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He was one of the funniest elements of Arrested Development—and all without saying much.
Longtime Orange County resident Justin Lee was 14 when he starred as Hel-loh "Annyong" Bluth ("Though I probably looked 10 years old," he remarks), the adopted Korean son George Sr. and Lucille Bluth acquired as a PR move (and later, kept, to spite Buster).
Just one word: "Annyong!"
After arriving at the Bluth household, Lucille mistook Hel-loh's greeting— Korean for "hello"—as his name. Any time a Bluth would mention Annyong, Hel-loh would greet them right back with an "Annyong!"
Annyong would later prove to be a mole exacting some good ol' familial revenge after George Sr. stole his family's frozen-banana business model, eventually even pouncing on Buster with a "Heads up, fatty!"
Lee, now 23, and his Annyong character reappear in season four—though Lee isn't divulging to what extent just yet. "All I can really say is anything is possible."
OC WEEKLY: So how stoked were you to land this recurring role on a network-television show executive produced by Ron Howard, only to find out your character says one word almost the whole time?
JUSTIN LEE: You know, I was pretty fresh, so this was my first big prominent role. I had no idea what I was getting myself into—I knew it was a professional, big-scale project, but I was so young at the time. I knew who Ron Howard was, but I didn't realize who everyone was. Honestly, I was just happy to be working at the time, so I was very excited to go onto the set. The first day, it was such a surreal feeling. I walked onto the set, I remember going into the model home—which I was so surprised was actually in a sound stage—and thinking, "Wow, how did they build this?" And just getting to work with all the actors. It was such an amazing experience I'll never forget.
Especially the food. Oh, my gosh. I'm a big food person. So anyone'll tell you, set food is the best. They take care of you; you eat like kings. And so I remember thinking that day, you know, I could get really used to do this—this is something I can do for the rest of my life, every single day. [Laughs.]
So we saw Annyong get his revenge on the Bluths eventually. And you know, as an Asian-American actor having to deal with stereotypes, were you ever concerned that you really were going to just say "annyong" the whole time, or did Mitch Hurwitz assure you otherwise?
Definitely having one word was challenging, but that was the fun part. So I had to find other ways to be interesting—the words really don't matter; it's about being in the moment reacting. . . . At the same time, Mitch is a creative genius, and he strives for perfection. And he would write scripts to the last, last second. A lot of times, we had no idea what Mitch was going to pull because he was changing things as we went—and for good reason. I trusted whatever decision he made. But at the same time, I eventually did get other lines, and Annyong did learn some broken English. [Laughs.]
I'd imagine people just go up to you and say, "Annyong!" . . .
I get some people who just stare at me for a while. They do the squint, cock their head a little. And some of them will finally get up the courage to walk up and ask: "You know, I don't want to be racist or anything . . ."
I have to ask: Do you have a favorite chicken dance?
Oh, God. I'll say they're all awesome, and who knows if Annyong will ever have a chicken dance? . . .
Do you have one ready, just in case?
No, but I wonder what that would look like. My favorite is definitely GOB's. Because it's not even a chicken. Chickens don't clap!
Lee is now working on a new project, a nine-episode webcast already signed on for a new season titledOne Warm Night, directed by Steven G. Lowe. Visit OneWarmNight.com to watch. Keep up with Lee on Twitter: @JustinLeeActor.