Amazing Asians in the Arts: Lia Lee
Lia Lee is an actress based in Seattle, Washington. She has appeared in TV, film, and theater roles in both London and the United States. Her recent works include a stage production of "Kim's Convenience," which preceded the TV show of the same name! Keep reading to find out more about what makes Lia an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Lia Lee
Heritage: Korean (mother from Busan, father from Gwangju)
Hometown: Tacoma, WA
Current City: Seattle, WA
Current project: Currently, all of my projects have been cancelled or postponed for the foreseeable future due to Covid-19, but I’m excited to make some announcements in due time!
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
- Janet in Kim’s Convenience at Taproot Theatre
- Playing a berating ajumma 아즘아 in the ensemble of Do It for Umma
- Bringing to life Rosie the Mechanic in the Peace Bus TV Show
- Bending and snapping as Delta Nu Kate in Legally Blonde with Showtunes Theatre Company
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I was born and raised in the States but have always called London my home of homes. So it was quite the shock to my family and friends when I decided to leave London in order to contribute to the growing body of work directly dealing with the Asian/American experience which I knew I couldn’t do in the UK.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
This is such a difficult question to answer! I could literally write a book full of favorites, but I’ve done my best to keep it as short as possible.
Last year, I worked on the first U.S. production of the play Kim’s Convenience as Janet Kim. (which preceded the TV show!) There are so many favorite moments throughout that production, like working alongside Jimmy Yi who also appears in the TV show and is the only other person to have played Appa apart from Paul Sun-hung Lee. On top of that, the playwright, Ins Choi, came to see opening weekend and is just as genuine, brilliant, and down-to-earth as Jimmy described. I’m also immensely grateful for everyone involved in making that production possible and wearing a Korean hanbok (한복) on the awards stage of the 2019 Gregory Awards is a memory I will always cherish!
My first professional theatre job was an immensely powerful touring educational show called Nihonjin Face, which follows a Japanese/American Tacoma girl and her family’s incarceration following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The writer, Janet Hayakawa, was inspired by the experiences of her own family and gifted me a pair of shoes which belonged to her mother. They didn’t fit her or anyone else she knew until that moment. Call it my redemptive Cinderella moment (my senior year of high school I was Cinderella in the fall musical, Cinderella)!
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Oh my goodness. So much. Only because I’ve made sooo many mistakes or wish I’d don’t things differently if I could go back in time. First, surround yourself with good people. It takes a village. Seek out mentors, coaches, classes, whatever you need to produce your best work. You don’t have to do this on your own and there’s always more to learn or a different perspective to hear.
If you’re an actor, always be ready because no one likes the feeling of scrambling right before an audition. Take care of yourself and your health, keep updated with your industry and market, go to classes, stay up on your craft — whatever you need to be your best you for when that audition comes!
Also, I could have saved myself from a lot of angst and anxiety if someone told me that you don’t have to do just one thing for the rest of your life. My path has been full of many twists, turns, and seemingly dead ends because I tried to box myself into a neat package (don’t get me wrong, it’s important to hone into your casting as an actor and know how to market yourself digitally and in the room). But the point I’m trying to get across is you can only be you. Your essence is your greatest strength so make sure you have the tools to access it. If you’re intentional with your craft and full of more gratitude than expectation, you will always be where you need to be.
Do you have any non profits you work with that you’d like to highlight?
There are so so many, really any theatre company, but here are a handful to highlight: Tacoma Arts Live, ReAct Theatre, Pork Filled Productions, Village Theatre, and Seattle Repertory Theatre.
How did you get your start?
After my first musical at age 15 (Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat), I felt awake for the first time. I know — corny. It wasn’t until I was 23 that I booked my first professional gig, but I was still battling imposter syndrome, homesickness for London, and eventually burned myself out. The turning point for me was playing Kathy in The Last Five Years. In all honestly, I was not vocally prepared for that role, but I worked harder than I ever had as an ensemble member in a musical with multiple costume changes (which is where I’d made myself content mentally). I’m immensely grateful for ReAct Theatre and their Artistic Director, David Hsieh, for their support and trust in me. By the end of the run I was a vastly different actor and singer. There was a major internal shift in taking responsibility and initiative as a collaborator and artist. That experience really set be back on course and reminded me that if you’re not enjoying yourself, what’s the point?
Who do you admire?
I know this answer sounds like a cop out, but truly, I have so much admiration and respect for anyone who chooses to be an artist. I’m also filled with admiration and respect when I think of the Asian/American artists who paved the way and continue to pioneer, support, and struggle in Seattle and beyond. There are so many actors, directors, producers, writers, the lists just goes on, and the names I know only account for a small percentage.
Did you have any mentors?
Now I do, but for most of my career I didn’t, and I deeply regret that. My anxiety and depression benched me from performing for a couple years, and I’ll never be able to get those years back. But I’ve grown since that time in my life, and I like to look back on those dark times and the thoughts that consumed my mind and eventually my body as a reminder of how far I’ve come. How can I not be grateful?
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
It comes down to two things. The first is comparing myself to others. The comparison game is incredibly easy to fall into, which is why it’s so important to have a stable support system who can be your cheerleader and also tell you when you need to cut out the noise and recalibrate. The second is handling a mixed bag of guilt and anxiety for wanting more than a career in theatre/film/tv. That is what some people live, breathe, and want for their lives but I’ve learned that’s not me. But I tend to think ten steps ahead, and when I think of all I want to do in my life outside of the arts, I fear I won’t ever be able to accomplish anything in the end. So I have to keep reminding myself that life exists in the journey and that there’s no point in doing any of this if I’m not enjoying the ride.
Where did you study at?
I studied at Pacific Lutheran University and Queen Mary College of London for my Bachelors in English Literature. I then earned my Masters in Film Studies at University College London.
For more information about Lia, please visit her at: