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Byron Lawson Interview

Byron Lawson sat down and answered some of our ABYSS cast questions — even though we bet he would rather be torturing us. Here's our exclusive interview, where Byron talks about Lee Chen, his granduncle's involvement, dealing with Sci Fi fans, how the acting bug bit him, and the love of a good mojito.

A huge thank you to everyone who contributed a question. For more information about Lee Chen and Bryon, please visit the Cast section of the web site.

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The Man Behind Lee Chen
Interview with Byron Lawson (March 2003)
Bryon Lawson
Byron Lawson (photo ©2002 MGM)
When you're eighty and sitting on the porch of the Old Folks' Home, what's the one memory from your time on Jeremiah that you'll tell your fellow octogenarians over and over again?

That it was a BLAST to work on this show. The entire Jeremiah family (crew, staff, cast, etc.) is just so tight. Luke and Malcolm are a joy to work with. We are all always joking and laughing at work.

Vital stats: Age, birthplace, education, notable previous roles?

I was born and raised in Vancouver, Canada. So it's a real treat to be able to work out of home. The Corruptor was an incredible project, because I got the opportunity to work with my childhood hero Chow Yun Fat.

Lee Chen is easily Jeremiah's most controversial character. Is he *really* loyal to Markus? Is he a Valhalla Sector operative? Is he both at once? Is his ultimate goal like Ezekiel's - to protect Jeremiah by keeping him away from the truth? Do you enjoy knowing that you torture your audience completely like this?

I'm being tortured just as much as the audience, because I really have no idea where Lee is going. Sometimes I truly think he is loyal to Markus, then I get the script and "BAM" it goes the other way. The way Joe [Straczynski] writes things, his story arcs go all over the place in such a way to keep everyone guessing at all times, but IT ALL makes complete sense. I love torturing the audience!

"I love torturing the audience!"

What's your favorite thing about Lee? What are the special challenges you face in portraying Lee that haven't cropped up in other roles? How different are you and Lee - and how much the same? Tell us about him.

My favorite thing about Lee is that he is such an asshole, which is awesome to play. Lee is a very complex character. Sometimes I have no clue what the fuck he is doing. Yet when we play he just seems to come out and I go "wow what a dick," then he does something honorable and I think "cool!" I just play him like he's written and stuff starts to happen. Lee and I are very different. He is this stiff anal dude, and I'm sorta laid back.

What are your hidden talents - can you do any "stupid human tricks?"

I grew up playing Ice Hockey since I was 7 years old. Went to school on a hockey scholarship. Also went to Sweden and Finland to play for while. I have many Stupid and Gross human tricks, which I'm sure we all do.

How were you cast on Jeremiah? What was the audition process like? What was the first thing you did when you found out you got this part?

Bryon Lawson
Byron Lawson played Lee Chen in Firewall (photo ©2002 MGM)
I had to Audition just like everyone else. It first started maybe around a year prior to us shooting the pilot. I had to put something on tape for this project called "Jeremiah", which I didn't know much about. In fact the original audition was for the role of David (now Markus Alexander). After we did this, we never heard anything else and heard the project was on hold, so I forgot about it.

Then maybe 5 months passed, and I auditioned for the role of "Kurdy", never heard anything again. Another few months go by and I find out Luke and Malcolm are on the project. I get brought back again for "Lee Takashima" and I guess it went well, cause I had to go back a couple more times. Finally I found out that I got the role. I FREAKED THAT DAY!

The day I went in for wardrobe Joe asked if I was Chinese or Japanese, so I told him I was Chinese. He asked how I felt about changing the character name to match my background. I felt very honored that he did this, cause it really meant a lot to me. Many times in this game people view yellow as yellow. I really appreciated Joe's offer to change the character for this reason. In fact "Lee Chen" is my Grand Uncle's name who fought in the war for a very elite team during WWII. So as you can see it really meant a tremendous amount to me. Thank you, Joe!

Did you know before you were hired for the show how loyal sci-fi fans have a reputation for being? How do you feel about knowing that you now have fans following your career because of your work on Jeremiah?

I had no idea what the sci-fi world was like. It's freakin' awesome! There is no limit. It's crazy. I just hope everyone realizes Lee is Lee and I'm not! But I'm having a kick ass time playing him.

What was the most outrageous thing you had to do on the set while on the job portraying Lee?

