Eddy Lee is a beast. He is currently the first Asian-American male dancer to be hired for Broadway’s Hamilton! Tonight he is making his debut as George Eaker. Eddy has worked his ass off to get to this point in his career. When I first approached him to do this interview he was worried he wouldn’t have anything to say and would be boring. So not the case. In fact, Eddy has a lot to say on diversity, his audition process for Hamilton, and his work in the voice over booth. Eddy is paving the path for future generations. I couldn’t be prouder to call him a friend!
As the first Asian male dancer to get hired for the Broadway Production, what are your thoughts on this? Do you feel you have to represent the API community? Or are you able to be just you?
Well, it's definitely crazy to think about. I mean I never thought I'd be the first of anything! Let alone the first Asian Male ensemble member of Hamilton on Broadway!! I mean that's just crazy! I'm just so grateful that they saw something in me and gave me this opportunity to represent in this already incredibly different and diverse show. I definitely feel a sense of need to represent the API community. Especially after meeting that Asian boy Leo after my debut. It was so telling for me the power that representation has to bring hope and belief to those watching. But I also don't know any better way to represent than being who I am haha. This show just resonated with me on so many levels and I think it was because of that that I caught their attention. If anything maybe I'm helping to represent the API community by letting them know it's okay to be yourself.
How old were you when you started dancing?
I was always active and played sports growing up, but it wasn't till I was a sophomore in High School that I started dancing. I saw the movie You Got Served and wanted to learn how to break-dance soooooo bad! So I started learning from internet videos and ended up starting a little group at my High School called Power Play (no relation to 5 on 4 hockey). I started looking for actual classes and studios in my area, but there's not much in East Lansing, MI… But from that search, I ended up finding a studio that focused on musical theatre and just tried their summer program. I ended up falling in love with it!
Being in a show like Hamilton which is so freaking diverse (especially now that you're in it) what are your thoughts on Representation versus Presentation?
Hmmm It's interesting with everything that's been going on. Currently, I think they go hand in hand. I mean with all the movies like Aloha, Ghost in the Shell, Dr. Strange, and now even the live action Aladdin the reason that's always brought up is the fear of not having enough "Star Power" or the "Name". And it seems like producers are even worried that diversity won't sell, but Hamilton has and continues to prove that wrong. And it has such unconventional casting! I think we need more shows like this to prove that it doesn't matter how we look when we're cast, but our ability to tell the story given.
Although I do think that certain stories should stay ethnically and culturally true. But I think both are important right now and we need more of it circulating to reach a balance with what the norm has been.
As one of the most hard-working, sweetest, salt of the earth, performers I know do you have any words of advice for your fellow Asian-American performers?
Aww, you're too sweet! Ummm it might sound cliche but I'd say trust in yourself. I think too many times we rule ourselves out before we've even given casting the chance to do so haha. Trust in your own talents, your own abilities, and your own gifts that you know you have and show it to the fullest! You had that wonderful challenge earlier in the year about hitting 100 auditions by the end of the year or something along those lines and I think that's such an amazing goal! Even if we're not "right" for the part why should we stop ourselves from gaining that experience? Auditioning is such a different beast and you can learn so much every time you get into that room. It keeps you sharp and on your toes and if nothing else it'll show casting that the Asian and Asian-American Community are here and we're ready!
I remember when you started going in for this show. You had quite the lengthy audition process. Can you talk about it? How were you able to maintain a positive attitude throughout it?
