dixon Place, discussed how Asian people living in Western countries have their voices and rights taken away from them due to their public image, and poignantly reflected Jason’s own experience of constantly being considered for stereotypical roles. However, from a very early stage of working on Eighty-12, Jason was encouraged to bring more of his own personality into the character rather than accentuate its stereotypical attributes.
On the other hand, Jason had a positive experience working on the set of an Adidas commercial, for which he was chosen for his hairstyle. This commercial which was directed by Henry Hobson and featured stars like David Beckham, Henry Golding and Eddie Peng, was a positive experience not only because a high profile brand was looking beyond racial representation, but also because of the “fast-pace yet super friendly environment”, as he describes it. Jason mentions he appreciates the polyangular storytelling capabilities of the camera, but that there is nothing like being fully engaged with an audience in a live performance.
Jason’s journey actually started on the stages of his home country of Taiwan. He grew up in the city of Taoyuan, which he describes as the “New-Jersey” to the capital Taipei, where he served a yearlong mandatory army service and got a college degree in French. Following his graduation he moved to Taipei and started working for theater companies. During one of these jobs, while working as part of a tech crew, he was spontaneously offered to step into a role in a play, which turned out to be a life changing event.
After this inaugural experience Jason joined the company’s training program, participated in many more plays, and eventually decided to seek professional training in the greatest city in the world. In 2017 Jason moved to New York and enrolled in the two year Conservatory Program at the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film institute, and though moving to a new country is never easy, Jason’s fluency in English from a very young age made it easy for him to integrate into the American school system. When I look at his astonishing track record which he’s accrued in less than a year out of school, I get the feeling that this is only just the beginning for him.
There was an ancient Mandarin proverb that Jason brought up during our conversation: “Do your best and let the universe do the rest”, which I thought seemed to encompass his close connection to his own culture as well as his overall devotion towards working hard while remaining true to himself. I also thought the proverb represented his story quite elegantly; after much hard work, Jason’s stars have in fact aligned with the airing of a T.V series revolving around universal signifiers.