Trying not to laugh when we were shooting a scene in "Tripwire" at Thunder Mountain. We were all in the scene and it was getting really late in the day. So we had to get the shot in. We all got the crazy giggles and just could not stop. Yet I had to be the serious guy and could not keep a straight face!

"I just hope everyone realizes Lee is Lee and I'm not! But I'm having a kick ass time playing him."

How did you come to choose acting as a career? Was it a gradual process, or did you just fall into it? Was there a moment, a person, or a feeling that you had that affected your decision - and have you ever regretted it?

I have a very good friend in the film industry, and in many ways I always wanted to try acting. So he hooked me up with an agency, which got me my first audition. I booked it and ever since then I've been in love with Acting. So I guess I did sort of fall into it. I have never regretted choosing this as my career.

In many ways I always wondered why the hell would I choose a crazy job like this. John Turturro once said that the closest to heaven anyone can reach, would be to have a job you are in love with. I guess this would be it. I get excited every day I go to work, wondering what it's going to be like. It's a high you can't explain!

We've noticed that many Canadian actors involved with Jeremiah have "made the rounds," so to speak, of shows like "Da Vinci's Inquest" and "Stargate SG-1." Have you gotten to know any of your co-workers on Jeremiah through other shows? How competitive is the job market up there when it comes to these kinds of shows?

Bryon Lawson
Byron Lawson played Amos Lee in the Canadian series "These Arms of Mine" (photo ©2001 Salter Street Films)

I've never worked with any of the actors from Jeremiah, but I have crossed paths with many of them here, because there is a very small acting community here. So I have gotten to know many of them outside of Jeremiah. It is a very competitive market up here.

You have to realize we are also competing with everyone south of the border as well. Every larger role up here is usually being cast throughout North America. Everyone seems to have this mis-conception that it all goes to the Canadians. NOT TRUE! We have to earn every job just like everyone else.

One of the things we consistently hear from the actors on Babylon 5 is that they were allowed by the writing and the production team to really dig into the script and play around with their characters as much as humanly possible. Is this true on Jeremiah?

Absolutely, Joe is very open to everyone's thoughts. He has an open door policy with all his actors. That's why it's GREAT working with Joe!

How does working for a show meant for a no-boundaries, no-ads network like Showtime differ from a show created for a cable or broadcast network, where there are distinct barriers to what you can do storywise?

One word "Awesome." It helps you to really get to know your character as opposed to just knowing your lines. You can have a lot more fun and at the same time make your character more interesting. It's much more "FREEING".

"I get excited every day I go to work, wondering what it's going to be like. It's a high you can't explain!"

We've heard that some scenes are done twice - one for the uncensored Showtime version, and one for the version eventually intended for syndication. Are there distinct differences? We can't imagine the show without Jeremiah's often colorful temper tantrums. Have you, personally, been involved with any of these rewrites?

The only difference would be the profanity would be omitted and that's it. The energy and feel would definitely still be there.

You're at a restaurant that serves Italian, Greek, and Chinese. What dish would you be most inclined to order, what would you be wearing, and who would you be with?

I'd order whatever I felt like that day. I love all kinds of food. I'd probably be with many of my friends [and a lot of them] have nothing to do the film industry.

Bryon Lawson
Byron Lawson plays Amos Lee in the Canadian series "These Arms of Mine" (photo ©2001 Salter Street Films)
Let's say it's ten years from now. Where are you and what are you doing?

Relaxing on some beach in BRAZIL with family and friends just chillin' with a Mojito in hand and waiting for the sun to rise.

If you had a choice of doing any production, anywhere, under any director, in any role - what would it be?

Wow! That's a tough one, there are -so- many directors I'd love to work with. I would have to say if I were only given ONE choice, that would be to play some dirty, gritty, over the edge freak, shooting somewhere in Europe (Spain would be a pleasant location). The director would be Mr. David Fincher!

Do you have a dream? What is it?

Only one and that is live life loving every choice I've made.

What is your greatest achievement?

Staying focused on doing what I really enjoy doing. Staying on bus!

"Thanks to all you for watching the show, because we are all having a blast making it!"

What do you do on a typical Saturday night? A typical Tuesday night? How did you celebrate your last birthday?

I do what anyone else would do from partying, watch a movie, hang with family and friends. And of course, watch "Jeremiah"!!

Has JMS said anything about where your character is going - and if so, how much can you tell us?

I have no idea where my character is going, and that is what seems to work best. We never find out till we get the scripts.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to our readers? Anything you'd like?

Thanks to all you for watching the show, because we are all having a blast making it!

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