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May 16, 2024 28 mins

From IT consultant to the most recognized background actor on Gilmore Girls, Robert Michael Lee joins the podcast to reminisce about filming in Luke’s Diner. 

Plus, hear his reaction to the fan theory that he was secretly Mr. Kim.  

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Episode Transcript

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Speaker 1 (00:00):
I Am all In.

Speaker 2 (00:08):
I Am all In with Scott Patterson, an iHeartRadio podcast.

Speaker 1 (00:20):
Hey everybody, Scott Patterson, I Am all In Podcast one
eleven productions. iHeart Radio, iHeart Media, iHeart podcasts. One on
one interview. Anyway, we're joined by Suzanne French and we
have the ubiquitous and talented and probably a cast favorite.
I would say, Robert Lee is here. He is, you know,

one of the the characters in the show. You see
him every single episode, all over every episode. He wears
many hats on that show. I wouldn't even call him
an extra. I would call him an extension of the
cast because he fills so many roles every single day.

I'll tell you a little bit about him. He's a
background performer for Gilmore Girls, and he's seen as one
of the townspeople. Then he became a waiter at Luke's Diner.
And you recognize Robert. You see him in every episode.
And we'll be right back after Robert's interview after these words. Robert,

welcome to the program. It's great to have you on,
and how are you, my friend.

Speaker 3 (01:35):
Nice to see you, Nice to see you, Scott. Thank you.
That was very kind of you.

Speaker 1 (01:40):
There are no small roles on Gilmore Girls, and you
are the You are the most recognized extra. How did
you start doing? And I don't even want to refer
to it as background work because you were so prominent
in every episode, But I guess, I guess technically, yes,
you're a background How did you get started that?

Speaker 4 (02:04):
Back in the day, I was a or I still am,
an IT consultant. I specialized in the Apple computers. And
back in the two thousands we were brand new with computers.
The ads, the directors and producers were very kind of
using computers, but they were still a little scared of them. Man.

I was a consultant and helped out a lot of
production and helped out a lot of ads, and they
had me close by making me background on a show.

Speaker 1 (02:37):
There you go. You get the good grades, you got
the big brain. They're gonna need you.

Speaker 5 (02:45):
And then when something goes wrong with the computer, you're
right there to fix it.

Speaker 3 (02:48):
All right, that's exactly right.

Speaker 1 (02:51):
How many times did I call you because you used
to live right down the street from me when I
lived in la And how many times did I call you, Robert,
call me, please help me with my laptop, help me
with my deskto and you'd come over and solve the problem.
Pete Kids.

Speaker 3 (03:07):
Absolutely No.

Speaker 4 (03:08):
One of the big things that was great is that
on set show in which we had the Tarantino Quentin
Tarantino party where everybody was dressed up as one of
his movie characters. The wardrow department and the makeup department

we're having trouble getting screenshots from the movies because that
wasn't allowed on computers in those days. So I was
pulled aside and I was able to hack it, which
was part of my job, and I was able to
get the wardrobe and make up all the pictures of
the different characters that they wanted to put into that party.

Speaker 1 (03:52):
That's fantastic. Look at that the fringe benefits. Yeah. Man,
you wore so many hats on that show. You were
more valuable than I was.

Speaker 5 (04:02):
I was watching an episode recently. That was the episode
where Lorelei and Max had their wetting their like their
bridal shower in the town square, and you were in
the background dancing with Ms.

Speaker 1 (04:17):

Speaker 5 (04:20):
So that probably wasn't part of your job description as
it consultant.

Speaker 3 (04:24):
I would guess that's right.

Speaker 4 (04:27):
That was a lot of fun I got to I
started off mainly in the first two seasons as a townsperson.
In season three and especially season four, they transitioned me
into being a busboy in the diner.

Speaker 1 (04:42):
And so take us through a typical day. You show up,
what time you know, you get there before everybody else does.
So tell us about your interactions and what your typical
day was like.

