Actress Claudia Lee was always drawn to performing. Eight years ago, Lee had only planned on staying in Hollywood for three months. Role after role, joining projects such as Hart of Dixie to Kick-Ass 2, Lee found her footing in the industry. Currently starring on Freeform’s hit drama show Famous in Love, Lee’s passion for acting and growing her craft remains unwavering. Ahead of the series finale, Lee breaks down her character “Billie” and the character she relates to the most on the show.
Educating yourself in any field that interests you is so important. It’s once you stop fueling your curiosity, and feeding that hunger for growth that you begin to limit your chance for opportunity.
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from?
I’m from West Lafayette, Indiana. I moved out to Los Angeles when I was thirteen with my parents, with the belief that I would return home after my “three month trial period” in Hollywood. I was really fortunate that my parents were able to take the time to give me this opportunity. Seven weeks living here, I started working immediately and my three month stay turned into eight years and counting of being in the biz.
How did you find your passion for acting?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been obsessed with performing. I used to watch the TV and dance along and reenact scenes because I loved performing and making my family laugh. At the age of five, I was talking about getting an agent and manager and my parents were baffled. Their response would always be, “Well, we don’t live in Los Angeles.” So, as my interest for the arts kept growing, my parents felt that the only way to tame my desire was to keep me as busy as possible with local theater, dance, and singing lessons. All of my extracurriculars did indeed keep me busy, but they didn’t satisfy my hunger of working towards my dreams. To explain that further, I just felt that I was wasting valuable time. At the age of thirteen, I sat my parents down and pitched them on how important acting and performing was to me, but they still weren’t sold on this whole “Hollywood Dream”. So, they sent me to a camp that the New York Film Academy was hosting, and there I met one of my dearest friends whose family was involved in TV and film. I later found out that her family owns a working studio in Brooklyn, but at the time my naiveté was in full force and I didn’t necessarily understand quite exactly what her parents did. To explain, I’m not the type of person that cares who or what you’re known for, I just like you for you. So, back to the story; her mom approached my mom after our two week camp, and offered to introduce me to their close family friends who owned an agency in Los Angeles. From that point on, my journey began, and I truly had no idea how drastically my life was going to change. Not only in the sense of becoming a working actress, but leaving behind a life so vastly different from the one I knew in Indiana.
You previously starred in Hart of Dixie and Kick-Ass 2 among others. How did these projects prepare you for future roles? What did you learn on set?
Working on Hart of Dixie and Kick Ass 2 taught me SO much. At the time, I didn’t realize the life lessons that I was learning, but now that I’ve “grown up”, I really appreciate them. First of all, to be on a show that instantly gained respect and a large fan base, on network television, is kind of rare nowadays. I took for granted the luxury of growing up on the Warner Brothers lot, having a team of producers, cast, and crew that supported me and cheered me on, and how well we were all treated on the Hart of Dixie set. Our producers practically rolled out the red carpet for us actors, and I have yet been on a set where my personal well being was protected and valued by my peers. Kick Ass 2 was the same experience. Universal treated me so well; I was able to spend a month filming in London, absorbing the culture as well as being part of an incredible film. The biggest lessons that I’ve learned that have helped shape my perspective, especially on set as an adult, are that kindness and humility are key. People often forget that it takes a village to make everything look seamless. Everyone works so hard in order to create something special and it’s important to celebrate my peers because without them it wouldn’t be possible. It’s a team effort!
Currently, you play Billy in Famous in Love. How did the role come about?
Crazy enough, I was on set visiting my boyfriend while he was filming his show in Vancouver, and the director of that episode was also someone that I worked with in the past. We were catching up and he mentioned that he was joining Famous in Love season two as a producer. I didn’t think anything of it, other than that I was really happy for my friend! Fast forward to three months after that chance encounter that reconnected us, I was in the room reading for him and the rest of the producers for the role of Billy! The process wasn’t as final as everyone would probably assume; I had to read several times for the role of Billy because they were still figuring out her storyline. They didn’t expect her to be such a big part of season two as she turned out to be. I was SO excited when I found out I booked this role. Prior to playing Billy, I was experiencing a bit of a dry spell, and this show came at a time when I needed it the most.
