Why Uncle Iroh From Netflix's Avatar: The Last Airbender Looks So Familiar

Not all generals have to be out for blood. 

On "Avatar: The Last Airbender," the Fire Nation's Iroh is a man of contradictions. He is a former general who wishes to achieve understanding of those he fought, as well as a one-time crown prince who provides help to those his nation considers enemies, and at the same time, a man of war who learns to strive for peace. There's a lot going on behind Iroh's good-natured demeanor, and these multitudes that he contains make him an ideal mentor both for his nephew Zuko, with whom he journeys after the young prince's banishment, and eventually the members of Team Avatar.

To capture the dualities of Iroh, Netflix's new live-action retelling of "Avatar: The Last Airbender" has tapped Canadian actor Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, a man with experience playing conflicted patriarchs and helpful warrior — a casting which has already earned the approval of fans. Lee is a legend of Canadian television: now, the wider world is beginning to take notice. Here are some places you might recognize him from.

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee took a ride on Train 48

After scattered roles in films and on television, Lee got his big break when he booked a main role on the Canadian Global Television Network's 2003 soap opera "Train 48." Lee played Randy Ko, a science-fiction enthusiast reeling from the breakup of his engagement and using the train to commute to his engineering gig. What was unique about "Train 48" –– and the Australian show "Going Home," which it borrowed the format from –– was that it was a largely improvised soap opera, with actors given broad outlines and relevant background details of their characters then being allowed to steer the conversation as they see fit, according to Toronto-based website blogTO.com. Each episode took place aboard a commuter rail train in Ontario, following the same cast of commuters as they argued about current events and their own lives, which kept costs down and made it easier to shoot, edit, and air an episode all in the same day.

"'Train 48 means so much to me because I learned so much from working with all of you guys," Lee told his castmates during a Zoom reunion put together by Entertainment Tonight Canada. "I learned to be present. I learned to be smart, quick on my feet."

"Train 48" wasn't Lee's only soap opera gig, though. Like every other actor working in Canada, he did his required stint on "Degrassi: The Next Generation" in 2010 and 2011, playing restaurant manager Juan Tong.

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee owned his role on Kim's Convenience

The role that launched Lee to stardom came on a different Canadian show, the cult classic comedy "Kim's Convenience." Lee plays Sang-il Kim, Appa to his family, a Korean immigrant to Canada who owns and operates the store from which the series draws its name. He is stubborn and brash, particularly when it comes to his two children Janet (Andrea Bang) and Jung (Simu Liu), but largely does his best to puzzle out the bits of Canadian culture that he's still wrapping his head around.

Years before the series debuted on the CBC, Lee inaugurated the role in the stage version of "Kim's Convenience," according to the Calgary Herald. His performance on the show would wind up winning him a pair of Canadian Screen Awards for best actor in a comedy series (per IMDb).

Lee told the CBC that the role of Appa hit especially close to home, considering he emigrated from Korea with his parents when he was just three months old. "When I first read the role of Appa, I understood where he was coming from because that was my dad and my uncle and my grandfather," Lee said. "It was just surreal. After I read the first draft of the play, I used to joke with Ins [Choi, the creator of Kim's Convenience] by saying, 'Have you been spying on my family?'"

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee saved The Mandalorian

Though "Kim's Convenience" was cancelled this year after its fifth season, Lee's time on the show opened doors to other projects, including one he's been dreaming of since he was a kid.

In 2020, Lee took a recurring role on the second season of "The Mandalorian," playing the New Republic pilot Carson Teva. Teva first appears in "Chapter 10: The Passenger" when he and fellow pilot Trapper Wolf (series producer Dave Filoni) intercept Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) in their ships. He flees, but they track him down just in time to defeat the ice spiders that had been menacing him and his Frog Lady passenger.

Lee's such a huge "Star Wars" fan that when his role on the show was revealed, he answered a question on Twitter from someone asking whether he had used his own cosplay uniform for the show. He didn't, but he admitted that he had cried during the costume fitting, a story he'd later elaborate on for the CBC. When it came time to take some photos of him in costume, his helmet was still being painted, so they pulled out an old one they had lying around, one that appeared on the head of Luke's friend in the original "Star Wars." Lee explained, "I look at it because I know the pattern. I said, 'Is that Biggs' helmet?' And they said, 'Yeah, how do you know?' Because I'm a nerd."

When they put it on him, Lee said, he burst into tears. "Because this is one of the first movies I remember seeing with my dad, with my sister — and I was not expecting to hold, let alone wear a piece of my history on my head."