Recently, Loudoun County Magazine journalist Aishani Satia sat down with stunt woman and actor Michelle Lee. Satia’s profile follows.
Suicide Squad, Black Widow, Captain Marvel, and now Paramount Television’s Blood and Treasure series are just a few projects in which stuntperson Michelle Lee has starred. However, her path to the big screen was only sometimes in the picture. Fresh with a degree in Economics and Computer Science from the University of California, Michelle dreamed of acting but felt she needed to overcome her introverted personality. She enrolled in acting classes and tapped into her rigorous background in martial arts to eventually score a fighter role in Pirates of the Caribbean 3, marking the beginning of her outstanding career.
For Lee, knowing herself and wanting to convey a more profound message is central to her work, which is especially important, she finds, in an industry lacking people of color. “There weren’t many people of color that [were] leads on their own shows or even in ensemble casts, in general.” Instead, Lee points to the stereotyping of people of color in Hollywood. “They’d be extras or cast as some goofy character with a really typical character.”
In recent years, Lee has been encouraged to witness increased representation in the acting industry. Lee thinks long-term about advocating for greater representation of people of color. “I encourage a lot of people of color to go behind the camera if that’s their passion because they are the people that will put people of color in front of the camera as well. I think having more people of color in all aspects of film and television will really help us progress a lot faster.”
Working on screen as a stuntperson and actor requires stamina. A typical day for Lee is intense. “A day of filming could be 8-12 hours where I drive to a set in the Los Angeles area or Santa Clarita. It would involve stunts like car drifting, doing a fight scene, falling off some stairs, and hauling a 170-pound man.” On the other hand, when Lee is acting, “it’s 100 times physically easier, but there’s still a level of stress because your scene needs to be great, your lines need to be memorized, and you need to have chemistry with the other actors.”
In the Blood & Treasure series, Lee stars as Violet, a multidimensional character that allowed Lee to tap into her full repertoire of stunt work and acting. Filming for Blood & Treasure brought Lee from Thailand to Montreal and Italy. While in Bangkok, Lee visited the breathtaking Shaolin Monastery and witnessed an incredible martial arts performance. “The martial arts I do stems from Shaolin martial arts, so seeing them perform was a pretty epic feeling.”
Lee’s on-camera work can get hectic, and her work off-camera as a mom keeps her busy too. Her daughter is her number one priority, and open communication is important. “I’ve cultivated that bond of ‘hey talk to me about what you need, and I’ll do my best to work it out together.” Occasionally, her daughter even joins her on set.
Lee advises anyone looking to pursue a career in the film industry to stay confident. “Self-confidence and having a love for yourself is key. Don’t beat yourself up for not booking X, Y, and Z. As actors, we put ourselves out there.” She acknowledges that criticism is rampant in the industry. “Someone might say, ‘She’s not thin enough,’ ‘She’s not smart enough,’ or ‘She’s not good enough.” Ultimately, working in film requires determination and resiliency. “Understand, ‘Hey, I didn’t book this, but it’s not because I’m bad. I work equally as hard, and in the end, I know that I will make it one day.'”