As the son of an Academy Award-winning director, Mason Lee could easily use his name as leverage to get into some highbrow movies suitable for snotty cinephiles and artistic thespian-types. The Hangover Part II doesn’t necessarily scream “highbrow,” but it’s a great way to get your career started — and he doesn’t think being Ang Lee’s son has anything to do with it.
“Who you are might play some sort of role beforehand, but as soon as you get on set and as soon as you start shooting, it’s really who are as a professional actor and how you connect with other people,” says Lee. “Whatever baggage you come in with — if you can even call it that — it goes away pretty quickly once you start working because then you are just a colleague with all these other people who are trying to get a movie made.”
In Lee’s feature film debut, he joins the original cast of funny guys (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, and Ken Jeong) as Teddy, the prodigy brother of the bride-to-be (Jamie Chung) and the future brother-in-law of Stu (Helms).
Without Teddy, there would be no Hangover Part II. He is essentially the MacGuffin of the story. After a night of balls-out partying in Bangkok (no pun intended), Teddy is no where to be found — and it’s up to Stu, Phil (Cooper), and Alan (Galifianakis) to retrace their tawdry steps throughout the city to find him.
We had the opportunity to chat with Lee about his Hangover experience.
Did you have to jump through a lot of hoops to get the role of Teddy?
It was actually pretty simple and was a big stroke of luck for me. I sent in my audition tape for an untitled WB film. I didn’t know what the film was. I sent in my tape early August and heard back a month later. They wanted to fly me into L.A. and I did a pretty quick call back with Todd (Phillips). I got some In-n-Out and went back to New York. They told me about two or three weeks later that I got the part. I took a leave of absence from my school and started shooting.
That sounds very low maintenance.
They were looking pretty extensively for someone to play this part. They were even looking at 40 year olds to play a 16-year-old’s part. I have a feeling that if I didn’t get the part, Ken Jeong might have gotten the part.
What was your dad’s reaction when you got this role?
He said “Whatever you do, don’t take your clothes off” — which I tried not to do. (laughs) He basically told that you need nerves of steel to be in this industry — but he sort of let me figure it out on my own.
Did you spend a lot of time “in the industry” while you were growing up?
I wouldn’t say I grew up in the industry. I would say my dad did a good job of being a family man. My main exposure to the industry was during Christmas and summer vacations when I would hang out on set, but other than that, I grew up with my mom and my brother. Who I am today has a lot to do with how my mom and my brother raised me. I’ve been familiar with the industry, so it was not as intimidating than if I had no experience — but I wouldn’t say I was an industry kid.
When did you decide that you wanted to be an actor?
I did community theater back home. In the 8th grade I auditioned for my local Shakespeare company and I really enjoyed it. I loved the community feeling and connection. I decided that I liked it and it wasn’t a bad way to make a living.
You’ve done your fair share of acting, but this is your “feature film” debut — and you seem to have a key role in the movie. Did you feel any kind of pressure by hopping on board such an established, popular franchise?
It was a little intimidating at first, but Todd and all the guys and crew are great and really sweet. They made me feel really welcome the first day. By the end of the day, I didn’t feel uncomfortable.
Are you comfortable with doing drama or comedy? More than that, were you comfortable doing Hangover-esque comedy?
I haven’t done a lot of comedy in my experience. Luckily for this movie, the character was bit of the “straight” man. If I had to compete with funny men like Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms, and Ken Jeong, I probably wouldn’t have won. It’s kind of a pointless battle any way. I just want to work with good material and good actors. It’s really the artistic company you keep that really defines an experience — and that could crossover to any genre.
Was there a particular scene that was the most difficult to film? What was the funnest scene?
There was one part of the movie where I had to play a little bit of cello. My character is sort of a prodigy and is good at everything. I played cello in high school and in middle school so I practiced for most of the shoot trying to get this piece down so that day was fun to show off my cello skills. The first day of shooting in L.A., that was really fun because I got to meet all the guys and work with them. Seeing Zach do whatever popped in his head made it pretty easy because I just had to react honestly to whatever he was giving. Zach made my job pretty easy. The only difficult part was trying not to laugh.
I asked this question to your co-star Jamie Chung, so I thought it would be appropriate to ask you as well: What would you be doing if you weren’t acting?
I don’t know. Probably working at Nuts 4 Nuts on Union Square. I like Jamba Juice too.
The Hangover Part II is in theaters now.