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Interview: Christine Lee

The Netflix series Black Summer seemed to appear on the streaming service out of nowhere. The series follows several strangers as they navigate and try to survive the zombie apocalypse.

Billed as the prequel to the Syfy series Z Nation, Black Summer takes its viewers on one hell of a ride and leading that ride from hell is actress Christine Lee, who plays Sun. As the series continues to gain fans, Lee is becoming the breakout star of the intense series.

We had the opportunity to chat with Christine about Black Summer. We talk with her about auditioning for the role, why no subtitles were used for her character and if she’s been surprised by the popularity of her character.

Pop Culture Principle – Before you signed on to star in this project, were you a fan of shows and films like Black Summer?

Christine Lee – You know, I’m not going to lie. I actually stopped watching anything scary. The only zombie shows that I was comfortable watching was actually Z Nation and iZombie. I tried watching The Walking Dead and it was too suspenseful and too scary and I just couldn’t watch it!

When I auditioned for Black Summer, I was told that the show was a prequel to Z Nation and I thought that was cool and figured I could do a show like that. But, when I read the script, the show was a lot darker than I had expected. It ended up being a very fun shoot and I enjoyed every part of it.

Pop Culture Principle – For those who haven’t seen Black Summer yet, what can you tell them about your character Sun?

Christine Lee - So, she is a Korean refugee who is stuck in Midwest American during the zombie apocalypse. She’s very intelligent and she’s smart enough and strong enough to survive this, but her character flaw, if you have to put it that way, is that she doesn’t speak English at all, so she has to overcome that struggle to survive.

Pop Culture Principle – This role seems like it was very demanding physically. Did you do any preparation for that aspect of the role? Did you do any weapons training?

Christine Lee – No, not really. They just told me that I was going to run, then run again and then run again! In the second episode, the part where she kind of climbs on top of the car, I read the script and wondered if they were going to have a stunt double or not. When it came to shooting the scene, the director just said, let’s get Christine in a harness and I was like, ok, cool. We did all the stunts and we did have some weapons training. We did have the professional come on set and teach us the basics of the guns we used. The props department was so knowledgeable about the weapons and guns that we used. Most of the training was on the spot learn it and do it and do it well.

Pop Culture Principle – Sun speaks Korean pretty much the entire series without subtitles, but although she doesn’t speak English, viewers still can get an idea of what she is saying. Was the lack of subtitles a decision made by the creators and producers of the series?

Christine Lee – When I first got cast for the series, John Hyams, who is the creator of the show, and I had a Skype meeting and he told me from the get-go that my character was not going to be subtitled. He said that he wanted to really add that frustration of a language barrier. I honestly think that if there were subtitles that showed what she was actually saying, I think that would have been distracting for the audience because she adds that extra layer of chaos by speaking another language people don’t understand. Every time she says something or does something, you have to make a decision whether to trust her and go with her or not. I think that is one very important element of the show.

Pop Culture Principle – We don’t get a lot of the character's backstory in the first season. If there is a second season, do you hope we get to learn more about Sun’s backstory?

Christine Lee – I think that there were some seeds that were planted in Season One, but they were very minimal. I guess it depends on how the creator John Hyams wants to take the story. I honestly have no idea where the story is going to go. I think it will depend on if the backstory helps the story or not moving forward.

Honestly, I kind of like that we weren’t dwelling too much on the backstory and just dealt with the right here and right now of running from zombies. I mean, if I am running from zombies in real life and there was a guy helping me out, I wouldn’t stop to ask him his name and where he’s from. We are here and in the now, let’s just try to survive!

Pop Culture Principle – Sun has become one of the most popular characters in Black Summer. Have you been surprised by the love and support for this character?

Christine Lee - Yes! It was totally unexpected. I am happy for sure and the support has been overwhelmingly positive and I am so grateful. An actor can only do so much and everything you’ve done on set is now in someone else’s hands when it comes to editing and when the show comes out and how people are going to respond. All of that is totally out of my hands and my control. I had no expectations and I just hoped that people would be on board with our storytelling. I don’t think I really thought about how my character would be received, but again, I am so grateful.

Pop Culture Principle – There were a couple of scenes where Sun was close to being bitten by zombies. How much fun was it shooting those scenes?

