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How Brian Tee navigated his emotionally heaviest role yet in Lulu Wang's ‘Expats’

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From drifting cars and saving lives in previous acting roles, actor Brian Tee revealed that his role as a father in Lulu Wang’s “Expats” series has been the heaviest character he has ever had to portray in his almost two-decade career.

The Japanese-born American actor has starred in over 70 films and TV shows, including "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift" (2006), “The Wolverine” (2013) and NBC’s hit series “Chicago Med,” but he has never related to a character as he much as he did in “Expats” portraying Clarke, who loses a child in the middle of a bustling night market in Hong Kong.

“Clarke is one of these characters that I relate to the most, as far as all the characters I've ever been able to play. And it's the first time I get to play a father,” Tee tells NextShark. “Being a father, I can relate and connect to Clarke in so many other ways that are so incredibly nuanced by just purely my experience with my child… And from there, I kind of expanded into, ‘what would it be like for this particular tragedy to happen that you would never wish upon your worst enemy?’”

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Based on Janice Y.K. Lee’s 2016 novel “The Expatriates,” Wang’s “Expats” follows three American women — Margaret (Nicole Kidman), Hilary (Sarayu Blue) and Mercy (Ji-young Yoo) — living in Hong Kong whose families are brought together by tragedy. The six-episode drama tackles grief, purpose, privilege, victimhood and culpability and geographic displacement, among other themes.

Tee believes that the universal relatability achieved by director and writer Wang created a profound effect that allows audiences to connect with the characters instead of merely feeling sympathy. He expressed gratitude for working with Wang, who operated on an “elevated level.”

“What Lulu Wang did was so incredible,” Tee says. “To bring all of these different characters experiencing different things through this particular trauma really made this kind of profound effect universally, that when audiences watch you can relate to something through someone's character in that sense, and I truly, really related to Clarke, first and foremost, because of my experience with my life.”

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The 46-year-old actor reflected on his character's coping mechanisms, emphasizing that the tragedy itself was the most challenging aspect of his role as it required deep emotional exploration. Tee also noted the importance of honesty and truthfulness in delving into the character's soul and navigating the stakes involved.

“I think each one of us goes through a particular journey, and we always seem to dial into the victim,” Tee explains. “But what I love about this situation, it's also we dial into the perpetrator, and I think the human experience is so incredibly compelling in this show, right? It's this ultimate sense of humanity for everybody. And the way that we reflect upon ourselves and how we cope with it, especially with the situations that we're dealing with is such an elevated experience for myself.”

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The first and second episode of “Expats” is now available on Prime Video.

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