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Banshee’s Hoon Lee plays the most badass cross-dressing hacker you’ll ever meet

Banshee, Pennsylvania, appears a sleepy, family-oriented small town straight out of Norman Rockwell. Reality has been anything but.

Banshee has revealed itself across three balls-to-the-wall seasons. Cinemax’s highest-rated original drama, which just began airing its third season Friday nights at 10 p.m. EST. (Episodes are also available online, via MAX GO, and Season 2 is now out on Blu-ray.) Policed by Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), an ex-con who assumed the identity of the town’s new sheriff on the day the old one was unceremoniously murdered in a bar fight, Banshee has been home to a relentless barrage of bloody, testosterone-fueled run-ins with the likes of a ruthless Ukranian mobster, Amish outcasts who run the local meatpacking business and aren’t afraid to get human blood on their hands, Native Americans on the literal warpath, murderous skinheads, and a vicious, corpulent loan shark who can only travel in tractor trailers.

There’s also a star-crossed love story in there too. (Sounds like one kick-ass video game, doesn’t it?)

Amidst all that mayhem is a deeply rich study of a group of flawed characters coming to grips with the limitations of where their dreams and their personal limitations collide — and whether they can rise above their many personal demons.

“Job is a particularly modern type of character who could only really exist in this time.”

At Hood’s side throughout all of the not-so-controlled chaos has been his longstanding compatriot-in-crime from his days in New York City: Job (rhymes with “probe”), the trusty, eloquent, badass, cross-dressing hacker played by Hoon Lee. “I think there’s a rebellion in him that’s perhaps emblematic of what people might consider a hacker’s mentality,” he observes.

Hoon and I got on the horn not too long after Season 3 began airing to discuss how Job fully relishes being a serial disruptor, the impact of his interchanging gender roles, and the seamless interface of the show’s killer soundtrack. Buckle up.

Digital Trends: So, Hoon, are you personally computer-savvy?

Hoon Lee: I know a little here and there. Technology is a sort of general hobby of mine that today is pretty common. But I have worked in record admin and computer technology and interface design. I have a lot of friends who are programmers, people who I talk to and reference if I have questions about a script or things that are happening in a script. And that’s more for me than pretty much anyone else, because computer hacking in television and film tends to come equipped with a bit of magic.

And your character is supposed to be the top hacker: “In 10 seconds, take care of something that’s impossible. Go.”

Right. It’s funny that now we’re experiencing all these stories about these hacks that are happening out there in the world. It seems to be happening in increasing frequency — or at least our awareness of it is increasing. They’re becoming more and more serious, and more potentially dangerous. The news reports on hacks are done in a somewhat alarmist fashion, trying to predict the rise of things like careericidal warfare.

And in that way, and in terms of gender fluency and transvestism, I think that Job is a particularly modern type of character. He’s a character that can only really exist in this time. I think it would have been hard to understand him in the same way even 10 years ago. Even though all of those things were in effect, there’s a certain level of comfort now, a level of familiarity amongst the population to see this character beyond the big-label trappings. And that’s rewarding for me.

I wasn’t sure how the audience was going to react to Job. People have been extremely forthcoming with their support and appreciation and enjoyment of the show and the character. It’s more than I could have hoped for.

If Job got to the point where he didn’t have to hack anymore, what would he do? Is that even something he would think about?

You know, my read of it is this: If you have an individual who is so skilled to be able to acquire funds at will and is constantly complaining about not having any money, then clearly, something else is going on. It’s pretty clear that the money is a big red herring — a smokescreen, really. There’s something else they’re potentially after.

I think there’s a rebellion in him that’s perhaps emblematic of what people might consider a hacker’s mentality. There are all kinds of different agendas for why people disrupt systems. Being a serial disruptor of systems — that’s probably just their nature. We haven’t attached any overarching political ideology to Job. It’s something that he’s doing for himself. It gives him a certain level of satisfaction. The challenge of it, the somewhat proving of himself in the act of rebellion and disruption, is important. I don’t think it’s really about an F.U. sum at all. But that’s my read. I’m not the writer. (laughs)

How did Job’s way of elocution come about?

Job’s cadence? I gotta say, I tend to take my cues from whatever the script dictates. I felt pretty early on there was a sort of bouncing rhythm to the way he spoke. It was presented that way in the first script I read.

In working closely with [Banshee co-creator and executive producer] Jonathan Tropper, who’s a novelist, primarily — I don’t know that he’s necessarily conscious of the music that he’s putting into a particular person’s dialogue. It was fun to decipher and detect these things that were perhaps subliminal on his part. There are actually very helpful cues that I feel are imbedded in the text, and my job is to bring them out of it.

When I got to Banshee, I felt like I understood exactly what the show was about. I had studied gothic fiction, detective fiction, and comic books. I was just immersed in it all, which was considered pretty subversive for the time. Hearing about the influences Jonathan Tropper had, like The Count of Monte Cristo — I mean, that’s the popular pulp fiction of the time. [It was originally presented in serialized form in 1844-45.] So, to me, Banshee is a continuum of my own personal interests. It’s one of the reasons it’s so gratifying for me.

It’s interesting you use the word “music,” because you’re essentially “conducting” the rhythm with the way you speak as Job. That was evident right from the very first meeting we saw between you and Lucas — or whatever his name is. [The real name of the ex-con posing as Sheriff Lucas Hood has yet to be revealed.]

The character known as Lucas, yes.

He almost needs a Prince-like symbol for his name, or something.

Exactly! But his would be covered in blood.

Yeah, covered in blood, and scars! You had a nice start to Season 3 with the gun battle in the first episode [“The Fire Trials”], where you blew up a suitcase full of stolen money. Way to go there, buddy.

