UPM: What was life like getting into the model industry?
TAM LEE: Well back in the late 90s earl 2000s (laughing), I was being scouted but during the time Asians were really under-represented. So a lot of jobs were looking for that certain look. You know, the blonde hair blue eyed look or the brunette with hazel eyes. As a result, I had a hard time getting through the door because as you can clearly see, I’m not any of those descriptions. I felt like I was limited because I didn’t match up to the aesthetic expectation so many jobs were seeking. So I didn’t feel there was a lot of help out there for me at the time. I had the door slammed in face time after time.
UPM: Do you feel the industry has changed and have you changed with it?
TAM LEE: Absolutely! Now, the industry is all about diversity. I’m glad. I’m excited for the awareness and appreciation the industry has for other cultures. And yes, I have changed right along with it. My growth is in truly understanding the worth of my connections. That’s something I share with any model I can. Your network truly is net worth. I receive emails from colleagues often inquiring how I secured jobs, movie roles and other experiences and the answer is always the same – Networking.
UPM: So who, in your network, gave you an opportunity that changed your life?
TAM LEE: Man! That’s a good one. I would have to recall one of the agencies I’ve worked with in the past. Candy Bennet of Penny Candy Productions worked with me as a referral from Tommy McClure of Fashion Week Columbus. As a result of working with Candy, I was immersed into the Columbus market. Through her (Candy), I didn’t have an agent but I was able to test the waters of being a freelance model (without agent representation) and it worked! Not just for the acting industry but everything I’ve done. To be honest, it’s worked much better for than having an agent. So far, I’ve had 3 agents and each one I had to fire because I got better results marketing myself than their marketing me.
UPM: What movies have you been since doing freelance work?
TAM LEE: Oh my gosh! Let’s see. “I am Wrath” featuring John Travolta. Part of it was recorded here in Columbus, Ohio. I’m in scene with him (Travolta) and Christopher Maloney during a bar scene. I received some fairly decent ratings on it. It was very entertaining and lots of action. Then there was a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger called “After Math”. It’s about a plane crash and it was also filmed in Columbus too.
UPM: Being an actress from Columbus sharing the big screen with A-List actors, what’s it like behind the scenes interacting with them?
TAM LEE: It’s kind of surreal. Then you get over it because you’ve got work to do. Afterwards you realize they are normal people like anyone else. Working with Arnold, I will say that he’s getting up there in age (laughing). Honestly, it’s like I’m hanging out with my grandpa. Working with John, I had fun. I’m not a star-struck type of person. So when I wanted to talk to him, I just started talking to him. Some of the guys were telling people don’t make eye contact with him (Travolta) but I just laughed in their face and walked away. At one point, I think I may have said, “He (Travolta) don’t pay my bills”! I’m not sure if the words came out of my mouth but that thought was so loud in my head that it felt like I said it (laughing). With technology, these guys look buffer, younger, and tougher and it’s amazing. Working with the camera crews were fun and we have lots of fun. John, Chris and Arnold were all gentlemen, nice kind and sweet. I enjoyed working with them. The next movie in the lineup I plan to work with Sylvester Stallone in a movie to be recorded in Mansfield. So we’ll see! Keep your fingers crossed!
UPM: Do you find yourself intentionally seeking out other business ventures or do those opportunities just fall into your lap?
TAM LEE: I would say it falls into my lap. I live in the moment because you never know what tomorrow holds. When I moved to Columbus, I was a producer for ABC-6 with a background in sales and marketing. So it falls into my lap in most cases.
UPM: What do you enjoy the most out of all you do?
TAM LEE: I enjoy the moment. It doesn’t matter what it is. It’s just being in the moment. Whether on catwalk showcasing a designers clothing apparel or in front of the camera remembering my lines and making the character come to life, being in the moment is the best feeling ever!
UPM: What’s next?
TAM LEE: Geesh dude! Are you writing a book? Oh wait! I forgot who I’m talking to because you actually write books (laughing)! Well, to answer your question – I don’t know. I live next to the airport so jumping on a plane is nothing to me. I do fly to LA often. Usually, I travel a lot for my gigs whether Fashion Weeks in Miami, New York or wherever. If I’m offered a gig that I’ve never done then I’m interested to see what happens. Get my feet wet and let’s do it just to say that I did that.