TV STORE ONLINE: Hey Brian, thanks for allowing us an opportunity to talk to you.
BRIAN TEE: No problems. Thanks for having me.
TV STORE ONLINE: So I went back and watched WE WERE SOLDIERS (2002) again last night...
BRIAN TEE: Thanks! That one is really close to my heart because it was my first big budget movie. I was just so green and just so happy to be working on that. That role was just so incredible. In the sense of the story and the fact that I was playing an actual human being that actually experienced that. It was so epic for me.
TV STORE ONLINE: Did you put in any research into that 'Jimmy Nakayama' character that you played in WE WERE SOLDIERS?
BRIAN TEE: Sure, yeah I read the book that the movie was based on We Were Soldiers Once… And Young and I read some other things on Vietnam. After reading the book I got the opportunity to talk to Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore; the guy who wrote the book that the movie was based on and he was actually there fighting with Jimmy and that was really helpful.
I decided that the best way to approach the character was just to treat him like a hero, because that was what he really was. I didn't want to act like a hero, but I really just wanted to tell his story, because he was a genuine man that was fighting for a cause that he believed in but due to the circumstances that he was in, didn't quite make it. What the director Randall Wallace did for that character and how he approached him in the movie was so incredible. Playing that character was one of the best things I've ever been involved with, and given the blitz speed that the movie moves in, and how his story is told in such a short amount of time, his passing was just heart-wrenching and I think it pulls weight because of just how epic the movie is.
TV STORE ONLINE: Why do you think that we as Americans are still so fascinated by the Vietnam War all of these years later?
BRIAN TEE: I think because that time was such a time of turmoil. I think it was completely different than something like World War II. Everyone was ready to go to war when World War II came upon us, and I think that's the opposite of what happened with the Vietnam War.
With the Vietnam War, there was a constant struggle between the people. There were protests and debates asking why we were involved. Then others were saying that it was the right thing that we were involved in. It wasn't like World War II, where everyone across the board thought that it was the right thing to do. So I think that's why people are so fascinated with it, and plus its so similar to what we're going through today too. Should we be at war, or shouldn't we be? I think people are intrigued by that aspect of it, and I think that people are trying to learn from our past mistakes too.
TV STORE ONLINE: Growing up what types of movies did you like and how did they influence you or your decision to become an actor?
BRIAN TEE: You know one of the first films that influenced me was BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985). If you remember in the movie there is this Twin Pines Mall in the movie, and that wasn't too far from where I grew up in Hacienda Heights, California. So I can remember as a kid like at 7 or 8 years old going there and watching them shoot. I can remember seeing the cameras, and the lights, and the C-stands and this huge production going on there, and I was just so fascinated by that as a kid. I think to see that must have had a conscious or unconscious effect on me. I mean, growing up in an Asian family my parents wanted me to be either a doctor or a lawyer. My brother became a doctor, and I just couldn't see myself being a lawyer so I went down a different path, and once I got into college I really got the bug and I started studying films like THE GODFATHER (1972) and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951).
But I think it really started for me, because of the fact that I grew up liking those fun '80s movies. I loved movies like WEIRD SCIENCE (1985) and SAY ANYTHING (1989). Then a movie I really loved was NORTH SHORE (1987). Those movies were totally fun and had these universal themes and ideas in them, and the characters in these films I could totally relate to as I was growing up. Same thing with STAR WARS (1977) too.
TV STORE ONLINE: So tell us about what you're doing with this web series MORTAL KOMBAT: LEGACY (2011-2013)
BRIAN TEE: Yeah, it was one of the coolest experiences I've ever had. As a kid too, Mortal Kombat was something I grew up with. The funny thing is, when I was offered the role of 'Liu Kang' I told them that I wasn't interested in playing him just because growing up I never played him in the video game because I just didn't think that much of him. I always thought he was like a rip-off of Bruce Lee, and I had always like the darker characters like 'Scorpion' and 'Sub-Zero'. My friend who is working on the series, he told me to read the script because the producers were taking a different approach to the characters.
So I read the script and it completely blew my mind. I mean they complete flipped Liu Kang on his head. He's so dark but yet you understand why he is the way he is. He's riding the line between both the Earth Realm and Outworld. There's so much death in the story and the characterization is so incredible. I knew once I read it that I had to be a part of it.
TV STORE ONLINE: When I was a kid playing Mortal Kombat I would get accused of "sweeping the leg" too much by my friends. Did you ever get that same criticism?
BRIAN TEE: Laughing...Yeah right. Always... The faster you could sweep the leg the better you were. That's funny.
TV STORE ONLINE: Then how did you find Liu Kang's darkness for the character within yourself?
BRIAN TEE: Well, after I read the script and had some discussions with the director, we decided to really strip down his image and start from the ground up. We wanted to start with his back story so people could see where he came from and why he's become what he is now.
