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Thursday, October 14, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Can-Do Guy -- Actor Anthony Lee Won't Let Any Obstacle Stand In The Way Of His Dream

"They well deserve to have

That know the strongest and surest way to get." - William Shakespeare, "Richard II"

Anthony Lee, no stranger to Shakespeare's wisdom, is acting on it.

A strapping 6-foot, 4-inch thespian with a distinguished list of credits at Seattle's major playhouses, Lee is determined to become a filmmaker. First step: a hands-on, professional course in movie-making at the New York Film Academy this winter. All Lee lacks is the cash: $3,600 for the intensive six-week training session, plus airfare to New York City, living expenses and production costs to make a short debut film.

Forget it, a man of lesser will might think.

But Lee, 32, is a can-do guy from way back. His keen determination propelled him from teenage years with the notorious Crips gang in Sacramento, Calif., to roles at Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and to Seattle Repertory Theatre and Intiman Theatre here. And the former gang member now is committed to community service to help Seattle's "at-risk" youths.

So Lee isn't about to let a little obstacle like money get in his way. Do-it-yourself benefit

First he talked the academy - part of movie star Robert De Niro's Tribeca Film Center - into granting him a $2,000 scholarship. That still left him about $5,000 short.

Next step: Lee decided to throw a benefit - for himself. It's scheduled at 7 p.m. Monday at Empty Space Theatre in Fremont, and features skits by local actors, a rare screening of "The Scar of Shame" by pioneer black film director Oscar Micheaux, and dancing to the music of Tor Dietrichson. Tickets are $15, or $25 a couple, and extra donations are welcome.

Though commonplace a century ago, today it is highly unusual for an actor to throw a benefit on his own behalf. Yet Lee's fund-raising gambit exemplifies his self-starting attitude.

"Anthony's just a no-nonsense kind of guy," says longtime friend Tim Bond, who directed Lee in the current production of "La Bete" at the Group Theatre. "He's very clear about his goals in life, and he goes after them with gusto."

Laura Penn, who hired Lee to help create a new school touring play for Seattle Rep's Mobile Outreach Bunch, says there's a lot of support in the theater community for the benefit.

"I think it's terrific," Penn says. "Anthony's a person who figures out what he wants to do, and he does it. You just know the evening's going to be a good time with good people, as well as a way to help him out."

Grinning broadly, Lee reports reaction to the benefit has been "fantastic, people are really encouraging. Of course I want to go to film school. But I also am doing this to let other people know you can dream a dream, and make it come true."

Dreams change.

As Lee candidly admits, in his teens he grew bored with high school and drifted into the excitement of Sacramento's gang scene, selling drugs and participating in street fights with his fellow Crips. Lee's middle-class family worried about his future. But it wasn't until he got stabbed in the back during a melee, at age 20, that his mother stumbled onto an enticing alternative to gang life.

"We were sitting in the emergency room of the hospital, and Mom found this brochure about an acting course," Lee remembers. "She said she'd pay the $30 fee if I'd go to it. So I went, and that was it."

Naturally equipped with an imposing physical presence and a commanding voice, Lee began performing with Sacramento theaters, including one that toured to hospitals.

"Up to then I was very misogynist, very destructive. But that was the beginning of my discovering the power of compassion, that compassion isn't weakness but strength."

Moving north

Several years later, a season with Ashland's Oregon Shakespeare Festival honed Lee's interest in the classics. "I was the only person in the company who didn't have a master's degree in acting," he chuckles, "so it was a great education just to be there."

In 1988, Lee came to Seattle to appear in "The Colored Museum" at Empty Space. Sensing he would find more work in the area, he and his actress wife, Serena Lee, settled here. They share a home on Beacon Hill, and a commitment to Nirchiren Shoshu, a form of Japanese Buddhism.

Lee chants Japanese prayers several times daily which, he claims, "helps me obliterate the small ego and and embrace the greater ego." He also makes time to visit schools and community centers, sharing his experiences with young people.

"When Anthony talks to kids, they listen," notes Bond. "He's very much a role model in the way he carries himself with dignity and quiet authority."

Making a feature film is Lee's next dream, but he won't be abandoning Seattle for Hollywood anytime soon. When the film workshop ends in December, he'll return to Seattle. And next February you can find him on the boards again at Seattle Rep, appearing in Shakespeare's "Pericles."

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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