NOT SO GRIM. DA MAN gets up close and personal with Reggie Lee, the witty Sergeant Wu of fantasy TV show “Grimm”
Filipino-American Reggie Lee has been to the most impossible places: From 18th century Singapore in “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” to the fictional city of Gotham in “The Dark Knight Rises.” However, most of the time he only makes brief appearances in the Hollywood blockbusters he’s featured in—much like most actors who share his ethnical background.
Interestingly, it was a real-life location that eventually allowed him to stand out. The city of Portland is the setting of fantasy TV show “Grimm,” where Lee plays a police officer named Sergeant Wu. Known for his witty one-liners and general awesomeness, Sergeant Wu easily became a fan-favorite and is one of the factors that defined the success of “Grimm.”
DA MAN: Hi Reggie! “Grimm” will be celebrating its 100th episode in 2016. Looking back, did you expect the show to be this successful?
Reggie Lee: I always knew that there was something really special about this story. But to be in any show and think that it would reach 100 episodes would be a lie. Not only did we reach 100 episodes, but we did it with a cast and crew that still want to keep going and telling a really great story. And the bonus is we can now go the rest of our lives calling each other “family.”
DA MAN: What went on through your mind when you first decided to take on the role of Sergeant Wu?
Reggie Lee: Well, first of all … there initially was no Sergeant Wu. I had auditioned for the role of Hank [Griffin, main character Nick Burkhardt’s detective partner]. The amazing Russell Hornsby was cast as Hank and, frankly, I can’t see anyone else playing the role. They called my agent and asked if I would be interested in them writing a role for me. And so, Sergeant Wu was born. I really just wanted to know what was in store for him and that, in some way, the character contributed to the story. I take a lot of the character from what’s in the script and his first sarcastic line led me to believe this was a character that wasn’t just a cop that has been in the force for years, but one that had a bit of snark in him for a reason. And it was really great trying to figure out what that was. Since then, I think the writers have fed off what I’ve given them in terms of his life on screen and I, in turn, have fed off their wonderful writing.
DA MAN: So, who is Sergeant Wu in your own view? What qualities about him appeal to you?
Reggie Lee: I feel like he’s someone that truly wants to not only excel in his work, but be the best at doing it. In that regard, I feel like he always wants to have the answers first, be the fastest at figuring things out and not show any signs of weakness if he can help it. I actually think that’s where his sarcasm comes from: He never wants to appear as anything less than the best. Most people that are sarcastic actually are quite insecure. And they cover it up with sarcastic remarks to feel strong.
DA MAN: Grimm’s creator Jim Kouf has been spilling various tidbits on what to expect in the 100th episode, but we haven’t heard any from you.
Reggie Lee: Well, some past story lines will definitely get some definitive answers, specifically with regard to the mythology. I think Jim and David [Greenwalt, the show’s co-creator] have done such a great job with the payback on this one that I’m glad I was brought into the fold before the 100th episode. I actually get to be a part of the discovery, and I am actually finally starting to feel like an integral part of the “Scooby Gang.” Especially with the official police info and statistical data I can provide. Mythology will definitely take front and center in the 100th episode and a lot of questions will be answered!
DA MAN: In a show like this, the characters are always in danger. Have you ever been afraid that your character will be killed off? If Sergeant Wu had to die—knock on wood—how would you like him to go?
Reggie Lee: Oh, hell yeah—all the time. Who wouldn’t in this day and age think of major characters dying all the time? It’s quite prevalent in television. I actually read an article once that asked if it was happening so much that it was beginning to become commonplace, the norm. I think audiences, instead of becoming more tuned in to see what happens due to the shock, are starting to tune out because characters that they’ve formed a relationship with are being treated as disposable. But, if I were to go, I’d really like to go in a way that I can come back. Naturally.
“We [The ‘Grimm’ cast] can now go the rest of our lives calling each other ‘family’”
DA MAN: Speaking of which, what is your greatest fear?
Reggie Lee: And speaking of, it used to be: death. But as I’ve grown older, I find that my greatest fear is not living life to the fullest; experiencing, doing things that make me happy, that fulfill me on a day-to-day basis. And whatever that is may change on a day-to-day basis. But what has not changed is my love for storytelling, playing pretend. And along with that: friends, family, traveling, experiencing the world.
DA MAN: You speak several languages; English, Tagalog and, if we’re not mistaken, Chinese too. What other languages would you like to master?
Reggie Lee: Well, I studied four years of Spanish in high school, so you’d think I would have some of that still, but I’d love to have more. One language that I’ve spoken in films is Mandarin, but I only know it on a very cursory level. I find it to be such a beautiful language that I’d actually like to know it on a level where I can speak it pretty fluently. It’s definitely a goal.
DA MAN: You’ve been in the industry for years, which is not an easy feat for minority actors. How do you see racial diversity in Hollywood today?
Reggie Lee: I see it progressing. When I began, I definitely found myself playing a lot, I mean a lot, of bad guys. I never saw them as bad; I just think that everyone just does what they have to do to survive. It’s how I justified it, and I do believe it’s true in real life. Then minority actors started to become integrated into more mainstream television to fulfill a demographic. Now, I think it’s important that minority actors are not only included in a cast, but move the plot and story forward in some way, not just fulfill a quota for diversity purposes. It’s part of what the world is today, so why shouldn’t it be represented accurately?
DA MAN: Recently we’ve seen some amazing Filipino-American actors on TV and Broadway, where you started your career. What’s your take on this?
Reggie Lee: Now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty because we’re getting into a specific subculture. Asians in themselves have had a difficult time making their way into the industry. But within the cultures of Asia, I believe that Filipinos have had a relatively tougher time than other Asians. It’s a culture that hasn’t really been given its due representation. So, I think with progress in getting Asian Americans in leading roles on television comes the natural progression of delving deeper into that and being more specific. I think it’s amazing that Filipinos are finally being represented on such a national and international level. It’s about time!
DA MAN: In an interview, Lea Salonga mentioned that Asian-American parents would not encourage their kids to get into show business because Asians are underrepresented onscreen. What were your parents like back then? Especially when you were already accepted to Harvard when you decided to pursue acting?
Reggie Lee: They definitely more than encouraged me to find something stable in addition to acting. But I’m stubborn. Back then, I had blinders on. I still do. I’m not a very good multitasker. I see one thing and I only focus on that. So, regardless, I was gonna do this! They always supported me, but I think a bulk of the support came after they saw that I could actually make a living at this. As unstable as it was, I was able to find the norm in the instability and make it work for me. That, coupled with their growing emotional support, was imperative in helping me get to where I am now.
DA MAN: Do you see yourself going back to Broadway one day?
Reggie Lee: One day, yes. I would love to do a play on Broadway. I’ve done musicals. But boy, that requires a whole different set of muscles. Don’t know if have the stamina for that again. [Laughs] But a play … oh, I would love to do that!
DA MAN: Do you have any other future projects besides “Grimm”?
Reggie Lee: I shot a thriller called “Behind the Walls” and I’m currently filming an indie titled “Sunflower.” I’m actually a detective in this one. And not in uniform. It’s really a gift to get to play a different character and experience that while still doing a character that you’ve lived with for five seasons and that you get to still grow with on a daily basis.
DA MAN: Before we go, we’d like to ask one final question: Who or what inspires you the most?
Reggie Lee: Daniel Day Lewis. And growth in awareness. Yeah, that.