Speaker 4 (04:55):
Yeah, I usually wanted to get on set about an
hour early, and I would would.

Speaker 1 (05:01):
Be about five am, six am.

Speaker 4 (05:04):
Oh, I don't know if it was that or it depends,
because they would only start they started only using me
in the diner, So sometimes the diner would be in
the beginning of the day. Sometimes the diner would be
a later or middle part of the day because they
didn't want to jump cut to me walking in the
street and jump back in the diner and then all
of a sudden you see a background teleporting between two scenes.

And I would get there about an hour early, get
the sides, which were the words for the particular scene
of the day, and I would read this script, memorize it,
get to know it very well because it was real
important for me to match my crosses behind Scott Laura

Lai by Bett Mss Patty Kirk and not jump in
the shots from one scene to another where it wasn't
that I was walking from one part to another. So
it was very important to make sure I didn't screw
up the shots that.

Speaker 1 (06:10):
Were Oh yeah, I mean, you know, the focus required,
the concentration required all day, and those were complicated scenes
in that diner. You know, sometimes there would be like
an an eight pager or a ten pager and it
was busy diner and you were giving me plates and
I was running over to deliver and then say lines

and come back, and it all had to be choreographed
and perfectly timed. And your job was as demanding as
anybody else's because you had to know you had your
own choreography that had to be timed perfectly so it
would match take to take to take, so the editors
could actually use this stuff because if because if you
don't cross at a certain time on a certain line,

they're not going to be able to use the take.
So an incredible amount of effort and concentration, and that
it took for you to do your job.

Speaker 4 (07:03):
Well, thank you, that's kind of you, see so, but
I mean, really nothing pales in comparison to the work
that you did on set. I mean, you guys got
scripts late, your your the pages that you guys had
to memorize that the last minute was incredible, and I
always marveled at the skill and your acting ability on set.

Speaker 1 (07:24):
I just I.

Speaker 4 (07:25):
Always shake my head every time I on set, going
whan he just he just did like five pages, you know,
with almost no preparation. I mean, it was easier for
me to listen to it than you know, I'm sure
for you to act it.

Speaker 1 (07:39):
Well. You know, the thing is is we didn't mind
so much because we knew the writing was so good,
so it was always you know, they were delivering. It's
like it's like waiting for something, anticipating something that you
know is going to be better than what you had before.
And what you had before was great, so you know,

the fascinating part was how are they going to make
this better? And then you get this, you know, yeah,
last minute sometimes and that was a little stressful, but
you know you could you could pull it off because
the writing was so great and they made it better
and they made It's just kind of magical process over there,
and and and nobody really minded so much. I know

on the show I'm doing now, there's been some freakouts
on set because script stuff comes and rewrites come in
at the last minute, and you know, there was a
big incident up there, but that I heard about, But
I never saw that on Gilmour because it was like, oh, yes, okay,

they're gonna lay some some really great stuff on us, now,
like how could they make this better? And they always
did and it was It was marvelous. It was marvelous.

Speaker 4 (08:58):
So I always thought of my job as trying to
make the diner space that you could work in, that
you could concentrate on your work and try to help
out as much I can be there at the right second,
get that plate to you, get that people out of

the way, get those bins out of the way. I
just really wanted to because I just recognized them out
of work you guys were doing there, and it was marvelous.

Speaker 3 (09:28):
It was really great.

Speaker 1 (09:29):
I miss that. I really miss being in that diner,
and I missed doing that kind of work with all
of those physical activities that you had to do and
all the props that you had to I really miss
that stuff. It was so I don't know, I just
it really just got my juices flown. You know, the
whole competitive my whole competitive side would kick in, like

you'd really have to challenge yourself. And I'm sure you
felt the same way when a big scene was coming up,
all knowing, all the task that you had to complete
in any given scene was just as much as what
I had to do or anybody else in the scene
had to do, right, I mean, you had a million
things you had to accomplish.

