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CSI: Vegas' Jay Lee On Taking Center Stage In Season 2, Episode 10 - Exclusive Interview

As Level I crime scene investigator Chris Park, rising star Jay Lee has been portraying one of the more amusing characters on "CSI: Vegas," a sequel to the long-running series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" that airs Thursday nights on CBS. 

Since the latest series premiered in 2021, Lee has been a fixture on the show, moving up from recurring character to series regular at the start of Season 2. Now, in Season 2, Episode 10 — titled "Eyeballs" — Lee takes center stage on "CSI: Vegas" when a party ends with the grisly murder of a popular social media influencer and Chris' moonlighting hobby makes him uniquely qualified to lead the CSI team's investigation.

During an exclusive interview with Looper, Lee opened up about filming the "Eyeballs" episode, what goes on behind the scenes of the popular show, and what he's learned from original "CSI" stars William Petersen, Jorja Fox, and Marg Helgenberger.

Lee had an 'incredible experience' shooting the Eyeballs episode

You moved up to series regular this season on "CSI: Vegas" ...

I sure did.

This week's episode, titled "Eyeballs," really shines the spotlight on you. What was it like being the center of attention?

First of all, I was so grateful and flattered that they would even think to craft a storyline around little old Chris Park. Then, as we got closer to the shoot date, I had all the normal impostor-syndrome thoughts of, "Oh my goodness, how am I going to do this? Am I going to mess everything up? Are they ever going to let me work again?" — that kind of thing. At a certain point, I decided, "I'm not going to overthink it. I'm going to go take it day by day [and] do what I can."

It was an incredible experience, but it was exhausting. I was doing multiple back-to-back 12-hour days. Normally I go in for a scene or two, but this time, I was going back to back to back every day. It was so gratifying.

Our director, Allison Liddi-Brown ... what a consummate professional she is. She was the captain at the helm of the ship who brought in such a positive spirit and energy every day. She went out of her way, particularly on that first day, to say, "Jay, you got this. Believe in yourself, because I believe in you." She knew that it was going to be my first time driving an episode. After that first day, I could feel that there was some confidence in where the episode was heading, and she and I found our rhythm and our rapport working together. Man, I am so grateful to her.

'The more casually I treated the cases, the more I found the rhythm'

Your on-screen job is complicated, technical, and gruesome. How do you get into character? Is there anything about the job that makes your stomach turn?

It's funny because my very first day on "CSI," I met Billy Petersen, who was the iconic Gil Grissom from the original series who started the whole venture. I saw him on set and he said, "Hey, remember, these guys — these CSIs — they go out and they do this every day. They're making jokes in the car. They make jokes to each other as they're doing an autopsy. They're nonplussed by it. Every now and then they find something harrowing, but for the most part, it's pretty mundane." That gave me a clue into the whole thing. I found that in some ways, the more casually I treated the cases, the more I found the rhythm of the language that was in the pages and the dynamics between the different relationships that I have with my castmates on the show.

Our art department and our prosthetics department are geniuses. Even though I know that what I'm looking at is completely artificial and crafted, sometimes a slash through the neck — like last season, we had some clowns with stitching across their neck that somebody had woven through — seeing that stuff in person, I had to check my gag reflex. I happen to find prosthetics really fascinating, and the technology and what it takes to craft that is an art in itself. But even with that appreciation, it can make my stomach turn.

Piggybacking a bit on that last answer about real CSIs being nonplussed by the crime scenes, and the show being somewhat gruesome and always dealing with death, how do you and your castmates keep things light on set? Any funny stories you can share?

The general atmosphere on set is pretty light. We all show up and try to make the best version of "CSI" that we can, especially with its legacy to carry. But I feel like the legacy of the show is the positivity and the graciousness on the set that's carried through from people who have been doing the series for 16 seasons.

Also, it's the sense of humor that everyone brings. Any day with Lex Medlin [who plays Beau Finado] is going to be a fun day. The man spits out jokes [with] every other word that he says. I also love any time I get to work with Matt [Lauria] and Mandeep [Dhillon]. We've all become close buds. Any time the three of us are on set, it becomes a very musical set because all of us are singing. I'm not a singer, but we'll all sing together anyway. Music and general mirth is what gets us through the days.

He constantly cracks jokes with Mandeep Dhillon and Matt Lauria

I did a joint interview with Mandeep and Matt recently, and they have an interesting rapport going on in real life — and on screen, they have their "will they or won't they" storyline. What's it like working with the two of them?

It feels like summer camp to me. I don't know that they would phrase it the same way, but to me, it feels like we're a bunch of kids kicking it together in the school cafeteria whenever the three of us are on set.

There is one scene [in "Eyeballs"] where Chris is very down because things with the case are not going his way, and I remember shooting that scene, and I offhandedly called Folsom a grandpa, and the three of us couldn't get off of that. We kept calling him an old man and making inappropriate geriatric jokes — which, no shame to the geriatric community. But given how handsome Matt Lauria is with his strong jawline and his piercing blue eyes, the dissonance of characterizing him that way got the three of us chuckling all throughout the day. It's always a gas with the three of us.

Marg Helgenberger isn't in this week's episode, but considering she's an original cast member, what have you learned from her about the ways of "CSI"? Has she given you any advice?

With Marg — and I noticed this with Billy [Petersen] and Jorja [Fox] too — any time we have the original folks back, something that they always bring is remembering the human behind the investigator. Throughout this season, she has been able to voice certain opinions to make sure that Catherine Willows was being protected as a human and not just a talking piece to service the case. She would make sure that she wasn't blind to the person experiencing the investigation, which is something that I can sometimes overlook working on the set, given Billy Petersen's first piece of advice to me: "This is a very mundane task; they're nonplussed by it." We have to remember the humanity of the job at hand and how that affects the person and things like that. She demonstrates what I aspire to do on any given workday. On top of that, she is also so kind and gracious and generous.

He'd like to explore more of Chris Park's Korean American roots

As a first-generation Korean American, I assume it's important to you to not fall into stereotypes on the show. What do you hope people see in Chris?

Golly, that's a good question. What I hope people see in Chris is something that our amazing team of writers is already doing for me, which is that they have written for me someone who has their own voice, has their own opinions, and isn't falling into the trope of the best friend or the brainy nerd or something. I remember reading the character description when I auditioned for the part, which is that he's a lab rat set free. It was the "set free" aspect of that description that I leaned into, and the writers further expanded upon that as we started shooting.

Beyond that, it's making sure that he doesn't fall into the tropes of the past and making sure that he's an individual with his own set of opinions and brings his own set of expertise to the table, even though he is among the younger CSIs, still learning from some of the older Level III folks.

Something else that the writers have done for the character is they give him a lot of opportunities to grow so he doesn't get locked into a single version of a character and doesn't become a caricature. He is his own character. In short, the growth that the writers have written for him has been a blessing for me on that front, making sure that he's not getting written into any past trope affiliated with Asian Americans.

Do you have a dream storyline that you'd like to tackle on the show?

Actually, it's related to that last question, which is that I would love to explore some more of his personal life with regards to perhaps his having come from an immigrant family, which very much aligns with my own experience. I would love to know how his parents felt about him going into this career path. I have my own ideas about it. I would also love to maybe even speak Korean on the show at some point, should a case call for it. Being able to explore that would be a lot of fun.

You can watch Lee take center stage on tonight's "CSI: Vegas" episode, which airs at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.

This interview has been edited for clarity.