When you watch the series and see what he went through that caused him to turn into what he is now, it's no different than something that happens in our own personal lives where something tragic happens, and how that can really change someone or how they think. Any and all reasoning can go out the window when someone has to endure a tragedy. That's what happened to Liu. So that's how I approached it. I just tried to connect with those ideas. I just tried to make him really human and real. I truly want people to relate to Liu. I want audiences to say "He's a real guy. He's relatable, and while I don't approve of what he's doing, I understand why he's that way."
TV STORE ONLINE: Not to exceed the stereotype, but do you or any of the other guys working on the series look to Bruce Lee for inspiration or influence?
BRIAN TEE: Well to be honest...Whether they admit it or not, everyone takes inspiration from Bruce Lee. Especially for Asian Americans. He was the first to go the farthest. He's almost like The Godfather to some of us in the regard that he paved the way so that people would really take a look at Asians in cinema. Of course, in MORTAL KOMBAT because it's a martial arts franchise he's obviously been an influence. But I think of him as an actor, as an artist, and as an icon too. I think all of us try to take the path that he took as an artist.
TV STORE ONLINE: Then have you ever taken any inspiration from 'Bruce Leroy' from Berry Gordy's THE LAST DRAGON (1985)?
BRIAN TEE: laughing...Sometimes... Sometimes I do...laughing
TV STORE ONLINE: You probably wanted to have "The Glow" as a kid just like me, didn't you?
BRIAN TEE: Totally...Totally... To be honest, I love that movie. It was one of those rich character-driven movies. They didn't take it too seriously, but they did at the same time. I remember the first time I saw that I was so into it. It was cool because it broke the stereotype for culture, right? I mean Bruce Lee tried to do that in his movies too. He cast people like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Chuck Norris in his movies. He tried to make everything universal. That's what was great for Asian Americans because it was like, finally, all the kids get to play in the same sandbox together.
TV STORE ONLINE: So, the big news...I hear you're going to be in the new WOLVERINE (2013) that hits theaters nationwide on July 26th?
BRIAN TEE: Yeah WOLVERINE, that small little movie...laughing This is one of those dream come true things for me. I mean I grew up a comic book kid and The X-Men was my favorite team, and Wolverine was my guy. I used to dress up as Wolverine as a kid for Halloween. I'd make my own cardboard cut-out wrapped in tin foil Adamantium claws even. The journey to get this particular part was an interesting one. They had been casting WOLVERINE pretty much for like two years. It would start and then stop. I'd get called in for a completely different character then who I'm playing in the film now. Then at like the 11th hour, they called and offered me 'Noburo Mori' and it had to be the stars aligning.
TV STORE ONLINE: And people are saying that this is going to be the movie that takes your career to the next level, what do you think?
BRIAN TEE: Yeah, I hope so. I don't know, everyone always talks about "the next level" or whatever. Not just for me, but I think for every actor, there is this assumed thing that once a big movie hits for an actor it's like they get "discovered" and in the back of our minds we're thinking about the fact that we've been slugging it out for like fifteen years. But yeah, I hope that because of the size of a movie that WOLVERINE is, it does propel me to "the next level", but for me just the fact that I get to be in WOLVERINE and I get to work as an actor for my career makes me feel just so blessed. And if WOLVERINE doesn't "propel" me I'm not going to be upset or hurt about it, because I'll just continue on doing what I love and working at my craft.
TV STORE ONLINE: What was your experience working with the director of WOLVERINE James Mangold?
BRIAN TEE: Jim is awesome. He's one the coolest guys I've ever come across. With that being said, he knows exactly what he wants when he's working. He takes character development into a whole new light, and I think everyone that works with him is happy to be there.
TV STORE ONLINE: So what do you think that you brought to this character 'Noburo Mori' in the new WOLVERINE movie that wasn't on the written page of the script?
BRIAN TEE: All I can say is that there is a reason why 'Noburo Mori' is the way he is. His reasons, you may not agree with, but those reasons are coming from a place that he's definitely connected to. But I think that what I brought to the character is an understanding quality and a life to him that I hope plays in the movie. You can either love him or hate him, but he's a guy that you'll at least understand where he's coming from.
TV STORE ONLINE: Now the trailer is out there for the new WOLVERINE film. In the trailer, we see this really badass sword fight at a temple, and we see this really cool fight on the top of a train...It looks really awesome! What can fans expect with the new film? Will there be more character development? Will it be better than the ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (2009) movie?
BRIAN TEE: Bigger, badder and better. Absolutely. I think you hit the nail right on the head. There's going to be so much more depth and character development. I feel like fans are really gonna connect with Logan like we've never seen before. He's very vulnerable both physically and emotionally in the new movie. The stunts will be bigger and better. It's going to be visually amazing. The set pieces, are bar none the biggest that I've ever seen. I mean, if you're going to compare it to the other X-MEN movies, it's gonna be like nothing you've ever seen. It goes way beyond the other movies.
TV STORE ONLINE: One more question... Do you think you'll get a Brian Tee / Noburo Mori WOLVERINE movie action figure and how will it affect your ego?
BRIAN TEE: laughing...That would be amazing! I don't know but that would be awesome. How would it affect my ego? I'd probably go out and buy like a hundred of them, and I'd probably set them up all around the house in different poses...laughing
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