Reggie Lee gets monstrous good story on NBC’s ‘Grimm’

Reggie Lee’s ever-sarcastic Sgt. Wu has been part of the murky mix on NBC’s “Grimm” since the fantasy series premiered on Oct. 28, 2011. But the Padua Franciscan High School graduate finally is getting a story that hits home.

Indeed, in the episode that airs at 9 p.m. Friday, March 7, on WKYC Channel 3, Lee is in the middle of an eerie plot that reaches all the way back to his native country, the Philippines, for its origins. He has only himself to blame for this close encounter of the creepy kind. He suggested it to the writers.

“They came to me and asked if I knew any Filipino fairy tales,” Lee said during a telephone interview. “I’m very in touch with my Filipino culture, so I told them, ‘Yeah, I know a ton. Would you like a list?’ We’ve got a very good family here on this show, so it’s very collaborative.”

Lee gave them three frightening Filipino fairy tales, and the writers settled on the vampire-like aswang. The resulting episode pushes Wu into exciting new directions.

“When I read this script, I was floored,” Lee said. “I couldn’t have asked for something more in tune with my character. It exposes Wu in a way that is extremely organic. It puts Wu in a light that has never been on him before, and we’ll see how that plays out for the rest of the season.”

Titled “Mommy Dearest,” the episode finds a horrible new predator creeping into Portland. It’s a monster Wu thought only existed in the stories his grandmother told him. And it’s targeting a young couple expecting a child.

“The story involves the aswang and it involves Wu helping this couple who just moved to Portland from the Philippines,” Lee said. “And Wu knew the woman as a girl and had romantic feelings for her, so there’s a bit of a romantic triangle, too. It’s an emotionally rich episode for Wu.”

Inspired by the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, “Grimm” stars David Giuntoli as Nick Burkhardt, a Portland homicide detective who learns he’s descended from an elite line of criminal profilers known as Grimms. His partner, Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby), is in on the secret, as are veterinarian Juliette Silverton (Bitsie Tulloch), reformed big bad wolf Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) and fox-like Fuchsbau Rosalee (Bree Turner).

Fans have been waiting for Wu to be officially taken into the show’s Scooby gang.

“It’s a self-contained episode in terms of the folklore,” Lee said. “In terms of the effects it has on the characters, it has ramifications that continue throughout the rest of the season. Yes, you’ll get snarky, sarcastic Wu, but, with this experience, he has a lot to deal with.”

While Lee knew the writers would do their research, he was pleased by how faithful they were to the aswang mythology.

“They took the major aspects of the aswang and stayed very true to the folklore,” he said. “The look they came up with didn’t quite match up to my image of the aswang, but people who work on the show are saying it’s the creepiest creature they’ve seen yet. And this deep into the third season, that’s really saying something.”

Lee was born Reggie Valdez in Quezon City, the Philippines. He took the stage name Lee when casting directors kept calling him for Hispanic rather than Asian roles.

“They thought anyone named Valdez had to look Hispanic,” Lee said. “And I hardly look Hispanic.”

When he was 5, the family moved to Akron, where his father worked at St. Thomas Hospital. The family moved to Stow, then Strongsville. Attending Padua Franciscan in Parma, he was accepted into Harvard. He didn’t go.

“The announcement that I was going to be an actor was made when was I was 10 years old,” Lee said. “And that didn’t go down all that well, but I had a lot of years to butter up my parents. My parents have mellowed quite a bit, but, growing up, there was a sense that the only real professions were doctor, engineer, lawyer. Those were your choices.”

His parents, Zenaida Telmo and Jesus Espiritu Valdez, didn’t quite know what to make of their son’s announcement. But their son knew what to do.

“I went after it like I had blinders on, and, ironically, I got that from my dad, Lee said. “He taught me that. You want something? Go get it with single-minded devotion.”

He looked around the Cleveland area and started to work toward his goal.

“From the time I made my announcement that I was going to be an actor, I auditioned for community theater, did shows at Greenbrier, interned at the Cleveland Play House for a summer, took voice lessons, took ballet lessons,” Lee said. “I did everything that Cleveland allowed me to do — everything that was available to me.”

It’s an approach that hasn’t changed, even with a regular prime-time gig.

“I consider myself a fortunate working actor, but I really work at it all the time,” Lee said. “If I have a couple of weeks off, I’m taking class. You never stop. I started when I was 10 years old in Cleveland, and I’ve never stopped working my butt off.”

So at 17, the road led to Hollywood, not Harvard.

“The acceptance to Harvard was more of trophy than a real possibility to me,” Lee said. “I would have been miserable. But I went out to L.A. and immediately found work. I was on the road for a year and half with ‘Miss Saigon.’ I bought a house. And I was still a teenager at this point. For a while, my parents were like, ‘So when are you going to give this up and go to school.’ They gradually realized that wasn’t going to happen.”

The national tour of “Miss Saigon” led to Broadway, where he was in the original company of the 1994 revival of “Carousel.” Since 1996, he has appeared in episodes of “Diagnosis: Murder,” “Babylon 5,” “ER,” “Mad About You,” “Beverly Hills 90210,” “Chicago Hope,” “The Ellen Show” and “NCIS.” In 2001, he played Lance Nguyen in the film “The Fast and the Furious.”

But the big-break year was 2006, when he was cast as Secret Service agent Bill Kim on Fox’s “Prison Break” and Hadras in “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” The following year, he was playing Tai Huang in “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”

You also could have spotted him as the Kobayashi Maru test administrator in “Star Trek” (2009) and Ross, the Gotham City police officer gunned down by one of Bane’s thugs, in “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012).

Between those two big-budget films, he got the call for “Grimm.”

“I couldn’t be prouder of the work we’ve done on this episode,” Lee said. “It’s one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had in my entire life. I don’t mean to oversell it, but everything just came together with this episode.”


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