The Celebrity Collector

Rex Lee of HBOs "Entourage" collects T-shirts

By Ken Hall 

Waiters, waitresses and caterers in the Los Angeles area beware: Rex Lee just might want the shirt off your back. The Asian-American actor who's parlayed a recurring role on the HBO series "Entourage" into a full-time gig has been known to offer cash to anyone who might be wearing a T-shirt he likes well enough to try and get the wearer to part with it. Waiters are especially vulnerable.

"I've actually done that," Lee said with a laugh from his home in Los Angeles, on break from third-season filming of "Entourage," the series based on the actor Mark Wahlberg's early, struggling years in Hollywood. "Whenever I go somewhere, I like to commemorate the event by getting a T-shirt. If that means offering a waiter at a Hollywood party $20 to give me his shirt, that's what I'll do."

Usually, the person is so flattered, starstruck or taken aback, they'll accommodate Rex's request. But at this year's "Entourage" premiere party, the T-shirt he decided he absolutely had to have (a nice white shirt emblazoned with the "Entourage" logo) was on the back of an opportunist. "He said he'd give me the shirt if I got him a job on the show as a production assistant," Lee said.

One might think Lee would be able to get the show to spot him the same shirt for free, but in any case he and the opportunist are still in negotiations. He isn't sure how his T-shirt collection got started ("I think I had a collection before I even knew it was a collection"), but one thing is for sure: Rex Lee, now 27, began collecting T-shirts long before he was a series regular on "Entourage."

"I've worked many jobs to get to this point, some of them not so pleasant," he said. "One was at a coffee shop that will remain nameless, because I really didn't like working there. One year, they issued everybody red T-shirts at Christmas. After the holidays, there were all these leftover red shirts in varying sizes. I just kind of kept them. Same with the shirts they issued for a fruity blended drink."

That job alone accounts for more than 30 shirts in Lee's collection. The rest were drawn from a variety of sources. When HBO put him up in Las Vegas not long ago, he made it a point to pick up a couple of Las Vegas T-shirts. At a Motorola party, he ran into a friend who offered to give him the shirt signifying the event ("Moto-7"). He also has T's left over from a clothing store job he once had.

College shirts are a big hit with Lee (some are sweatshirts, but many are T's). The one from Cornell was given to him by a friend who teaches law there. Oberlin College in Ohio is his alma mater. His sister gave him an orange Cal State-Fullerton sweatshirt (she's a student there). And he has overseas schools represented, too: the Sorbonne in France and Oxford University in England.

Lee recalls the time he bought his first designer T-shirt, at age 18. "This shirt was beautiful, very artsy looking, and I remember paying $28 for it, which was, and is, a lot of money for a T-shirt," he said. "I was taking an acting class at the time and I wore the shirt to class. We were improvising a scene and this other student grabbed me and without my even realizing it, he tore a large rip in it."

After class, Lee was talking to his instructor, who said, "I liked the way you did the scene. It was very realistic, especially when your shirt got ripped." Lee's jaw dropped. "'My shirt got what!?" he shouted, then he looked and realized what happened. "I was heartbroken. It was beyond repair." Lee remembers going up to the other student later on and assuring him there were no hard feelings.

His most expensive shirt? A little less than $100. He was talking to someone whose shirt he was admiring and (evidently unable to pry it away from him for a price) learned that it had been purchased at Ed Hardy in Beverly Hills, a very exclusive shop on Melrose Avenue. "I went there, and none of the shirts I looked at even had price tags on them. I was prepared, but it still seemed high."

The story is made funny by the fact that, some time later, Lee was at a party thrown by "US" Magazine. "They herded all the celebrities in the back to this room where they were handing out various goodies from various manufacturers and stores," he said. "And lo and behold, right there, on this big rack, were a ton of Ed Hardy shirts, all of them free for the asking. I grabbed about five."

Lee said the most interesting T-shirt he owns is one he bought at an Erasure concert, at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles. "It has a graphic that looks like something out of the medical book Gray's Anatomy," he said. "It shows a human form with parts of it stripped away. But it's old-timey, too, with beautiful script writing. It's like the group Erasure itself very exciting and transcendental."

Despite the fact that T-shirts from Europe generally "fit me funny," Lee still has several. "I took one of those 'visit five countries in ten days' tours, and I picked up shirts in London, Paris, Geneva and elsewhere," he said. "I was also given a T-shirt by a friend who visited Germany. It was bought at a castle that was once lived in by a king who was secretly gay. It's a very interesting T-shirt."

During the last season of "Entourage," part of the story line involved a proposed movie project involving the Aqua-Man superhero character. Coinciden-tally, Urban Outfitters, the upscale clothier, was offering an Aqua-Man T-shirt. "Someone from the show was wearing it, and when I saw it I was like, 'Wear on earth did you get that shirt?'" Lee said. "Needless to say, I bought one for myself."

Rex Lee was born Jan. 7, 1969, in Warren, Ohio. His father, a doctor, got the urge to move the family twice the first time to Boston and the second time to Los Angeles, where Rex has lived since he was nine. His mother was a homemaker for years, but later on became an accomplished painter and born-again Christian. Today, she preaches for a branch of the Presbyterian Church.

A math wizard and budding pianist, Lee was accepted at the prestigious Oberlin School of Music in Ohio. After two years, his interest in music had crested and he found himself drawn to theatre and dance. After deciding his "short Korean legs" weren't going to cut it in the dancing world, he shifted his focus to acting and earned a BA degree from Oberlin and returned home to Los Angeles.

After working jobs in retail and the aforementioned coffee shop, Lee finally began landing roles in regional theatre. He co-starred in the controversial AIDS polemic, "Queen of Angels," as well as the revival of Charles Ludlam's "Camille" and "Letters to a Student Revolutionary." He acted in TV commercials, too, appearing in spots for Domino's Pizza, Wendy's, Dr. Pepper and Chevrolet.

As for television, he had a bit part as a ticket taker in the program Dave's World in 1994 and didn't appear in another TV show for five more years. Since 1999, he's had guest-starring roles on numerous shows, including Son of the Beach, Lucky, Andy Richter Controls the Universe and others. It was through a friend that Lee heard about the role of "Lloyd" on the show Entourage.

On the show, Lee plays a funny and engaging assistant to "Ari Gold" (played by Jeremy Piven, whose character is based on the real-life Hollywood talent agent Ari Emanuel). Lee's "Lloyd" was only supposed to be on the show for four episodes, but his role was so well received that HBO expanded that to ten episodes. This year, the character was written into the show as a full regular.

Other projects Lee has acted in this year include an episode of TV's What About Brian? (in which he plays Jeremy, a salesclerk); an episode of TV's Prescriptions (he plays Tommy Ho, a vintage clothing store worker); a part in the short film Mothers Be Good (a drama by Lynn Moses; Rex's character runs a yard sale); and the TV comedy Twins (Lee plays Kenny's gay boyfriend).

Mr. Lee is also a fan of all things French and Egyptian. Fans of Rex Lee may write to the star c/o Sharp & Associates, 8721 Sunset Blvd., Suite 208, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

 

Rex Lee, 27, was born in Ohio and lives in Los Angeles. He's a regular on the hit HBO series, Entourage.

T-shirt from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio Rex's alma mater.

Rex models one of the many T-shirts in his vast collection.

This shirt with an "Aquaman" graphic refers to a story line in Entourage that centered around the superhero.

"Angels in America" shirt, acquired by Rex at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles.

This colorful shirt came from Ed Hardy, the trendy clothing store in Beverly Hills.

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