Oh man! Indeed it was! I think I went in for them 13 or 14 times over the span of two years! I mean I don't have an agent so I just kept going into every required call they had. Even if I had gotten pretty far in the call prior I still went to the ECC's every time. I even went to some of the EPA's! I wanted to keep going in and show them that I was working and improving, and I wasn't gonna chance them remembering me and calling me in for an invited call. And Ooooh Weee, let me tell you it wasn't easy keeping a positive attitude toward the latter part of those two years. Especially after I was in final callbacks for the Angelica tour. It was the furthest I had ever gotten and I felt pretty defeated when I didn't get it. I kept beating myself up and wondering what I did wrong, or what I could have done better, or if I just wasn't good enough and they finally saw that. A whole plethora of negative thoughts rushed into my mind, and truthfully the only thing that kept me a float and kept me in the game was the unrelenting support from my friends and family. I can't tell you the number of talks and phone calls I had where I kept beating myself up and they kept picking me back up. I know for a fact I wouldn't be here without any of them and I need to thank each and every one of them for knocking some sense into me and for not giving up on me! I mean they must have been so annoyed with me always having to bring my spirits back up! Haha! But what became really helpful to me is from talking to everyone I realized that I had become too focused on Hamilton. By that point, I was thinking, "This is my only shot and the only show I'm right for!" (Having a hip-hop background and loving theatre I mean it just makes sense). I had forgotten that I wanted to be a performer before I even knew Hamilton was a thing! And that's when I shifted my mind set from "How can I get into Hamilton," to "How can I improve myself as a person and a performer." I started to get back into classes and going to as many auditions as I could and doing workshops and readings and whatever I could do to improve. It seems like it worked out for me! But for sure having my friends and family was absolutely critical for me booking this job. I'm nothing without them!
What do you think is the biggest challenge being an Asian-American male in the entertainment industry?
I mean I think it's the lack of any representation of Asian-American stories at all or should I say American stories that consider us as Americans. I just read a wonderful interview with Constance Wu and she said it right. Currently, it's not great, but the Asian narrative is starting to get some traction in the industry. The Asian-American narrative ... It's like we're not even considered at all. We as Asians have been clumped together in this huge umbrella when in reality there are so many nuances. Not even just Asians and Asian-Americans, but Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Singaporeans, Taiwanese, Indians, adoptees of Asian parents, Adoptees of White parents, and much much more! We're all under this huge broad category and idea and we all don't fit it because it's too broad of a brush stroke. I mean just me as an example I'm 5' 10" with an athletic build so right off the bat I don't fit into the idea of the frail, nerdy, short friend, but say they are looking for more of a leading man type like in Mulan. I was born here and might not have that "authentic" Asian quality they're looking for. That's why I'm so thankful for a show like Hamilton. It doesn't matter what I look like. All that matters is how I connect to the material and if I can make that translate in the room and on that stage.
Besides being an incredible dancer you are also an up and coming voiceover actor, what are some projects you've worked on?
Yes! It's never something I even considered I could do when I moved to the city, but I met my now good friend Daniel J. Edwards during a workshop and he helped get me into that world. You should check out everything he's done! He's a monster! (Actually, he voices one, so literally!). I've been fortunate enough to work on some really cool projects! My first role was Moon Shadow on Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc V and I've also got to do many additional voices throughout the show. I also got to do additional voices for the beautifully animated film Your Name. I've got a couple of other projects down the pipeline that I can't announce yet, but keep an ear out!
Anything else you are working on?
Right now I'm putting as much focus as I can on Hamilton. I want to make sure I get a strong grasp on the material as soon as possible! But I am part of this incredible company called The Bring About founded by Jennifer Jancuska and we work with new musical theater writers and composers to see how dance and movement can be used to enhance the storytelling at the beginning of the creation process. We have work sessions called ASTIRS So when I can fit those in my schedule you best believe I'll be in that studio working those creative juices! You can check out some of the works we've had the pleasure of working on. http://www.jenniferjancuska.com/#/astir/ . And like I mentioned earlier voice over wise I have a couple of big announcements I'll be making soon (well I guess it depends on when this comes out haha)! So you can follow me on my social media to keep up to date. And get hype! Instagram: @edru0
Thanks so much Eddy, and break-a-leg tonight!
Follow Alex on Twitter/Instagram @AlexFChester