Movies and TV are full of cross-dressing characters who play it for laughs from Corporal Klinger on “M*A*S*H” to Dustin Hoffman in “Tootise,” but it is no laughing matter on “Banshee” when Hoon Lee gets into drag for his role as computer hacker Job.
“Banshee,” the first season is available on TV or online with XFINITY On Demand – and also just released on Blu-ray, DVD and digital download – follows an ex-con who poses as a murdered sheriff and stirs up trouble in the quiet town of Banshee, PA.
Even though, they appear to have little in common, Job sacrifices everything and puts his life in jeopardy as a result of his friendship with his ex-con partner in crime.
In this exclusive interview at Comic-Con, xfinityTV spoke to the Harvard graduate, who previously starred in “Premium Rush,” about his concerns about putting on a dress, how he keeps it macho, and what inspires him.
We need to see more of Job. He is such a great character. Are we going to see more of him in Season 2?
Hoon Lee: Well, that’s an ongoing conversation for us, but honestly, my own personal feelings about it is that Job is used as he needs to be used. I think that it will really depend on how the plot goes. Based on what I’ve seen in Season 2, I would say in terms of pure quantity, it may be a little bit more, but I think the type of stuff he’s doing in Season 2 is going to be pretty exciting.
Might there be another heist?
Hoon Lee: I don’t know.
Which means yes!
Hoon Lee: Or no.
Talk about his relationship with Lucas. It seems a little strange because they appear to be so different. Lucas is all macho; and Job is a cross-dresser, but they seem to have a great friendship.
Hoon Lee: Yeah, that’s what I love about it. I don’t know if other people feel this way — I think everybody does, but I have certain friends that I go, “I don’t know why I’m friends with you. I really don’t. At some point we intersected each other at the right time in our lives, and we became lifelong friends. If it were today, now, I think I might not even like you. We might never hang out.”
Those are people that are maybe on the surface more similar to me actually. We come from similar backgrounds; middle class in the suburbs, or something like that, but when you get down to real core values, there is some divergence.
In a sort of reflection of that, I feel that a lot of the external qualities of Job and Antony’s character are very far apart, but there’s a real core there, where they overlap very strongly. The idea of loyalty is one of those things. Lucas Hood [Antony's character] is somebody that has sat through a long prison term and his done that as an act of self-sacrifice for the woman he loves. He comes out and his first thought is to find out how to get back to her.
In a similar way, Job’s loyalty to Lucas is hard to explain. It is a very battle-tested thing. That quality is important to them as people. You start to see that as a larger thing that shows itself. I feel like there’s actually quite a lot of intersection there. All the other stuff, they don’t think it’s particularly irrelevant. They don’t really care.
Did you have any trepidation about taking on a role that required you to do cross-dressing?
Hoon Lee: Absolutely. Yeah absolutely, but mostly because it really brought up a whole raft of insecurities I didn’t know I had. It suddenly becomes a great concern that you think you might not be a beautiful woman. Suddenly you’re concerned with that. (Laughs) Literally, it was the first time I’ve ever had that thought, but mostly because I knew that people were going to take aspects of the character and use a certain mental shorthand and make assumptions about the character.
Knowing that was going to happen, I think, made me the most nervous, because suddenly, it’s very easy, I think, for a character like that if not handled well to suddenly become a weird representation of a group of people and a group of generalities as opposed to a character that exists as a standalone individual person with specific goals and needs and aims. We worked very hard to try to internally cement those and understand those before we put anything on film. Now I feel very comfortable.
There was that really cool scene in the restaurant where he is trying to save Lucas and the guys are harassing him. He takes care of them and then comes back to his computer. It shows he can be a totally macho guy — who just happens to be wearing women’s clothes.
