Last summer, when most Stanford students were preparing to return to campus for the first time in over a year, one student, Ethan Lee ’23, was preparing to fly to Spain – he had been cast in “Asteroid City,” the latest film from director Wes Anderson, and was set to spend the next few months shooting the film.
Lee started acting in kindergarten, when he started joining school theater productions to help overcome a speech impediment, but it wasn’t until he was nine years old that he started acting. to audition and to pursue his professional career in front of the camera, working mainly in television and some. film. Initially, Lee was unsure if he wanted to continue playing professionally due to the significant time commitment it requires and his academic priorities.
“My parents hesitated at first. When I was younger, the rule was always school first, acting second,” Lee said. “It was also such a big time commitment – you get out of school, drive to LA, audition, go back to seven or eight – and then you have homework and extracurriculars. But there is a cathartic experience [in acting] that you can’t replicate anywhere else, so I kept going back.
Lee’s first professional acting role was on the show “Southland.” It was also his very first audition. Lee has since appeared on numerous television shows, including “Glee,” “Desperate Housewives,” “The Middle,” “KC Undercover,” and “The Mick.” He also played a recurring character on “Mr. Robinson,” a short-lived NBC sitcom.
Each of Lee’s roles taught the actor a unique lesson. “I enjoyed working on a series and seeing different character arcs,” Lee said of “Mr. Robinson. “It taught me to pace myself while filming because filming is exciting and a lot of fun , but it’s easy to burn out all your energy really quickly or get carried away with artisanal services. You can’t do that if you’re trying to do something long-term. You have to pace yourself. From his brief appearance in ” Glee,” says Lee, “I learned the value of being spontaneous — my role in Glee was improvised and that’s something I had never experienced before.”
“Asteroid City” is the biggest project he has booked to date. Aside from its title, very little is currently known about “Asteroid City” – all plot elements are completely secret. According to Wikipedia, the film is an “American romantic comedy-drama”, and a Deadline article lists a plethora of high-profile actors who have been linked to the project, including Tom Hanks, Margot Robbie, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Sophia Lillis , Adrien Brody, Maya Hawke, Fisher Stevens and many more.
Given the confidential nature of the project, Lee is unable to reveal too much, avoiding any specific description of what he was asked to do on set.
“I had a great time working with Wes, the cast and crew,” Lee said.
“Asteroid City” was filmed in Chinchón, a town in Spain located about forty minutes south of Madrid. A New York Times article claims that “Anderson’s cast and crew often check into a local hotel and also have dinner together.” Anderson himself has stated that he likes “to go to a place and have us all live there and become a real kind of local production, like a small theater company”. In “Asteroid City,“The close living quarters helped create a closer community on set, according to Lee.
“It was a very communal atmosphere,” Lee said. “Like a lot of Wes projects, from what I’ve heard.”
Production on “Asteroid City” wrapped in October. Lee arrived on campus a few weeks late for the fall term, but was able to coordinate with his professors to catch up on in-person classes he had missed. A few of his classes were online, so he was able to participate remotely. Still, he said balancing academics and acting for a few weeks turned out to be a bit more difficult than he had anticipated. He is currently pursuing a major in political science and a minor in history.
At school, Lee’s first priority is his academics, although he continues to audition for film projects. William Golub ’23, a friend of Lee’s from his freshman dorm, spoke of Lee’s ability to pursue various interests at once.
“We had discussions about things like the economics of film production and producer consolidation, as well as the intersection of media and international relations,” Golub said. “Ethan is the kind of guy who brings people together in a great way, so it only makes sense that he’s a part of so many communities inside and outside of Stanford.”
“As an actor, he’s phenomenally talented,” said Donya Sarrafian ’23, one of Lee’s roommates last spring. “I got to watch some of his flagship reels and was very impressed with them. I spoke to him after [‘Asteroid City’] and he was incredibly excited to do this job. I’m incredibly excited to see the film in 2023.”
Working on “Asteroid City” made Lee confident that he wanted to continue acting after college. “I have other interests outside of performing arts, film and media, but there’s nothing that compares to artistic catharsis and fulfillment,” Lee said. “You can’t get that with another career.”