Speaker 4 (10:10):
Yes, it was it was hard work, but it was fun.
It was fun to be part of the process, right,
And it's grateful to be part of the process and
to be part of the scene in such.

Speaker 1 (10:23):
A way, right, And it's fun nailing stuff right, I
mean when you're almost right. I mean it's like when
you almost get it and it's like, oh yeah, the
director comes out and said, listen, could you you know
on this line, you know, lay a little back on
right right or whatever, you know, or you met you
were a little late to the table and the line
was a little awkward. Yeah, you know, let's just do

another take, you know, but you're almost there, you're getting it,
you're almost getting it, and it's like ninety percent there,
and then the magical take comes and it's finished and
you're like, wow, we hit it out of the park man.
You know, we had it in our sites and it's
just it's just it's so cool. That's that is. You know.

I don't know whether I think I like the rehearsal process.
I used to think I like the rehearsal process, like
creating the dance, you know, because it is a dance.
But I mean the actual shooting of it. You know,
sometimes it was frustrating, you know, because of all the
technical glitches. And you know, you do a good take
or something and you've experienced that, You've you've gone through

a ten page scene and it took forever to do
it and all this movement and there's Sally and Liz
and Lauren and uh you know, Milo or whoever, and
everybody's like doing their thing and it's all coming together
in a master shot and uh sorry, but you know
there's we we you know, we tried to check the gate,

but the gate's not good, right, we gotta we gotta
reload the camera. Do it again. That was the perfect one.
No no, but then you go do it again, you know,
do it gun and again and again. I got I
missed that. I just that was such an intensive environment.
It was such an intense environment. It was so much fun,

such a pressure cooker.

Speaker 4 (12:11):
In a great sense of accomplishment when we got the
scenes done.

Speaker 1 (12:14):
Right, wasn't it though? Wasn't it? Yeah? Didn't you? Didn't
you feel like a stud when you were walking out
of the the soundstage and going to lunch and there
you were we just nailed a ten pager and feeling
pretty good about ourselves, right, I mean we're like, yeah,
let's go eat man.

Speaker 5 (12:30):
You know, is there a secret to background acting? Because
sometimes as we're watching the show, some of the background actors,
they're almost to the point of being distracting. So how

do you how do you straddle that line between staying
in the background but also kind of moving things forward
like you were talking about, you know, making the diner
a functional space? Like what is how do you? How
do you walk that line?

Speaker 4 (13:05):
It's It's one of the things that I like to
tell and that's what some of theTimes the ads would
ask me to help people in the diner, is that
do things with intention and if you're intending to sit
there and eat, sit there and eat, and then you
don't you you actually do what you intend to do
and it's less distracting, just like walking across the camera,

have a destination in mind and then you walk with
purpose rather than just kind of wandering way.

Speaker 1 (13:35):
Basic basic acting, Basic acting tips.

Speaker 3 (13:41):
Well, no one know where you're.

Speaker 1 (13:43):
Coming from, and know where you're going. And if you're hungry, eat,
if you're tired, sleep, That's all you need to know
about acting. That's it. Yep, and listen. Those are the things.
And yeah, and I'll help Susan. I'll tell you Robert
it's a really strong actor too. That's why he knows

what to do. That's why he knows what to give
because all of that stuff he talked about, like the walking,
and when people don't have those instincts, you can really
they stick out like a sore thumb in the scene, right,
you know, sometimes where it's so obvious right away, and
to rehearsal, the director replaces them like could you you know,
maybe go hang outside for a little bit, and they

get somebody else, because yeah, can it can? It can
draw everybody's eye to that person that's not concentrating, right,
that's the problem. When you got you got ten people
in the scene, everybody's focused and concentrating, there's somebody in
the scene that isn't concentrating. That's where the attention goes,
and that's what kills the scene. So yeah, you know Roberts.
Roberts got the skills, man.

