For over two decades, RonReaco Lee has paved his own way in the entertainment industry. From his breakout role in 1989’s Glory to the ’90s teen heartthrob Tyreke Scott in the fan favorite Sister, Sister, Lee has gone on to star in dozens of films and television series. These days, the 40-year old actor has conquered his greatest character to date as Reggie Vaughn on the hit LeBron James-produced Starz series, Survivor’s Remorse.
The dramedy centers on 20-something Cam Calloway (Jessie T. Usher) whose personal life gets thrust into the spotlight when he signs a multimillion-dollar contract with an Atlanta NBA team. Lee’s Reggie is Cam’s cousin, best friend and manager who is focused on building the Calloway brand and legacy without the excessive glitz and glam that often comes with superstardom. Ahead of the season four premiere, EBONY.com sat down to speak with Lee about the forthcoming season, why #BlackLove on television is so important and why he wants to step behind the camera.
EBONY.com: The third season of Survivor’s Remorse was a whirlwind for Reggie especially when his father reentered his life. Did you discuss his backstory with creator Mike O’Malley before that shocking diner scene?
RonReaco Lee: No, Mike is really funny like that. During the first season, we bombarded him with questions about our characters. He seldom answered, and he would often say, “If I tell you one thing, and we get in the writer’s room and decide to go another way, I don’t want you too married to it.” He did express some things to me about [Reggie’s] father being an alcoholic and his mother having passed away. When I saw that monologue, it was a big shock only because I was told about the scene about a week before we were initially scheduled to shoot it.
EBONY.com: Outside of Black-ish, Reggie and Missy (Teyonah Parris) are the only other happily married young Black couple on television. Why has that been an important component of Survivor’s Remorse?
RL: When [the writers] initially started to carve out Reggie and Missy, and what their marriage would look like, I don’t think they realized the kind of gold mine that they had. In the first season, a lot of the reviews and comments used the hashtag #blacklove. If you’re not a person of color and if you don’t see the world through our eyes, you might write something and just think well, “Hey, I’m writing the framework for the relationships that I grew up seeing. I’m just assuming that everybody else grew up seeing them.” In essence, we didn’t. I grew up watching The Cosby Show. It was always cool to see Cliff and Clair hugging, kissing, playing [and] really, really, really be in love. With shows like Black-ish and Survivor’s Remorse that depict it, I just think it’s beautiful. As men, it’s okay to have a disagreement, to state our case, state our point and then 15 minutes later, be right back in love with our wives and not hold grudges. Somebody just told me recently that marriage is so much about forgiveness. The objective in marriage is to become a master forgiver.
EBONY.com: Why has Reggie Vaughn been so important to you as an actor?
RL: I was coming off of a show that I had for about three or four years that returned me to sitcom, which I wasn’t really happy to go back to. The sitcom is a little dated, and it has to be done right to be well received. I think one of the things that hinder four-camera sitcoms is that it’s seldom done in front of a live studio audience. For this show to come around [it] was so different. You could say whatever you want — you could cuss. It was single camera, so it had a very cinematic feel and tone. For me, it was kind of a coming of age. It just kind of ushered me into a new me. This role put a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. I’ve been in the game a minute. When you look at kid actors, we continuously have to reinvent ourselves, and so, in this instance, I feel like I’ve been able to do that as a man, as a married man, and be a really positive representative of Black love and Black life. It’s truly an honor and a blessing.
EBONY.com: What can we expect from season four of Survivor’s Remorse?
RL: The thing that Survivor’s has done— the show was conceived one way, and it’s certainly morphed into something different. We will continue that metamorphosis. We picked up right where we left off, so you get to see Reggie moments after that diner scene. You get to see Cam as he’s on his way to Boston asking about his father. You see M-Chuck (Erica Ash) going into Pookie’s. The first three episodes really break down the aftermath of episode 310. We’ve only got 10 episodes, so we don’t have a ton of real-estate to develop what we want to develop; but we do kind of get into some things, and obviously, fatherhood plays a huge theme. We have Isaiah Washington who is just amazing. He’s such a gift this season. He plays Cam’s father and just kills it. We have the relationship with Cassie (Tichina Arnold) and Chen (Robert Wu) continue to develop and blossom. M-Chuck has some self-discovery as well. She’s gotta go deep and start to peel back those layers of what happened to her, and how she was conceived. With Reggie, we still see him on that business track, trying again [and] laying that groundwork for the Calloway legacy. We’ve seen Cam really mature and become a man of his own. We’ve got some great guest stars also, not just Isaiah Washington. We’ve got Isaiah Whitlock from The Wire [and] Vanessa Bell Calloway. We’ve also got some great directors — Sally Richardson-Whitfield directed a couple of episodes this season.
EBONY.com: I know that you have aspirations to direct as well. Could you talk to me a little bit about that?
RL: I definitely had my fingers crossed to do it this season and it didn’t work out. I’ve got my feelers out on a couple of things that could pan out the end of this year; one is an independent film that is a couple of guys out here in Atlanta— Swirl Films. I’m gonna keep putting my hat in the ring until they let me help on an episode. If I keep knocking at that door hard enough, it’ll start opening up and then I’ll get to do something. I do believe it’s coming soon, sooner rather than later, but it’s all about persistence in this game and nobody knows that better than me; my goodness (laughing) I’ve been around way too long.
You can keep up with RonReaco Lee on Twitter & Instagram @doublerlee.
The fourth season of Survivor’s Remorse premieres Aug. 20 at 10 p.m. ET on Starz.