‘Quantum Leap’ reboot brings a rare Asian American lead to network television

When Raymond Lee first received an offer to star in “Quantum Leap,” the sequel to the beloved sci-fi series that aired from 1989 to 1993, he thought the show’s producers had made a mistake. He was being asked to do the lead role instead of the supporting character.

“I got to play the lead role in the theatre, [but] I didn’t know if there was a scenario for me to do this in television, let alone Network television,” Lee told NBC Asian America. “But lo and behold, he presented himself, and I was like, ‘I have to take this swing.’ This is the role I was waiting for.”

Set nearly three decades after Scott Bakula’s Dr. Sam Beckett steps into a time-travelling machine and disappears, the new “Quantum Leap” on NBC stars Lee as Dr. Ben Song, a quantum physicist. A scientist who finds a way to travel through time and space. And fix the mistakes of the past by temporarily leaping into other people’s bodies.

Image: Raymond Lee as Ben
Raymond Lee as Dr. Ben Song in “Quantum Leap”. Ron Batzdorf / NBC

It’s a dream role for Lee, who remembers watching the original movie with his best friend in sixth grade. He credits showrunner Martin Gero, with whom he worked briefly in 2019 on a short film, for entrusting him with continuing the show’s legacy.

Gero, the writer and producer best known for creating the NBC crime drama “Blindspot,” said that the creative team, which included original creator Donald P. Bellisario and Deborah Pratt, was looking to cast a non-white actor to headline the revival.

“We knew we wanted a diverse actor for Ben, because they had previously done a two-white version of it, and part of modernizing it is telling a wider story,” Gero said. “The show is about jumping into other people and having an experience that’s probably different from yours.”

In Lee, producers found someone who embodies all the qualities of a leading man, bucking a trend in Hollywood that has historically undermined Asian characters, especially in the science-fiction genre. heroic sidekicks,

“The great thing about the show is that it’s almost like a different TV show every week, but it needs that consistency,” Gero said. “Raymond really has this quality of a leading man who can fall into these situations. He’s exceptionally handsome, he’s really honest, but he can still be really funny. [He brings] That continuity that is so difficult while still very freely entering these other people’s lives and walking a mile in their shoes. ,

Younger generations of Asian Americans will be able to see parts of themselves in his character, something particularly meaningful to Lee, who grew up in an area of ​​California with a significant Asian population but rarely in the mainstream media. felt represented.

“I’ve always considered my way of looking and my background to be a superpower,” said Korean American Lee. “I grew up with many strong Asian celebrities in my life. I grew up in Glendale, where about 20% were Asian. … I had a lot of cool Asian siblings to look up to, and there was a There was community, and one could only hope that with a role like this, we could generate that kind of energy.”

While he tries to avoid thinking about the importance of the project when the cameras are rolling, Lee reiterates that the responsibility of playing one of the few Asian American leads on television is not yet on him. Representation “does a lot not only for this industry, but for every industry – for anyone to see themselves represented in a leadership position and [as] A person who is actively going out and doing well and saving lives,” he said.

Image: Caitlin Bassett as Edison and Raymond Lee as Ben
Caitlin Bassett as Edison and Raymond Lee as Ben in “Quantum Leap”. Ron Batzdorf / NBC

When Lee’s character, Ben, makes an unauthorized jump in the pilot episode, he loses almost all of his memories, forcing him to piece together parts of his life as he travels from person to person. jumps in. As he begins to remember what inspired him to time travel on his own, Ben will also begin to reconnect with his cultural heritage. “It’s a way for us to tell an incredibly specific story about what it’s like to be a Korean immigrant, in a way that’s also learning about [again as he goes]Gero explained.

When the first draft of the pilot was written, “there was an immigrant story that tied” [Ben] He was very present,” Lee revealed. But now, his backstory will slowly unfold during the first season, a creative decision that Lee feels will eventually bring the character — and his story — to a wider audience in the long run. will make it more accessible.

“You start with the universal relativity of this person, who is lost and a fish out of water,” Lee said. “He feels really out of place — everyone can relate to him. Not everyone can relate straight off the bat with an immigrant story. So it’s a soft opening in this guy who has a very bad past.” , and I think it was smart of him to stop it. Before the end of this first season, a lot of Ben’s background will come into play.”

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