As Sgt. Wu on NBC’s “Grimm,” actor Reggie Lee dutifully has helped solve some of Portland’s most bizarre and often gruesome crimes over the last few seasons of the series, and he’s done so without letting on that something serious could be amiss in the Pacific Northwest.
With Friday’s episode, titled “Mommy Dearest,” Wu is about to learn some surprising truths as he’s confronted by the notion that a force from his own nightmares could be alive and terrorizing his friends. Another big moment in the upcoming episode? Fans will finally hear the sergeant’s first name. (Check out a clip from the episode above.)
Hero Complex recently caught up with Lee to discuss the ways in which his Filipino heritage is referenced in “Mommy Dearest,” his character’s reaction to supernatural sights and his connection to “Grimm” fans. Be warned, though, the interview does contain some spoilers.
Hero Complex: Do you recall your initial impressions of the show?
Reggie Lee: I was just at dinner with Bitsie [Tulloch] and Claire Coffee and we were talking about those initial reads… I had initially auditioned for the role of Hank. It came down to Russell [Hornsby] and myself and another guy. Russell got it, and he’s great as Hank, perfect for that role and the vibe that they need for that role. So, I was about to test for two other pilots … then my agent calls and says, “They really, really like you and would like to write in a role for you.”… So, I spoke to [executive producer] David Greenwalt and he told me what they would be planning, and I said, “I love that. I’m on board!” And just with their pedigree, [executive producer Jim] Kouf and Greenwalt, I knew that we were in good hands. I knew when we were shooting the pilot that it was a really cool concept that was very commercial. I felt like it was going to go.
HC: That had to feel good.
RL: Yeah. And coming from a minority standpoint, and specifically an Asian American standpoint, there’s not a lot [of roles out there]. So for you to sit in a show for up to three seasons is a really great deal. I have to give a shoutout to Grace Wu, who is the head of casting at NBC. They had to go to them and say, “We would like to write in another series regular for Reggie.” She said, “That’s fine as long as you name him after me.” Hence, it became Sgt. Wu. And after two and a half seasons, you’ll finally find out his first name!
HC: Not only is the audience about to learn something important about Wu, he’s about to learn some pretty important information as well in terms of the reality of supernatural phenomena. What was that like to play?
RL: This episode put me in a lane that I wasn’t used to being in. Wu has got it together, he’s very sardonic, knows his craft and just goes. He’s got his eye on the prize and just solves the crime. So, when I got this script that entailed a great deal of being vulnerable, which is not normal for my character, and a great deal of being out of control, I was in one sense freaked out and scared, and in another sense excited about it. I worked really hard on it. The way that I work, I love to just know my stuff and get to the set and play, and when I got there the director allowed me so much room to play that it was great. It was with Norberto [Barba], who is our usual director when taking care of really pivotal episodes. I was drained after the episode. It was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.
HC: Specifically, Wu comes face to face with a Wesen creature of Filipino lore called the Aswang …
RL: Yes, the Aswang. Initially they kept calling it the “ass wang.” They came to me and said, “Hey, we picked one of the stories that you sent to us. The ‘ass wang.’” I said, “Oh, as-wong.”
HC: Unfortunate Wesen name…
RL: Yeah, but these show runners are fantastic. They came to me early and said, “Reggie, we’d like to tie in a story to you and your heritage. Do you know any Filipino fairy tales?” I said, “Oh my God, the people in the Philippines live on these things and they literally believe them.” I have friends and family that still believe them. I gave them a list and this is the one they picked. I was really impressed with the script they came up with. It brought out different facets of my character that had never been seen before. I think that it’s great when you can show another side. The more you find out about a character, the more that you can invest in him, and I hope that happens with this episode and with Wu. I think people are hungry to find out more about all of our characters.
HC: Did you have a particular favorite fairy tale going into the series?
RL: When I was growing up in the Philippines, the story that was read to me most was Pinocchio. I thought that that would be a really fun time [if we used it on the show]. But Wu would have to be Pinocchio, and I don’t know how that would play out.
HC: “Grimm” has a devoted following. How has the reaction at events such as San Diego’s Comic-Con International and on social media impacted you? Did you see it coming?
RL: I don’t think you ever expect it. As actors, it’s so hard to get your hopes up about anything. It’s akin to opening a movie. You just never know — unless it’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” where there’s an audience attached to it. It’s still ridiculously amazing when you walk out on that stage [at Comic-Con] and your name is announced — it still gives me chills. And you guys know our characters so well that it really gives us a great sense of, whether you know it or not, validation. It gives us motivation to keep going because we can say, “You know what? We are affecting people that watch the show.” It’s the only reason we’re on, because of the fans. Particularly this genre. Now, on Twitter, there are even particular teams for each of our characters. The other day, a doughnut shop in Portland called Pip’s Originals tweeted me telling me that they named a doughnut after me called the Dirty Wu. It is a cinnamon sugar doughnut drizzled with honey and Nutella. It was so good. I just won the Oscar in the sci-fi world.
– Jevon Phillips | @LATHeroComplex
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