how i get it done day

Greta Lee on the Pressures of Writing an ‘Identity Story’

At the Cut’s How I Get It Done Day on Monday, March 4, actress Greta Lee opened up about the pressure that she and her KTown co-writer Jason Kim have faced while writing the show for HBO. If Ktown airs, it will be the first show ever centered on Asian-Americans on cable TV: a dark comedy about a kingpin family in L.A.’s Koreatown. But it didn’t start as an “identity story,” Lee said.

Speaking on a panel alongside her Russian Doll co-star, Natasha Lyonne, and Maya Rudolph, who screened into the event, Lee discussed the struggle to balance wanting more representation for Asian people on TV, with simply wanting to write a good story.

“We never set out to make one of the first Asian-American shows on cable,” she said. “That’s like, not a real fun creative place to live in, you know? Because at the end of the day we’re trying to make a funny good show. But we can’t pretend — we can’t ignore the fact that there is also this other issue that we are one of the very first. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t freak us out.”

She and Kim pitched KTown last summer right when Crazy Rich Asians achieved blockbuster success with Hollywood’s first all-Asian movie cast in 25 years. Since HBO picked up KTown, Lee said, people have already reached out wanting to audition for the show before it’s written, thanking them for wanting to tell Asian-American stories, and some have even shown up in person at HBO’s offices.

“Of course it’s a lot to take on,” she continued, “but I think that our approach is, we were never setting out to tell an identity story. The big trick is people assume that okay, if you’re telling a female story or a black story or a Mexican-American story then everything you do, the characters you see — my character is like, I’m taking my Asian hand and reaching into my Asian purse for my Asian MetroCard as I get on the train as an Asian woman. That is not how I live my life. So that’s the constant battle that we have to do creatively in proving like, oh yeah, like you’re a person first, believe it or not. That identity and those themes are very real and valid and exist in the bigger structure of the story.”

Greta Lee on the Pressures of Writing an ‘Identity Story’