Orion Lee interview: ‘First Cow’
Orion Lee is earning the first film accolades of his career with “First Cow,” the new Kelly Reichardt film. The actor plays King-Lu, a Chinese immigrant who befriends an American baker named Cookie (John Magaro) in 1800s Oregon Country, ultimately proceeding to start up a business selling oily cakes using milk from the titular cow. Lee has received nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards, Gotham Awards and other critics groups for his performance. “It’s very kind and lovely,” says Lee in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. “This is my first lead role in a film and it’s very gratifying and comforting and every positive word that you can think of.” Watch the full interview above.
Lee was drawn to the film in part because of his commonalities with King-Lu. Like his character, Lee has been all over the world, born in Hong Kong and raised in Australia. “We’ve lived in a lot of different places and in that process, we’ve had to adapt,” explains Lee, of the similarities between him and King-Lu. He notes that King-Lu is “constantly adapting” to his surroundings as a means of survival, especially considering the prevalent racism of the 1800s.
One of the freshest aspects of the A24 film comes from the relationship that develops between King-Lu and Cookie. While most friendships between men depicted in film have a stereotypical gruff masculinity to them, their relationship is more soulful and sensitive. There are some differences in their personalities, with King-Lu having a more assertive approach than Cookie, but deep down, they come from the same “quiet, gentle” place. “When they meet each other, their souls recognize each other.”
Looking back on his “First Cow” experience, Lee was grateful to have a director like Reichardt who truly listened to him. “Every note she gave was golden,” he reveals. “It was a blessing to be able to work with that team of people and all this recognition is just the icing on the cake. The cake was doing that job.”