Speaker 2 (14:46):

Speaker 1 (14:47):
We got a list of questions here. Let's get to
a couple of them. Was there ever a time that
you questioned, well, if somebody so many as a waiter,
then it might confuse the audience if you did another
background role.

Speaker 4 (14:59):
No, I mean because if I was, especially later when
I was always the buzzboy, I on purposely stayed deep
because that's just bad acting to show up somewhere where
you're not supposed to be. But at the same time,
you know, there were places that they, you know, were
allowed to put me, like in the town meetings, and

you just sat there and it was okay to see
you there. So but if there was any something that
I felt a little sketchy about, I'd bury myself a
little bit further from the camera, so I wouldn't cause
a problem.

Speaker 1 (15:34):
Right, But but it would makes sense to see it
outside walking around or in doses. If you're in the background,
you live in the town, you work in the town
you work. It looks why wouldn't you be seen, you know, But.

Speaker 3 (15:44):
I didn't know the editing.

Speaker 4 (15:46):
I wouldn't I wouldn't get script, so I didn't know
if that scene might be in or cut with something
in the diner, bad bad.

Speaker 5 (15:55):
Bad but the tables and be out on the sidewalk
walking past the restaurant at the same.

Speaker 1 (16:00):
Time, right. But they but they would know that, you know,
they they would get a general idea that you can't
be in in a in a scene that's occurring in
real time right before right after a diner scene, you
know what I mean?

Speaker 4 (16:14):
Yeah, but you know, but sometimes they just didn't film
it in chronological orders, so they did, you know.

Speaker 1 (16:22):
I never did? Yeah, yeah, right exactly. You get recognized
a lot for the show fans.

Speaker 3 (16:30):
I do. I just yeah, they do?

Speaker 1 (16:33):
They do? They do?

Speaker 4 (16:34):
They come up and say A mother came up to
me at my dad my Catechism school just about three
weeks ago, saying I'm sorry, but do I know you?

Speaker 3 (16:44):
Yeah, you know our girls. Oh that's my favorite show
and I thought you were so Yeah. I do get recognized.

Speaker 1 (16:54):
Do they ask for autographs and selfies?

Speaker 3 (16:58):
Not so much, but sometimes they do absolutely.

Speaker 1 (17:00):
Yeah, there you go, Yeah, there you go. Well you
got You've got plenty of principal roles on your IMDb page.
Gray's Anatomy Good Trouble as Alice's dad tell us about
that experience.

Speaker 4 (17:18):
Oh, that's a great experience being Alice's dad. It's a
really nice representation of the Asian culture and how parents
might deal with a daughter that was afraid of coming
out to their parents. It was very nice to play
that role, and in that role came around the time

when a lot of people were people getting attacked just
because they were Asian, and the show responded with an
actual episode just on celebrating Chinese New Year, and they
gave me this.

Speaker 3 (17:57):
Long modelnologue.

Speaker 4 (18:00):
Showing and telling the story of some Chinese folk tales.
So that experience was great to be able to represent.

Speaker 1 (18:12):
Speaking of representing, how did you feel about how Laine
and missus Kim were represented in this show.

Speaker 4 (18:21):
It was a nice contrast between that mother and dollary
relationship between them and Lauralize and Rory's relationship. And it's
true you have some dragon mothers out there. They were
real and they were very concerned about their children's upbringing

and how they were going to get on in society,
in a society they didn't quite understand sometimes, so it
was done with good taste, and I toward a celebration
of life and the relationship of a parent and child.

Speaker 1 (19:03):
MM tell us about that.

Speaker 4 (19:10):
Wow, I just can't. I mean, Gilmore Girls was such
a great story and all the characters that they brought in.
You know how friends are your family too, and those
relationships that you have where it takes a village to
raise a child, both Rory and Kim, and I loved

being on that show and loved telling that story and
was really proud to be part of that in that
Gilmore Girls story of just how all these how this
community can all come together and and have a great
life and celebrate life and all the festivals that they did.