Hoon Lee: I feel as much as the transvestism is something that people it’s very easy to see and, therefore, it’s very easy to look into. For me, a lot of how I found my way within is through the fact that he’s a technologist. He is a hacker. That’s some of my background as well. I know a lot of people like that. I’m able to think of how certain things are considered or why certain things are thought of in a certain way. The hacker mentality is really about getting to a result through whatever means works. I feel that for Job, it is a constant state of evolution and borrowing things as he tries things on. So why wouldn’t he borrow from the feminine sector? Why wouldn’t he borrow from different cultural spheres? Why wouldn’t he borrow while he is trying to figure out what’s working?
Job sacrifices so much. All he has to do is give up Lucas and Job wouldn’t have to leave and blow up all his expensive computer equipment so he can’t be traced. Yet he does that, so there is something about the relationship that he feels is worth sacrifice.
Hoon Lee: Yes. That’s true. There’s an origin story there, which I am unfortunately not able to reveal.
Will we see it in Season 2?
Hoon Lee: You’ll start to see some of their history. There’s a gradual kind of unveiling. For Season 1, we had a conversation that told how they met and where their relationship began. All I can say is I found it incredibly helpful and, I think, it’s a very beautiful story actually about who they were as people. It really sustained through the entire thing. As a result, I think that when you look at someone like Job, who has deliberately — like many of these characters — put themselves on the fringe of society, this is not a person who has a lot of friends. This is not a person that finds a lot of people with something in common. I think that’s kind of the same for everybody. In many ways, a lot of these characters are quite lonely, from Antony’s character to Kai Procter and even Sugar behind the bar, with a failed boxing career. Sugar knows everyone in the town but remains really close to him. A lot of people that have come from the outside have come together?
What was your reaction to the character when you first read the script ?
Hoon Lee: I really, really liked him. There’s a huge amount of courage represented in the character. I knew there was risk involved and I knew there was risk for me because I had never been asked to addition for a character like that before. (Laughs) I just assumed they got it wrong. I called my agent and I was like, “Do they know what I look like? The script here says beautiful Asian woman.” I was really drawn to this unapologetic quality. I was really intrigued about how to play that, what the tension was and I still am.
Is there anything really taboo about cross-dressing in the Asian culture?
Hoon Lee: Well it’s interesting, that question itself, I think, raises another questions. This is something I wrestle with a lot. I think most of us do at various levels, which is: Where you start to draw a circle around people and say, ‘This is how you’re going to think about that group of people?’ When I started thinking about Job in particular, I realized that a character like that could very easily be embraced by a group of people, despised by a group of people, and seen as a lightning rod for a certain kind of animosity.
I realized my only defense against that was to know him as well as I could so that I’m not speaking about a group of people. I’m not saying, ‘Well, as someone who is of Asian descent, he’s like this. Job is like this. Job dresses like this. Job eats this. The rest of the world, why they do it, that’s up to them. Unfortunately, that’s the best thing for myself from a sociopolitical standpoint, but it’s also the best thing for the character. It’s the best thing for building a character is to get as specific as possible about it. The reasons are here.
I’ve been very encouraged by the fact that for the most part I haven’t seen any real blowback on that. People have embraced it. I’m incredibly grateful for that. I take that as an optimistic sign for culture in general. I simply wouldn’t know enough about the extent of how Asians really think about that in general. It would just depend on your particular context and how far it in or out you wanted to telescope.
What inspires you these days?
Hoon Lee: It sounds cheesy but I’m going to say it anyway. I draw a lot of inspiration from my wife. She, to me, is probably the coolest person I know. Therefore, there’s this level of admiration and respect that sits on top of your affection and joy with this person. In many ways, she is what fuels me. Everything else is more or less an intellectual exercise. I admire these people because of their accomplishments. They are smart and athletic, but she’s the person that in many ways is the model for how I think I should be, if that makes sense. I don’t think that came out right. There’s a parallel in terms of how she conducts herself and how she thinks, her level of compassion and creativity and humor. She is wickedly funny. That’s always very, very helpful.