You character has several personas. So far, we’ve seen her as a diner waitress and magician’s assistant. How did you approach playing a character with multiple personas? How do the different personas create Billy?
Billy is such a fun character because of all of the personas that she plays. At first, “Billy’s” storyline was undecided. In episode one, Billy’s quirkiness and spontaneity really sparkled and from there we kind of built on that. Billy was raised by her fathers, one being a film critic and the other a film professor; hence her love for acting and diving head first into the worlds of her characters. As the season progresses, the audience will be able to see more of the “real” Billy, rather than her personas. They’ll be able to see her personal life, as well as her drive and passion to make it as an actress and producer. Of course, there will be some drama and conflict. Billy will be pulled in many directions: balancing friendship, her career, and this new found Hollywood clique.
Which character on Famous in Love do you think is most similar to you? In what ways?
I would say I’m most similar to Paige because of my midwest values and how they’ve grounded and guided me in this industry. I also feel that every actress/actor in Hollywood struggles with balancing friendship, love, and their career. It’s a juggling act that we all know too well, and at times it becomes overwhelming.
Describe to us your dream role.
My dream role is to be constantly working and creating. It’s hard for me to specifically pinpoint my “dream role”, as I feel that there is still so much for me to accomplish and experience. But, if I could have my cake and eat it too; I’d love to be working on film that brings me closer to my dreams of winning an Oscar. While working in film, I’d like to be on a show that pushes me outside of my comfort zone. I love the stability that TV can posses, but I also enjoy the hundred page story that requires vast oceans of emotional depth and vulnerability for a month or two, and then you’re done! Shooting a film doesn’t take as long as filming a series, but it’s nice to be working in both elements because both processes are so different. When you’re filming a TV show, you spend practically 6 months, everyday, with you entire cast and crew. It’s like going to school with your close friends or hanging out with your pals because there’s a bond that’s cultivated.
Give a shoutout to a female actress or director that inspires you! What makes them special?
Nicole Kidman. Meryl Streep. Reese Witherspoon. To name a few… All of these incredible women inspire me constantly. Their work, and work ethic, are a true testament to how dedicated they are to their passion. I strive to be like them, to push myself constantly, and to take risks. All of these women are badass!
What would you tell your younger self about acting?
I would tell my younger self to stop thinking that I have all the answers. I have to admit that I became so comfortable in the chaos of my routine between work and school, that I stopped asking more of myself. I had a bit of an awakening last year, when I realized I needed to up my game, and get back into class. Educating yourself in any field that interests you is so important. It’s once you stop fueling your curiosity, and feeding that hunger for growth that you begin to limit your chance for opportunity. I realized that I was limiting myself, and that’s not what I want to do. Ever! My goal is to grow and expand my knowledge and capacity as an artist. I’m constantly pushing myself. I don’t want to be stuck being comfortable because I believe that being comfortable and not taking risks is the scariest position to ever be in.
My goal is to grow and expand my knowledge and capacity as an artist.
What’s one thing you are looking forward to this year, personally or career-wise?
This year, I’m looking forward to traveling more for fun rather than for business. Funny story, I’m actually answering these questions on an airplane. I’m traveling to Cabo for a little getaway with my boyfriend. I don’t allow myself to relax or enjoy my hard work, so that’s something that I’m looking forward to accepting. It’s extremely important to celebrate your wins. I’m also looking forward to allowing my new found perspective to manifest something new in my career. In a strange way, I feel reborn with this whole new level of awareness and information, and I’m so excited to put it to use.
Any upcoming projects you can share?
I have a few things in preproduction at the moment; I can’t say exactly what, but I’m really excited! These projects are pushing me into the direction that I’d like to be heading in. They’re going to challenge me, and for that I’m thrilled because I enjoy a challenge.
PHOTOS & STORY ANNA ZHANG
HAIR & MAKEUP EMILY ZEMPEL
STYLIST RYANN LANEL REDMAN