Justin Lee holds a special place in the hearts of Arrested Development fans for his portrayal of the beloved one-worded adopted son Annyong. Fans of the show will certainly remember his memorable reappearance at the end of season 3 and may have also caught him on his new web series One Warm Night.
With season 4 of Arrested Development hitting Netflix this week, I had the opportunity to reminisce with Justin on the first three seasons and talk about the future of the show. We discussed obsessive fans, his best memories from the show, and his thoughts on a feature film.
Check out the full interview below.
WGTC: It’s been quite a few years since Arrested Development went off the air, but the fan base has constantly grown and now is possibly the largest its ever been, what’s it been like for you to see the show’s popularity skyrocket?
Justin Lee: It’s definitely been an amazing experience to say the least. I’m very grateful and blessed to be a part of this journey. The show is arguably one of the greatest, wittiest, and most intelligent shows to ever air. In my opinion. But I think the best thing about the whole experience was when I actually made the realization of how lucky I am to have the wonderful support from my family, my friends, and of course, the fans. So I think that’s been the greatest aspect of watching the show’s popularity start to skyrocket. As it grows and grows, the biggest and most important part to me has been the support of those around me.
WGTC: You mention the fans there, and I noticed on your Reddit AMA that someone had the Korean script for Annyong tattooed on their arm. What’s it like for you to see that kind of thing?
Lee: I guess it’s flattering in some ways, but you know I’m just still trying to process it all. I don’t see myself as someone different or more special than anyone else… Someone once asked me in another interview, ‘How does it feel to be one of the biggest Korean icons?’ To me I still don’t feel that way. I still feel like Justin Lee. The same old kid who gets up in the morning, showers, and brushes his teeth, just like everyone else does. It goes back to how I’m very thankful for all of it and at the very least it makes me laugh, and I love getting a laugh. It was definitely funny. It was unexpected.
Doing the Reddit thing so many answers I got were extremely unexpected. Not just the tattoo, but people naming their pets, naming their dogs Annyong. Those are things that really make me laugh and really make all this so much more worth it. The fact that people are able to be positively impacted by any of my work is really just a blessing. And ultimately that’s what I want to do. I want to do what I love, which is act, and hopefully through that, leave a positive impact somehow, someway, with somebody.
WGTC: How many fans greet you with “Annyong”?
Lee: If they know who I am, it’s about a 100% guarantee that they’re going to say it. It’s almost like they can’t help it, they have to say it. Out of the blue, it really depends where I’m at. For example, Arrested Development has a pretty big college demographic so any time I’m around universities or college campuses it tends to happen a lot more frequently. If I go somewhere on vacation, somewhere in Hawaii maybe, it’s a little different. If I’m in a group of Asian people, I can camouflage a bit if you know what I mean.
WGTC: Was it challenging to just have one line for so long?
Lee: Very challenging. But that’s the fun part. The challenge is always the fun part. But having one word, it forced me to find other ways to be interesting. Find other ways to assert my physicality. If I’m not speaking, then I have to continue to be in my moment. I have to continue to react. Continue to give my full investment and, as I said, assert my physicality and make sure that I still have a purpose for being in the scene.
And another thing I learned with only having one word is that when you act words really don’t matter. In fact, most Oscars have been won off a look. That’s a big thing I learned. But one of the the main things is inflection. Inflection is key. There are so many different ways to say one word if you change up the tone, change up the inflection, and understand why you’re saying it the way you are – your purpose.
On top of that, I’d have to say the production as a whole makes it a lot easier. When you’re getting great direction from the director. When you’re working with professionals like Mitch Hurwitz who understand exactly what they want when they have a vision and explain it in a way that really makes it comprehensive and understandable makes it a lot easier. And working with actors of this caliber, like Jessica Walter, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, all of those guys. Working with all of them, trust me when I say, it makes it much easier to suspend disbelief and stay in your moment when everyone is doing what they need to be doing.
WGTC: What was the experience like and what did you learn from working with so many great actors at such a young age?
Lee: I’m going to feel like a broken record again. Working with all them was such a blessing. I can’t say it enough. They’ve taught me so many valuable lessons. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with each and every one of the actors for different reasons. As you can tell, all the characters are very unique, so because of that they all brought something different to the table that I could learn from. And me being kind of fresh at that age, I had just really gotten into acting, I was only 14, it was the best experience any rookie could get and the best way to really test whether you love this industry. And also the main thing is how to be professional but how to have fun while being professional. I think that was amazing how to continue to love your craft and not let the moment become bigger than you.
WGTC: Any good behind the scenes stories or funny anecdotes for fans?
Lee: Well off the top of my head, I love doing my own stunts, I love action movies and what not. I do MMA and things like that, so any chance I get to do my own stunts I love it. So it’s the clip where they say “on the next episode” it’s continuing off Tony and I who were continually fighting. And actually that scene when we were fighting I just remember our makeup running everywhere. Us getting sweaty like crazy. Makeup having to come in and clean us up every five seconds. Because when we reset you have to make it look like you weren’t fighting. You have to start everything over.
You would assume that Tony being the bigger guy that he would be more of the sweater, but no, you know what, I am a sweater. They were trying the best they could to keep me from sweating but there was nothing they could do. The sweat was stinging my eyes, it literally looked like I had come out of the shower. It was quite the interesting experience.
But moving on from that, on the next episode scene, there’s a scene where I jump off the roof, when Tony crosses the doorway and I jump onto him and tackle him to the ground. The way they did that scene was they setup this tall ladder on the side of the arch and they put beanbags on the bottom. Tony being a sturdy enough guy, he was strong enough to catch me. So literally all I did was jump off the top of the ladder from ceiling level and jump onto him piggy-back style, and man Tony did a great job making it look like I tackled him really hard and falling down with it. No one got hurt at all and it was probably one of the funniest scenes I got to do. I really enjoyed that. And like I said, any time I get to do my own stunts I like that.
I’m trying to think if there’s anything else… Oh! There’s one more I’ve got for you. I love food. I’m a huge food addict. I think in my past life I was a pig or something like that, but I love eating, I never stop eating. And that’s one thing that everyone knows on the set of Arrested Development: if you can’t find me, I’m in the craft services. So I was really easy to find all the time. But one of the scenes was when we all finally got to eat carbs. That was probably one of the best scenes because normally on set you don’t get to eat the prop food. That’s just a no-no. You’re not supposed to. But if you saw that scene, they had the best decadent desserts and carbs you could ever think of. It was like a pastry store.
I remember the whole model house was just filled with all this food and my stomach was growling, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. I can’t believe we’re not going to be able to eat this.’ But the next thing you know they step in start giving us some direction and they’re like, ‘No, no we want you guys to stuff your face. We want you to eat this. We’ll fill this back up, we want you guys to eat.’ And that was honestly heaven for me. I was stuffing my face. I probably gained a good four pounds in 20 minutes. I will never forget that experience.
In the episode where Lucille decides to use Annyong as a purse, if you look at the earlier episodes you’ll see that Annyong’s wardrobe doesn’t actually have pockets. The day we were shooting the pocket scene, wardrobe actually sewed on the pockets right there. The pockets look hilarious.