Raymond Lee as Ben in episode 101 of Quantum Leap
When When Raymond Lee was first contacted about an audition for NBC's Quantum Leap, he was confused. "I couldn't understand," he says, because it seemed like they were interested in having me as the lead for their show. I thought, 'This has to be a typo.'
It was not. The actor — who'd had guest arcs and costarred in series including Kevin Can F**k Himself, Here and Now and Mozart in the Jungle — was headed for his first topline role.
"It was one of those moments as an actor where you read the script and you go, 'I can do this!'" he says. "This is something I've worked for. I've had some great number ones [on the call sheet] who I've looked up to. I've watched and learned and absorbed. Now it's time to put it all to use."
In this sequel to the original Quantum Leap — due on Mondays this fall — Lee plays Dr. Ben Seong, a quantum physicist who discovers a machine that allows him to leap into other time periods. (From 1989 to '93, Scott Bakula stepped into the "accelerator" as Dr. Sam Beckett.) "It's really thrilling," Lee says. "There are elements of nostalgia for the previous fans, plus Easter eggs and character connections peppered throughout. But it's definitely going to be a little faster-paced."
A New York City native, Lee sang in choirs and performed in school plays, but it wasn't until he studied theater at Cal State Long Beach that it all clicked into place. "Once you become passionate about one thing, it emanates into everything else," he says. "All of a sudden I was like, 'Wow, I care about history! Wow, I care about literature!' Everything started opening up to me."
And his new gig marks an opening, as well. Lee, who is of South Korean heritage and fluent in Korean, has become one of the few Asian-American actors to lead a series. "I love going beyond people's expectations of what someone who looks like me can do, and this is no different," he states. "It's just another challenge that I'll gladly go into headfirst.
"The more of us who are out there, the easier it is for kids growing up to see themselves in these parts," he adds. "I've considered my background, my appearance and my race to be a superpower my whole life."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #9, 2022, under the title, "Lead Time."