RTVF to Ratatouille
Q&A: Alum Raymond J. Lee talks Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical and finding new passions during the pandemic
January 28, 2021
Raymond J. Lee (Communication ‘04) has appeared in multiple Broadway shows, including “Mamma Mia!,” “Groundhog Day” and “Aladdin.” Most recently, he was an ensemble member in Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical. From humble beginnings as a TikTok trend where people wrote songs and drafted sets for Pixar’s Ratatouille, the show became a star-studded production after Broadway pros partnered with many of the original TikTok creators. Lee Zoomed with The Daily to chat about being a working actor, his time at Northwestern and advice for students graduating into an industry largely put on pause.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The Daily: What were you involved with at NU?
Lee: No joke, The Daily Northwestern was one of my first jobs, because I was a photographer, so I would take pictures for the Daily back in the day. I think I got to go to Wrigley Field and take pictures, it was really cool! I started off pre-med chemistry — I thought I was going to be a doctor — and then I was like, “I can’t do this,” and I ended up switching midway sophomore year to RTVF and got into the music theatre certificate. From there, I was in musicals, I was a proud member of Boomshaka and I was part of a bunch of Asian American groups. I kept myself busy; I feel like all of us do at Northwestern.
The Daily: After graduation, how did you start working as an actor?
Lee: I was very lucky because I left Evanston with a job at MTV as a PA. My first gig was the VMAs, I would run errands and then — “oh, there’s Christina Aguilera! Oh, hi Alicia Keys!” But part of me still always wanted to perform. One day my agents told me, “hey you need to come to the office.” And I thought, “oh no, am I in trouble?” And they sat me down and told me, “hey Ray, you’re going to be on Broadway in “Mamma Mia!” I freaked out. I think that was the start of me taking this career extra seriously. I’d been serious before, but this really proved to me that I could do it.
The Daily: Recently, you appeared in Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical, which was a huge success in the realm of virtual theater. What was that like?
Lee: It was a super fast process, I don’t know how the creative team did it. We did one Zoom rehearsal and we’re going through our songs, Emily [the music director] is on the screen plunking on her keyboard for this computer speaker, we’re all muted trying to sing along. Then we went and separately recorded our harmonies for all the songs and they edited it together. Then, we were told about the videos that we had to do and our costumes were mailed to us. It was absolutely mind-blowing and inspirational to see how fast and how hard everyone worked.
The Daily: Did you and your family watch the completed project?
Lee: We love Ratatouille, and so we had to watch it. And [my daughter] was like, “Daddy is that you? You have, like, whiskers!” We made sure to watch it, especially because I feel like so many of us are hungry for theater right now, and these online performances and musicals and concerts are such a good way to satiate that appetite.
The Daily: What advice would you give to people just entering an industry that has been halted in so many ways due to the pandemic?
Lee: I would tell them it will happen. In-person theater will be back, we will all be on a stage again. Hang on to that. In the meantime, keep on learning, keep on training. Feel free to explore, because now’s the time, and you never know when you might find another part of the industry that you really feel like, “This is awesome!” I recently started doing more voiceover stuff and I just did my commercial reel, so I’m focusing on other aspects that I haven’t had a chance to before. When you’re rehearsing for a show, especially as a dad, you’re there 10 to 6 and at nighttime are trying to get lines in your head. So, now that we’re all home and I do have this time, I want to fill it up with other stuff. And lots of Netflix, lots of Disney Plus.
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