JLEE: LIVING LIFE WITH DRIVE, HEART & A HEARTY DOSE OF ABANDON!April 24, 2018
Photographer: Demetrius Ward
Stylist: Phil Keophaphone
Hair Makeup: Josie Napeñas
Retoucher: Nigel Elliott
In life, if you’re lucky, you come across people who are pure sunshine. Their devotion to living a full and happy life is contagious, their drive absolutely inspiring, and their stories, well worth exploring. That is J Lee. A new motorcycle enthusiast, we had the pleasure of spending an afternoon surrounded by custom bikes and innovative design in the heart of LA with a man who can best be summarized in two words: VROOM! VROOM!
Sure, that may be the sound he laughingly makes when talking about riding, it’s also his approach to life, career, and the future on the whole. While the Los Angeles weather filled the Heroes Motors Shop with a slight chill, we sat down with J Lee to talk about riding, filming, writing, family, and taking time to enjoy every second – trying all the while not to get too distracted by his incredibly fit physique and endearing smile!
What was it like on your first ride? And, if you could conjure up the perfect motorcycle ride, where would you go, and, what model would you be riding?
The first time I rode was one of the most exhilarating feelings ever. It’s freeing, fun, scary, tense and relaxing all at the same time. My two best friends ride and I was the only one who didn’t have a bike. So I had to learn how to ride and get on the road with them. It is one of the best decisions I’ve made. As far as the perfect motorcycle ride, it just depends. My buddies and I have been planning a very big bike trip for the near future. We’re currently debating on what kind of bikes to get for that. I’ll wind up having a few different bikes though, for cruising and for city travel.
If there was a soundtrack playing while you were riding consisting of 5 songs from classical to modern genres, what would those 5 songs be?
In no particular order:
1. Chopin Ballad, A Flat Major
2. Seal, Kiss By A Rose
3. Ice Cube, Today Was A Good Day
4. Mos Def, Ghetto Rock
5. Fela Kuti, Water No Get Enemy
You mentioned minding your business and staying in your own lane in life. Every day we’re faced with obstacles and distractions, so what keeps you focused on being mindful?
Reminding myself of what’s important to me. My mom used to always say, “focus on your mission, not your position.” We are all here for a reason. A purpose. The more we compare and complain and worry about other people and external factors, the less time we are sitting in our light and fulfilling our purpose here. So it’s real simple. If you ever find yourself distracted or feeling lost or complaining, literally just stop. Take a deep breath. Check in. Ask yourself, is what I’m spending my energy on right now making me happy? If it’s yes, then keep doing it. If it’s no, then stop.
While we’re doing the photoshoot, we’re joined by two of J’s best friends, Ahmed Best and Jason Kelley. The minute they arrive, the dynamic between the three is clear: they laugh often and have deeply profound conversations. Whether they’re spontaneously breaking out in dance to whatever song is on J’s playlist or planning the next ride, when these three are together it’s magic.
You make a conscious choice of surrounding yourself with creative, grounded people. Who would you love to be in a room with that you haven’t yet met or worked with?
It’s extremely important to me to make sure I’m sharing energy with like-minded people. As well as people who are motivated to do better and in turn, motivate me. Luckily, I’ve been blessed to have not only worked with some of those people, but can call them friends. I never thought I would be able to say it, but having been able to work with folks like Seth MacFarlane, Jon Favreau, Charlize Theron, and Marion McClinton, it has made me such a better artist and person.
As far as people I want to work with or be in a room with, I’m such a fan of so many people it’s almost too many to name. But here it goes: Don Cheadle. Jeffry Wright. Andre Braugher. Christopher Nolan. Alejandro Inarritu. Ava Duvernay. I wanna play 2 on 2 with President Barack Obama, LeBron James and Will Smith with David Letterman as the referee. I want to race Alyson Felix in the 200-meter dash but only if I get a 170-meter head start. I want to watch Karate Kid (the original one) with Lianne LaHavas, Bryan Cranston and all of my cousins from The Lou. I want to do Karaoke with Donald Glover, Tom Hardy, Issa Rae and Anderson Paak. I want to play spades with Giancarlo Esposito, Phylicia Rashaad and George Clooney (Phylicia is my partner.) I want to watch The Little Rascals with all the kids from Stranger Things. I want to do a workout with Terry Crews, Michael B. Jordan, Angela Bassett, Idris Elba and Mark Wahlberg. I want to—well, you get the point.
What does liberation mean to you?
Being you. Always. Everywhere. No matter what. Oh, speaking of liberation, listen to Christian Scott aTunde’s record, “Liberation over Gangsterism.” That’s a bad ass tune. I could swap out any of the previous riding music with this one and I’d still be happy.
With the second season of The Orville recently greenlit, what are you most looking forward to?
I’m just excited to be back on the ship. Back in space and back making a cool show. The Orville has been so much fun and it’s cool to see people really responding to it. It’s dope because I get to work with my friends. But I’m looking forward to telling more cool stories and making people laugh, think, mad, happy and sad all at the same time.
Having started as a receptionist at the Family Guy Production Office, he tells a story about how Seth McFarlane would step out of his office and come shoot the shit with J at his desk. Like a Cheers bartender, he became the guy everyone came to for a good laugh, to talk through ideas – good or bad – and eventually the guy who has gone on to voice characters on American Dad, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, and land his first acting gig as Lieutenant Commander John LaMarr manning the ship’s helm opposite co-stars Scott Grimes, MacFarlane, Adrianne Palicki, and Halston Sage on The Orville.
Aside from being a classically trained pianist and the Family Guy “Bartender”, what would we be surprised to know about you?
I don’t like onions.
What scares you?
Would you ever want to write an episode of The Orville? What other projects are you working on?
Yes. I’ve already been talking with Seth about writing an episode(s). The thing I love about Seth is that he really is open to suggestions and ideas. Just not really terrible ones. He doesn’t like those so much. But I’m halfway through writing a new episode where my character John overcomes his fear of onions while eating an onion. All in one long, continuous shot … As far as other projects, I wrote and directed a film at the end of last year. It should be doing the festival circuit soon. I have some other feature and TV projects I’ve developed and plan on getting out at some point. Overall trying to stay busy, creative, happy and do the work.
What is one of the more memorable moments of your career thus far?
Most memorable moment was me making the decision to drive to LA and start my career. I was back in St. Louis, recently graduated from Indiana University and down to my last $200. I went to the back, said a prayer, and the next thing I knew I packed a backpack, kissed my mom on the cheek and said I’m going to LA. And she said, “ok. Love ya.” Then I hit the road. Boom.
When we finish talking, in true J.Lee form, a song comes on and immediately he starts moving to the groove, keeping everyone around him upbeat – the smile across his face, undeniable. Like a kid in a candy store, any time you ask him about writing or riding, his face lights up and you know his wheels are officially spinning. While he shops around in search of the perfect bikes from Harley’s to Triumphs to Ducates and everything in between, you can likely find him and his friends geared up in their motor’s best riding somewhere on the open road. They’ll be off exploring new terrain, laughing on the regular and pontificating ways to make this world a far more beautiful, funny, endearing, badass, sexy place.
Be on the lookout for Season 2 of The Orville airing on Fox.