“It’s pretty clear that the money is a big red herring — a smokescreen, really.”

Yeah, it’s always the question of how to bring Job back to Banshee, which also raises the question of, “Well, what’s he been doing when he’s not in Banshee?” When I read the script for that, I went, “Oh, that’s going to be fun.” That was a very exciting way to come back into the world — and a big way to come back into the world.

Is there anything you’re allowed to say about the rest of Season 3 — any of those noncommittal kind of sweeping statements?

(laughs heartily) Oh man, I mean, you’ve heard all the normal ones. I’m trying to think of what I can say. It certainly is more intense than it has been.

On the batshit-crazy scale of 1 to 100, where does it go?

If prior seasons pegged anywhere close to 100, we’re at 120. This season was exhausting in ways prior seasons had not been. And a lot of that was due to the actual demands of the show. One would think going into a third season there’d be a bit more ease, perhaps — that we as a group would take our foot off the gas a little bit, or we’d find a rhythm that would make our movements as a company more efficient. But the bar was raised so much higher than in prior seasons, and I’m glad for that. I think that’s owed to the audience, and it’s also the right trajectory for a third season. But it was tiring, and very taxing. I was glad to see a lot of that stuff pay off in the first episode — the hard work of the actors and the stunt crew, and the director [Loni Peristere] and the storytellers.

All I can say is I think people will be blown away by some of the stuff that happens in this season. In some ways, I think the yardstick we use to measure ourselves are the things like the heightened ’80s action movies versus the movies of today. We don’t get multimillion-dollar action budgets, but we try to get the same level of visceral excitement and involvement.

Well, an episode doesn’t goes by where I don’t curse out loud at the screen after seeing certain mindblowing things happen.

(laughs heartily) That’s good. That’s the way it should be.

Job certainly gets to wear some “interesting” outfits on the show…

Mmm, yeah. It may be more accurate to say they wear me.

Right, and sometimes depending on the gender role at the time. I like that that’s not even an issue on the show. In a way, it doesn’t matter whether Job is in a “he” or “she” mode, which must be really refreshing.

I think it is. I also think it’s a nod to the general level of sophistication of the modern TV audience. The fact that shows on cable and other networks are being celebrated is a strong indication that the audience has matured and grown up and can handle progressive material.

One thing we’re always trying to do in the show is give the characters the weight of their own history. That’s a large part of the burden that they carry. And the shorthand for the history between two characters is to illuminate the things that constantly recur for them as issues or problems. Another way to do it is to completely ignore the things that strangers would notice.

One of the strongest ways I feel they’ve drawn a connection between Job and Ant’s [Antony Starr’s] character is in the way Lucas has a complete acceptance and understanding of who Job is. I find that a really subtle, but well-struck point.

When it comes to Job’s look, nothing is hidden in high definition. How conscious are you of that? Are you okay with how the camera doesn’t lie?

We’re conscious in that we’re conscious of everything, I believe. In some ways, they have even more liberty with Job. While Job has a certain heightened look and is fashion-forward in his way, it is a person working on himself.

“We don’t get multimillion-dollar action budgets, but we try to get the same level of visceral excitement and involvement.”

The fact that you don’t really notice the wonderful hair and makeup job they do on the women on our show helps bring out their naturally spectacular beauty. That speaks to the proficiency of our team, I think, and how much they’ve matured into the HD world.

I think it’s not such a bad point if you can see the hand of Job in his own look. There’s a sort of a sense that’s he’s still growing and learning and doing his own touch-ups and things. We play with that idea a little bit more in the flashback sequences, where we deliberately try to make his look be a little bit perhaps less “finished.” We talk about trying to describe how he arrived at the point he’s at now, that journey of learning. It’s something you take very seriously, and it also happens to be a good bit of fun.

Do you have a favorite outfit that Job has worn on Banshee?

Oh, gosh. That’s a really hard thing, because there are usually one or two showcase outfits in a season. Those we spend a little more time on. They’re more involved, they cost more to prep, and they’re usually selected for a particular moment and a particular vibe. So you end up becoming slightly endeared to them, and that’s why it becomes difficult to pick a favorite.

But I would say that, in Season 2, when Job shows up in a big blonde wig [“Bloodlines,” Season 2, Episode 4] — I feel that there were a lot of elements there that spoke to who this character is. I also thought the look was very fitting to the scene because he’s chastising Jason Hood [Harrison Thomas], the unruly Jason Hood. It was sort of our take on a glammed-out school marm. It came together from all quarters — costuming, hair, and makeup — and it felt like a real team effort. I think everyone had fun with it.

Before Season 2 ended, I reached out to Kris Dirksen of Methodic Doubt, the band that scores the show, because the soundtrack is so damn good.

Oh my gosh. They’re the best. Our soundtrack is awesome. I’m really a big fan of it. It’s interesting to have a show where you notice the soundtrack but it’s a seamless interface — it doesn’t call much attention to itself because it’s so appropriate to what’s happening, and yet it noticeably enhances it. I think we’ve been very, very lucky in that.

And they cover so many styles. Is it industrial, is it post-modern, is it electronic? I mean, what do you call it?

I look at it as almost pure sound design, much more like a score — like some of the reactions I had when I heard Jonny Greenwood’s score for There Will Be Blood (2007). It is musical, but it’s a sonic representation of what you’re seeing. Sometimes there’s a groove to that and sometimes melody does that, but it’s there to create a feeling or an atmosphere that sort of captures as many things as possible. I think it’s really pretty special.

Will there be a Season 4? Is it too early to tell?

We don’t even know yet. I think I found out we had a Season 2 via Twitter. I think someone Tweeted me about a Deadline.com article they had read, and that’s how I found out. (both laugh) The actors are always the last ones to know.