Christine Lee – The bicycle scene was actually my audition scene and my call back scene. It was honestly one of the most fun auditions I’ve ever had. I actually loved doing that scene on set. The air vent scene was crazy. We spent one full day shooting that scene and then John Hyams said that we had to redo it. We actually shot that scene a second time for a full day of me crawling on my belly. Poor Edsson Morales, who plays Manny, that was the second time turning into a zombie and crawling and screaming and smashing. It was one of those days where you just have to do it and John Hyams was super supportive.

Pop Culture Principle – The first season not only doesn’t follow conventional storytelling in the first season but the episodes are all of varying lengths. As an actor, what was it like working with that unique style of storytelling and having episodes of different lengths?

Christine Lee – I loved it! I think it was a very smart move considering that its Netflix and we don’t have to abide by the thirty-minute episodic format. It’s a streaming website, so the fact that we took advantage of it was really smart and I really appreciated that. I kind of felt like we were shooting a film rather than an episode of this and an episode of this and then an episode of this.

It was a very collaborative process and I felt like we were rehearsing a play when we were staging. We would have our cameraman just plop into our scene and it was about orchestrating which part of this blocking he was going to capture. Once that was set, we were kind of dancing with the camera operators. A lot of the shots were one long take and I had the most fun watching these camera operators carrying this really heavy gear and running with us. Also, John and Ron, who is the DP, kind of orchestrating everything on the spot, it was really thrilling and felt like live theater.

Pop Culture Principle – Why do you think people have such a fascination with zombies and this genre of films and television series?

Christine Lee – You know what, I honestly think that it’s because they have a human exterior in a way. I would see people in a completely different light. You can know someone and they might reveal an entirely different side of themselves after knowing them for a year or two and that shocks you and that stays with you and all of a sudden, you have an entirely new relationship.

I think that’s what zombies do in a way. They look like humans but they shock you, they scare you and yet they walk and run like you. It’s this element of familiarity and this shocking discovery that is hidden behind that that really fascinates people.

Pop Culture Principle – How would Christine Lee do in a zombie apocalypse? Would you be a badass like Sun?

Christine Lee – I don’t know if I’m as smart and strong as Sun to survive. I don’t deal with anything scary. I might be able to hide well, but I’m pretty sure I’ll get caught, I’ll freeze, then I’ll scream and then I’ll be eaten. 😊 Christine Lee is not that savvy when it comes to the apocalypse. LOL.

Pop Culture Principle – What are your thoughts on people comparing Black Summer to The Walking Dead?

Christine Lee – I think that is pretty natural. The Walking Dead is a show that has such a following and it opened up a whole new venue of zombie apocalypse shows. I think any zombie show that comes out, they are bound to get compared to The Walking Dead which is cool. I think it’s fine and I know that we are a different show, so for me, I’m never going to bother comparing the two shows. It’s apples and oranges to me.

Pop Culture Principle – Diversity in Hollywood is a huge issue right now. As a Korean actress in the industry, do you see any progress in roles for women and minorities and how does the industry continue to move forward in its diversity?

Christine Lee – When I saw Annie the Musical with Jamie Foxx, I remember walking away from that movie and thinking that was great. All black leads, but they are not going to talk about why they were black leads. I loved that and I remember thinking that something is happening in this industry and it’s a great sign.

When I saw Crazy Rich Asians, I thought that I would never see an Asian lead for a romantic comedy in my lifetime. There is great progress, but I still think there is a lot more to be done. This is just one spectrum as to who we are as people of color. There are so many facets of people of color that have yet to be explored and that’s great. You see a show like Master of None and it’s refreshing and it’s nice to know that there are people who are actively trying to push for different stories with people of color as leads and I think that’s exciting.

I still think there is a lot more work to be done, but I think it will inspire a lot of us to pave the way for upcoming generations and really invest in the future artists so that we have more variety not just in terms of cast, but also in terms of topics.

Pop Culture Principle – For people who haven’t seen Black Summer yet, what can they look forward to with the first season?

Christine Lee – Oh, man! Well, I would say get yourself a pillow or a stress ball to squeeze because the show is going to keep you on the edge of your seat at all times. Expect to see the randomness in who survives and kind of feel the unfairness of this universe. Also, expect to see some killer moves from Sun!

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A huge thank you to Christine Lee for a very fun and informative talk about her series Black Summer. The first season of Black Summer is available now exclusively on Netflix. If you would like to keep up with Christine's latest news and projects, you can follow her official Twitter account @im_christine_L.

**All Black Summer photos courtesy of Netflix**

**All other photos courtesy of IMBD.COM**

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