Brandon Thomas Lee did not intend to do reality television. Sure, it would’ve been easy for him to entice cameras into following him around: as the son of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, he’s naturally led a rather unique life, from the bluffs of Malibu, Calif.
“For the longest time, I never thought I would do anything like this. Because when I was a little baby…it’s different being born into my family,” Lee says from his friend’s apartment in Midtown Manhattan, where he’s been staying while in town for business. “When I was a little baby, I had paparazzi jumping over my fence trying to take photos of me, all this stuff, and it was a lot for a kid. I could not handle it.”
But the 22-year-old — who left L.A. to attend school on Vancouver Island in British Columbia for five years, is recently sober and has a new approach to life — has done some thinking and is heeding the call of reality TV, and the stardom that comes with that, this spring. He’s the youngest new cast member of MTV’s revival of “The Hills,” with more scripted acting jobs and modeling on the horizon.
Being in Canada gave him the peace of mind he sought out after a childhood in Malibu.
“That’s where I discovered acting and all this stuff, and it brought me to this point,” he says. “I even went to college for two weeks and I realized I didn’t like my theater professor, and I was out of there. I came home and my mom saw me come back in the gate with my bags and she was like, ‘Get the f–k out of here.’”
He got a job at a smoothie shop and was living on a friend’s couch when modeling gigs with brands like Tommy Hilfiger starting coming in.
“This is all when I was 18 years old, 19 years old. I’m still going through all of this and my life is still pretty calm. I started to get back into it, started to book little jobs here and there. Then it got really crazy for me for a second, and I felt like I had to take a step back,” he says. “Three years ago is when I got sober. I was living in Hollywood, it was a lot of distractions: everyone’s going out every night, and it’s distracting for a young kid. You want to live like that, you want to live like a movie star. You want to go out to the club every night, girls are everywhere, this and that, and that made me happy for 10 minutes. It was making me happy in the moment but at the end of the day when everyone goes home, you don’t feel good.”
He had just gotten to a place in which he felt comfortable having his life projected for others when MTV approached.
“Before, if MTV had asked me six months ago, I would’ve been like, ‘Absolutely not.’ But they asked me at the right time, and I was in the right place, and magic happened,” he says.
“The Hills” returns to MTV this spring with much of its original cast (missing Kristin Cavallari and Lauren Conrad, though) and with two additions, Mischa Barton and Lee. Barton is a name easily associated with the original cast’s era, from her time on “The OC.” Lee, then, was brought on to add an even younger flair to the show.
“Originally they were thinking about doing it with a younger group of kids, and I knew a lot of those kids and I wasn’t really interested in doing it,” Lee says. “And then they were bringing the old cast back; then I was like, ‘OK, this is really cool.’ But I was like, ‘I still wouldn’t really want to do it.’ You know? I never thought in my whole life I’d ever do a reality show.”
The desire to distance himself from the fame he knew as a child was one thing, but he also saw a reality show as being detrimental to the acting career he was serious about building.
“I trained for so long to be an actor and I was slowly starting to do that, booking more and more jobs,” he says. So far his acting career has included a small role in the Netflix movie “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser,” and he’s just wrapped filming a new BET show, called “Tales,” in which he starred opposite his real life ex-girlfriend Bella Thorne.
“I was nervous about that. Her boyfriend was there and I’m just like. ‘Oh, no,’” Lee says. “But she’s such a sweetheart and I always thought we would work together sooner or later, to be honest. It’s just crazy, the world brings some people together and it’s hilarious.”
The show is a dark departure from the sunny life of “The Hills.” Lee plays a drug addict and his girlfriend, Thorne, gets caught up in the midst of his drama.
“It’s very different from ‘The Hills,’ oh, my gosh,” Lee says. “I can assure you there’s no crack smoking and murdering on ‘The Hills.’”
He hopes the pair of shows will demonstrate his personality as well as his range, something he’s interested in pivoting with into fashion.
“I’m sitting at a lot more shows nowadays than shooting, also because I took a little tiny break this last year,” he says. “I fired my modeling agent at Next, just because I felt like I wasn’t being treated properly. So I took a little break and I just didn’t want to deal with it for a second. Fashion is such a big part of my life and ever since I was a little kid I’ve always been trying to dress my personality, like wear my personality. Fashion is its own beast. It’s such an interesting industry and it can pass you by real quick. I’m kind of happy I took a little break because there was so much going on and I’m really kind of excited to go and get a fresh start.”
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