Orion Lee is a very happy man. As an adult, he spends his professional life doing what we all did as children; placing himself in imaginary worlds where he becomes completely different people. With performances in such well-known productions as Skyfall (starring Daniel Craig), DC Films’ Justice League, the FX series Tyrant, and even Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Lee flexes his creative muscles in some of the biggest films and TV programs in the world. While big budget productions are the norm for his career, he’s highly fond of the roles which overtly seem more mundane but offer him the chance to present character complexities. His role as Brian Zhao in the SKY TV/BBC award-nominated production Critical offered Lee the chance to explore a “regular” doctor who manages his disorder in day to day life.
In terms of a medical storyline, a drama has no more intense environment than the one in which Critical takes place. The setting is the Major Trauma Centre of a hospital, focusing on what’s known as the Golden Hour. This refers to the period of time following a traumatic injury in which there is the greatest probability that prompt medical and surgical treatment will prevent death and potential disablement. Created by Jed Mercurio (Bodyguard, Line of Duty) and starring BAFTA nominated Lennie James (The Walking Dead, Snatch, Bladerunner 2049), Peter Sullivan (7 Days in Entebbe, The Borgias), Catherine Walker, Orion, and others; Critical consistently shows the greatest obstacles for medical professionals at the most fragile moments for their patients.
Brian Zhao CT Radiographer is an essential part of the medical staff which saves lives at the Major Trauma Centre. What attracted Orion most to this character was the opportunity to display the humanity of a disorder through him. Brian Zhao has Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD). His OCPD makes Brian extremely particular about his environment but not in the same disabling way that OCD can be. Orion adopted this mannerism for his initial audition. He recalls, “Brian Zhao the character can be a little abrasive and I took the risk of coming into the audition in character. Usually as an actor you want to be friendly and nice so it was quite nerve wracking to come in with the no-nonsense/take no prisoners manner that Brian has. What gave me some comfort was catching Jed Mercurio [the series creator] hiding a smile behind his hands which were leant on the table and covering his mouth slightly. I had also met the excellent Casting Director Gary Davy (Emmy Award Winner for Band of Brothers) before and he knew that I was friendly, professional, and could attest to that should anyone think I was truly this abrasive. To come into the audition in character was a bit of a risk as I would appear to be disagreeable and possibly hard to work with and yet at the same time very committed to my job; which happens to be the exact same characteristics as Brian the character has! I took that risk and I’m happy to say that it paid off.”
The contradiction of Brian Zhao is exactly what makes him appealing as a character in the show and a role for the actor portraying him. His excessive attention to detail and control makes him annoying on a personal level but makes him an immense asset to the medical team. Regardless of the storyline, this afforded Lee the opportunity to combine comedy and drama in his character. Lee concedes that Brian’s lack of desire for the acceptance and embrace of others on a personal level is freeing as an actor, and somewhat educational. The actor notes, “I think I’m like most people in the sense that it’s appealing to me to be liked by others. Brian doesn’t care about that at all; it’s a complete non-factor for him. There’s something I really admire about that and I hope to adopt the better parts of this. Of course, Brian’s ability to turn his emotional level to zero is not something that I desire as an actor. It’s essentially the inverse of what I do. There’s a charm to Brian and it’s encouraging to see that everyone has a place in the world where they can flourish and benefit others even if they are different.”