Don’t live in your circumstance. Live in your vision.
Marchello Lee was made for the role of Quentin in the movie Dreams. It is a case of art imitating life. Marchello’s journey from the streets of the south side of Chicago to featuring in a movie distributed by the likes of Lions Gate seemed fantastical as a child. Although every aspect of Marchello’s upbringing did not mirror that of the character he plays, the struggle to achieve the dream resonates in art and life. It is a pleasure to interview Mr. Marchello Lee because I watched his growth, maturity, and journey. I remember the young teenager that helped me move my belongings to law school. I recall my disappointment in finding out that he chose an “arts” school for college. I feared he would be a starving artist for life, remaining in Chicago instead of moving to New York or Los Angeles. This is one time that I cherish in being wrong (lawyers do not typically do this it is against our nature). He has inspired me in my dream chasing adventure. I am honored to have the pleasure to introduce Mr. Refined’s readers to this up and coming star and my cousin.
Mr. Refined™ Magazine (MR): Thank you for taking time out of your schedule. Things must be hectic with the release of Dreams on January 28th.
Marchello Lee (ML): I am still teaching, so I am in and out of the studio.
MR: Okay, let me jump right in. When you were a child, what did you want to be growing up?
ML: My lifelong dream was to be an actor/entertainer.
MR: When did you decide on dancing and acting as a career? What motivated or inspired this?
ML: I was exposed to theater while at Mt. Carmel High School [Chicago] in my sophomore year. I had no prior acting experience and there was an audition at the school for a Cheerios commercial. I got the part in the commercial. Later that same year, I auditioned for a part in the school’s production of Joseph & the Technicolor Dream Coat. I got the part of Zebulon. From then on, I started voice, acting, and dance lessons.
ML: Mt. Carmel is a college prep school and encourages attendance at liberal arts colleges like Northwestern and Notre Dame. My college advisor initially threw my idea of attending an “arts” college under the bus saying it “was not lucrative- go to Notre Dame.” I pursued Columbia College-Chicago on my own.
It’s a marathon not a sprint. Never give up on your dreams. Don’t listen to negative critics. Learn patience. People believe in a great story.
MR: Are you first generation college?
ML: I am.
MR: How did you navigate going from Point A to Point B? Was the transition easy? Did you feel like you lived in two worlds?
ML: I had a lot of mentors. Brenda Bidier and Shelly Holston were helpful. I asked a lot of questions. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I immersed myself in the arts community and the campus environment. It’s all about who you know and the relationships you cultivate. My church network helped because there were artists in the congregation. Elroy Smith from WGCI [Chicago] was my role model and mentor.
MR: What were your parents’ reaction to your career choice?
ML: Right after I got the Cheerios commercial, my mom didn’t believe it until I brought the contract home. She hated it at first, wanting me to go to college for a “real job.” Afterwards, she was supportive coming to my events. However, she still wanted me to get a real job to support myself.
MR: How did you imagine your career path would transpire? Specifically, are you where you thought you would be?
ML: In my heart I always knew it would happen. I never thought about how. I remember a director seeing me at a performance. He told me that I’d be a “better dancer than actor so focus on dance.” He was a mentor and we went our separate ways. Sometime later while I was going to Mongolian as a backup dancer, he called and asked me to come in and read a script. I always thought acting would come later in my 30s and dance would be the main thing. Acting came first [with the Cheerios commercial].
MR: Tell me about the movie “Dreams.” The cast is star studded. It is like an honor roll of favorite African-American actors and actresses from the 1980s and 90s.When did you audition?
ML: Actually, I did not audition. All of the cast members, except me, were cast by the casting director, Phaedra, in Los Angeles. The producers originally casted Omarion from B2K for my role. However, Joel, the Executive Director/Producer fought and insisted that I was the only person for the role. The producers relented. The back story is that Joel and I met as students at Columbia [Chicago]. He was a film major and I was majoring in dance. We went to the same church. He started the concept then and would do 15 minute shorts. The name of the film changed many times. Even the name of my character changed. Quentin was a college classmate of ours that passed away. My character’s name was changed to honor our classmate.
MR: Did you think this was your big break?
ML: I’m a skeptic at heart so I wasn’t sure if it was my big break. However, due to the intensity and style of the character I portrayed, people were identifying with him.
MR: The movie filmed over three years. What was your thought process during this time?
ML: Actually, the script was written six years ago. One of the producers, Marvin Winans, shopped it around for a year before it was picked up. Initially, we went to Lions Gate and could not get the deal we wanted. Shopped it around for a year and nobody gave us love. A year later, Lion’s Gate called and gave us the deal. We started filming in Nov 2010 through April 2011. I got acting coaching and learned a lot. I ended up getting producer credit. [Nota Bene: That is no small fete getting producer credit].
MR: What has your journey taught you?
ML: It’s a marathon not a sprint. Never give up on your dreams. Don’t listen to negative critics. Learn patience. People believe in a great story.
MR: What advice do you have for people chasing their dreams and meeting obstacles?
ML: Don’t live in your circumstance. Live in your vision.
MR: What is on the horizon for you? Where should we look out for you?
ML: Dreams was released on DVD January 28th. It’s available at Target, Walmart, RedBox, iTunes, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. I am working with Dreams On Screen Productions – more films to come. And still dancing.
MR: Thank you for sharing your journey. We look forward to more from you in the future!
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