Speaker 5 (19:52):
It was great, well, and there was Sorry Scott, I
was just gonna say, you might have even been more
of a part of it than you realized at the time.
I don't know if you knew. There was a fan
theory at the time that you were actually mister Kim,
because we never saw him during the original run of

the show, and so there's a fan theory that you
were secretly mister Kim, which I mean that could have
been like a spinoff or something. I don't know, But
what are your what are your thoughts on that? Did
you like, were you aware of that or what did
you think about that?

Speaker 3 (20:28):

Speaker 4 (20:28):
I did hear that on the internet and I was,
you know, I was kind of hoping that that would
be a little earworm that would.

Speaker 3 (20:35):
Crawl into it here and you know.

Speaker 4 (20:39):
Up my role in the show. It would have been
a lot of fun to do. Yeah, And I think
at least by the later seasons I would have been
up to the task. It would have been great to do.

Speaker 1 (20:52):
Wait, if they gave you a line, didn't they give
you a line or two in an alley as a
FedEx guy or a postman or something like that. Didn't
you get a line here and there?

Speaker 3 (21:03):
I got?

Speaker 4 (21:04):
I was able credited. I only got credited for one
line on the last episode in the last season. I
was handing something to you as we were getting ready
for the party, saying like where did you want this
or something like that.

Speaker 1 (21:20):
That's it. That's all you got.

Speaker 3 (21:22):
Yeah. Well, and then I think.

Speaker 4 (21:26):
There was in the fourth season they threw me a
bone and they allowed me to a.

Speaker 3 (21:32):
D R myself, oh, which.

Speaker 4 (21:36):
Is which means I don't get credit. But I was
able to say, hey, looke coffee and you might you know.
It was one of those weird things where they had
me hold out this coffee cup to you and you
poured copy of coffee in it, and they just said
to themselves, well, he really should have asked for cof right.
So they pulled me in and they called me and said, hey,

we need you to ad R yourself. You know, were
you up for that? And I said, oh my god great.

Speaker 3 (22:04):
So that was a nice little It.

Speaker 1 (22:07):
Was an off camera, off camera line. You didn't have
to marry.

Speaker 3 (22:10):
I went into the studio.

Speaker 4 (22:11):
Yeah, I went into the studio and they had the
tape and the big old microphone and I, you know,
hey Lou coffee, Hey Lou coffee, Hey Lou coffee. Yeah.

Speaker 1 (22:23):
Since Gilmore Girls, I've been in a lot of ad
R rooms, I've never been in one that nice. Oh wow,
that was very special. Those those looping stages were very
very fancy. Yeah, very very special, because I you know,
I've been in some real dark holes man. So I

have to say, if there were an Emmy Awards for it,
background you'd be winning every year. You had a lot
of work to do, and you did a tremendous job.
And and the thing you really personally speaking, I know
out the other cast feel this way. We knew we
had We knew we could trust you to be focused

and and do the job, because that's all you can
ask for from you know. And and and that's why
it was such a joy to work on that show.
Because I knew Lauren wasn't going to drop the ball.
I knew, I knew Suki was a Melissa or Yannik
or anybody, they were not going to drop the ball.
You could trust them and you could do your thing.

And and and when I saw you, when I would
see you in the diner, would give me great comfort
because you took your job very seriously. You were also
very pleasant to be around. You were a funny guy,
a loose, loose guy, but when it came time to work,
it's like, okay, you know, you put your game face
on and executed every single take and hard working good guy.

Robert Lee, Ladies and gentlemen, one of the unsung heroes
of Gilmore Girls. I'm so glad you came on. How's
the family doing everybody's doing great.

Speaker 3 (24:11):
Everyone's great. Thank you, Scott. It's so kind of you.

