How Will Yun Lee Broke Free From Bond Villain Typecasting: ‘The Needle Is Moving’ (Video)

Inclusion means playing average men with average problems, Lee tells TheWrap

Last Updated: April 3, 2018 @ 1:04 PM

Will Yun Lee has taken on James Bond, gone claw-to-claw with the Wolverine and can currently be seen living multiple lives on Netflix’s “Altered Carbon.” But on Monday, he was elevated to series regular on a network hospital drama where he plays a human surgeon with everyday problems.

It’s the most exciting gig he’s ever had, the actor told TheWrap.

“One of my favorite shows is ‘Friday Night Lights,’ and I always wished I got to be a part of something like that where you can say, ‘Pass me the water,’ as opposed to ‘Bond, I’m going to kill you,'” Lee told TheWrap.

His action resume is unimpeachable, with credits like “Die Another Day,” “Elektra,” “San Andreas,” James Mangold’s “The Wolverine” and more.

“[Bond] was great, it was an exciting part of my career, but I strive for the normalcy,” he said of his ABC series “The Good Doctor,” where he began as a guest star in the role of Dr. Alex Park.

The actor and martial arts expert has been outspoken for years about the drought of roles for people of color, Hollywood’s rampant tendency to whitewash parts written for Asian characters (and many other ethnicities) and his desire to evolve past a fleeting villain, kicking in mid-air.

“It’s like you sit on the bench and you wait fo your shot. You get to put on the jersey, and the ball gets handed to you. Reading [“The Good Doctor”] script was like getting the ball handed to me,” he said.

Lee is in something of a transitional period with his body of work. In the last two months, he bid adieu to USA Network’s supernatural drama “Falling Water,” stepped up on “The Good Doctor” and played a supporting but impactful character in the pricey Netflix Sci-Fi thriller series “Altered Carbon.”

In her March acceptance speech for the best actress Oscar, Frances McDormand challenged the industry to adopt “inclusion riders,” contract stipulations that mandate diverse hiring for movie and TV roles as well as below-the-line gigs.

“I’ve been doing this for 19 years. But now you feel like the needle is moving, in terms of the inclusion part of it,” Lee said. ” All three of these characters… they are things that we aspire to play. They’re heroes, they’re good guys, roles that you wish for. You feel that the time is changing.”

Lee said the change isn’t just manifesting just in the opportunities, but in the content.

Take “Carbon,” whose premise says human consciousness can be downloaded and installed into new bodies, or “sleeves.” While it’s the lanky muscle of Joel Kinnaman running around chasing bad guys with a gun, the character plugged into that body is originated by Lee.

We meet the man, Takeshi Kovacs, in multiple flashbacks that document his road to the present. The whole of season one’s seventh episode is dedicated to his back story — a harrowing survival tale of an orphaned brother looking after his sister.

The show did not call on Lee to spark an epic karate battle, but trusted him to communicate the emotional origin of the protagonist.

“I think I kicked once the entire episode,” the actor recalled.

Lee applauds his showrunners, but also larger cultural movements like “Black Panther.”

“When you see movies like ‘Black Panther’ performing — you hear as an actor, a lot, that it’s about numbers and the bottom line. But, when you see things like ‘Panther’ and ‘The Fast and the Furious,’ it nudges people in the right direction,” Lee said.

“Because those numbers exist, it allows people like Chadwick Boseman to go front and center and show… that all these different groups, we all came from the same performing arts school and acting places. That there is this breadth of actors that exists,” he concluded.

“The Good Doctor” has been renewed for a second season at ABC. While expected soon, “Altered Carbon” has not yet been picked up for a second season.