Playing the Hollywood Game

Brandon Thomas Lee

Though he’s only in his early 20s, Brandon Thomas Lee has lived many lives: his life on the silver screen, where he most recently played the brother of legendary New York street basketball player Jackie Ryan; his life on TV, as a cast member of MTV’s reboot of “The Hills;” his life in Canada, where he spent his formative years and first discovered his love for the stage; and his life in Malibu, where he was raised by superstar parents Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee in The Colony. 

“Blackjack” follows the story of real-life East Coast streetballer Jackie Ryan, played by “The Flash’s” Greg Finley. Viewers expecting a feel-good ending where the main character gets everything he wants may be disappointed. That decidedly un-fairytale-like quality is exactly what Lee liked about it. 

“In real life, it doesn’t always pan out the way we think it would, but there’s victories along the way that are to be appreciated,” the actor mused.

Lee portrays Jackie’s brother, who grows up striving to be like the pair’s father, the foreman at a local construction site. Lee described the Ryan family as “complicated”—an interesting contrast to the family dynamic Lee and the other actors created on set, which Lee said grew very close while working long—sometimes 16 or 18-hour—days. “I feel like if you don’t become that family, the movie will suffer,” he said. 

Not only is “Blackjack” a sports story, it’s also a period piece. Lee praised the director’s “genius” at maximizing an indie-film budget to capture the mood of ‘90s New York. 

The sense of realness was helped along by the fact that the actual Jackie Ryan was on set, which helped lead Greg Finley explore his character. Though Lee never met his real-life counterpart like Finley did, Lee was still well aware that it was up to him to do justice to someone who actually lived.

“There’s lots of responsibility that comes with that,” Lee said. “You really want to do your research and protect that person’s legacy.”

Lee is currently in town, not just for the premiere of “Blackjack,” but for good—he’s living with his younger brother and his dog, Dinosaur, in a home just up the street from The Malibu Times’ office. 

A product of Malibu public schools, Lee attended elementary school at both Point Dume Marine Science and Webster Elementary schools, before attending middle school at Malibu High. Lee said Malibu will always be his home. He enjoys the small town feeling, though he admitted that sometimes Malibu can be a “bubble,” which is partly why he left to finish off his schooling on Vancouver Island in Canada. 

These days, Lee loves his routine—“seeing everybody at Sunlife every day,” the fact that Howdy’s has reopened, patronizing restaurants like John’s Garden, Nobu and Malibu Mutt. 

One would assume entering the entertainment business would be a natural fit for Lee, with a rockstar for a dad and a “Baywatch” leading lady for a mom, but not so: Lee’s parents were upset when he dropped out of his Toronto college (after “maybe two weeks”) to pursue acting. 

Lee had originally wanted to get a business degree and start his own company. 

“A lot of that [entrepreneurial spirit] remains inside me, but at the end of high school, I started to do these plays and musicals and it really felt like—you know, when I stood up on that stage, that was my passion,” Lee said.

He views his entertainment career not as a continuation of a legacy, but rather as striking out on his own: “I feel like more than anything this has everything to do with me and nothing to do with my family.” 

Lee also can be found on MTV’s reboot of “The Hills” in 2019, which he saw as a platform to allow people to get to know him not as “some kid with a chip on my shoulder expecting everything in the world because my parents were successful in the industry.

“I’m still constantly trying to prove to people that this is all me, I don’t get any help from my parents. If anything, it harms me, my family reputation,” he laughed.

But, though Lee’s parents don’t have a hand in his career, their experiences with stardom and tabloids certainly inform how he’s chosen to approach his career. No matter where Lee appears—in movies, on reality TV, in plays, on Instagram—he’s careful to guard his own privacy. 

 “I would say I definitely don’t really share things unless they mean a lot to me,” Lee said. “And sometimes, the things that mean most to me, I don’t share at all.”

“The world doesn’t deserve to know 100 percent of what you’re doing at the time,” Lee said. Not to mention, he added, “there’s nothing sexy about anything you know 100 percent about.”