Speaker 1 (24:23):
Wait a minute, You're not getting out of here until
you do rapid fire. Oh oh oh yeah, you got
rapid fire, buddy. How do you like your coffee? Oh?

Speaker 3 (24:34):
H black?

Speaker 1 (24:35):
Are your team Logan Team Jess or Team Dean Team Jess?
Who is your favorite at Gilmore girls couple? Luke and
Lorelei are Emily and Richard?

Speaker 3 (24:44):
Emily and Richard shocking?

Speaker 1 (24:48):
Controversial, I'm shocking. What would you order it? Luke Steiner?

Speaker 3 (24:56):
Oh? The Monte Christo?

Speaker 1 (24:59):
And I'm gonna since you're such an Emily and Richard fan,
and why wouldn't you be? What would you what be
your preferred meal if you were at a Friday night dinner?

Speaker 3 (25:07):
Oh? Wow, probably roast thief?

Speaker 1 (25:12):
Oh yeah? Who would you rather hang out with? Paris
or Lane Lane that was like a still slam dunk
Lane Harvard? Or Yale? Or drop out and live in
the poolhouse? Uh?

Speaker 3 (25:32):

Speaker 1 (25:33):
Why? Yale? Oh?

Speaker 3 (25:36):
Just the history behind it? That's a great school.

Speaker 1 (25:39):
Would you rather attend a da R event with Emily
or a town meeting with Taylor?

Speaker 3 (25:45):
Oh that's hard?

Speaker 1 (25:47):
Oh? Come on, you know the answer to that.

Speaker 3 (25:49):
A town meeting with Taylor. Really, he's entertaining. He comes
up with the wackiest things.

Speaker 1 (25:59):
Yeah, I know, but you're in there all day and
all night sweating.

Speaker 3 (26:02):

Speaker 1 (26:05):
Have you have you been in a town meeting scene?

Speaker 3 (26:07):
Oh yeah, do you remember?

Speaker 1 (26:10):
You remember?

Speaker 3 (26:11):

Speaker 1 (26:13):
I listen if I'm playing rapid Fire. I'm at a
da ar meeting with with Emily even though I'm a dude.
You know, I put a freaking dress on, try to
act like a daughter. Just stick it out of a
town hall meeting? Uh, gilmore, girl's character that you would
want as a roommate.

Speaker 3 (26:35):
I would say, miss Patty.

Speaker 1 (26:40):
Really yeah, Miss Patty?

Speaker 3 (26:43):
Yeah, Miss Patty. She's she's easy.

Speaker 4 (26:47):
Going, she teaches dance, she has great attitude.

Speaker 1 (26:52):
Okay, uh something and you know Sally Struthers would come
over a lot and hang out.

Speaker 3 (27:00):
Yeah exactly.

Speaker 1 (27:01):
They sing song something in your life. You are all
in on?

Speaker 3 (27:07):
Oh my children, my two boys.

Speaker 1 (27:09):
Yes, indeed? How old are they now?

Speaker 3 (27:12):
They are nine and eleven?

Speaker 2 (27:15):

Speaker 1 (27:16):
Yeah, all they're growing fast. Nicky's going to be ten
in June. Oh man, Yeah, isn't it amazing?

Speaker 2 (27:23):

Speaker 1 (27:24):
I want to ride? Well, sounds great? You sound great?
You look great, You are great. You are the Robert Lee,
the finest extra in Hollywood history. My friend, thanks for
coming on and give us your your thoughts and sharing
your experiences. And I think you're gonna have to come

back because I think we just scratched the surface here.
Really be honest with you, you're gonna work. We're going
to book you again. So be well, my friend. All
the best of the family and appreciate your time. Buddy.

Speaker 3 (27:58):
Thank you very much, Scott, Thank you, all right, take.

Speaker 1 (28:01):
Care, all right, dot hey everybody, and don't forget follow

us on Instagram at I Am all In podcast and
email us at Gilmore at iHeartRadio dot com.
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