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Memoirs of a Gaysian

Special to The Times

Fetching, faxing, phoning, Xeroxing, dropping off the boss’ dry cleaning, picking up his prescription meds -- the life of a Hollywood assistant isn’t easy. Rex Lee knows; once an assistant himself, he now plays one on HBO’s hit series “Entourage.”

In a town where real life often bleeds into fiction and vice versa, Lee’s portrayal of gay Chinese American Lloyd -- abused by his rabid boss Ari Gold (played with razor-sharp acerbity by Jeremy Piven) for, among other things, being gay and Asian -- is so uncomfortably on the money he’s become a sort of patron saint of boss-badgered employees everywhere. Lee’s breakout moment occurred at the end of Season 2 when Ari gets fired from a high-powered agency and Lloyd, in a scene practically ripped from the script of “Jerry Maguire,” hesitates about joining him. “Ari, swear to me that you will never again say anything offensive to me about my race or my sexual orientation,” Lloyd says under his breath while the whole office awkwardly looks on. “I can’t swear to that,” Ari replies. “But I promise I will always apologize after.”

Actually, we should restate that. It was the first of many breakout moments for Lloyd. Because as Ari Gold has become the unofficial star of the show, so has Lloyd become something of a pop icon -- thanks in large part to the idiosyncratic touches Lee brings to the role: the bright ties and baggy-ankled pants, the fast-paced shuffle with head cocked to one side, his puppy dog sulks.

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Most endearing of all (and this will sound incredibly weird) is Lloyd’s masochistic devotion to Ari Gold. The man has taken more abuse than a bald Britney Spears, and yet his love for his boss remains touchingly undiminished. “Lloyd wants to rule the world,” says Lee. To his mind, Ari is “the master. And Lloyd is there to sit at the feet of the master and learn.”

When Lee, 38, landed the role of Lloyd in 2004, he was a struggling actor and a freelance assistant to a casting agent. The character wasn’t intended as a permanent part, but something about the way Lee brought Lloyd to life -- his prim sense of purpose, immutable excitement and ability to take charge in the most unpredictable moments -- made it impossible to phase him out. By the second half of the show’s third season (which premiered Sunday), Ari and Lloyd stand poised to become one of TV’s classic dynamic duos -- right up there with Mr. Roper and Jack Tripper.

“They have a brilliant animosity towards each other, but underneath there’s love,” the show’s creator Doug Ellin said April 5, after two episodes premiered in a red-carpet affair at the Cinerama Dome. During the screening, Lloyd and Ari’s scenes scored the most open-mouthed guffaws and applause. At the after-party, Piven joked, “I didn’t realize Rex was stealing scenes from me.”

Lee isn’t surprised by Lloyd’s popularity. “I do believe in luck, but I also believe in creating luck,” he says a few nights earlier, while sipping a Diet Coke in a highball glass at sidebar, a trendy agent’s hangout inside the Four Seasons’ Beverly Wilshire hotel. “There are subtle things that I do in my job as Lloyd that aren’t in the script, and hopefully the writers and directors see that and capitalize on it.”

The episode that airs Sunday is arguably Lloyd’s; without giving anything away, you will see him release the full power of his Ari-love (hand-holding is involved). Although Ari spends a lot of time making fun of his assistant’s sexual orientation, Lloyd’s personal life has remained a mystery -- a fact that rankles some in the gay community. Last summer the website AfterElton.com, which features commentary on gay and bisexual men in entertainment and the media, called Lee “debatably the most prominent gay Asian ever on television.” The pop-culture portal Defamer reprinted an excerpt of the interview under the headline “ ‘Entourage’s’ Lloyd Latest Victim of Gay Eunuch Syndrome.” While the show’s straight characters “cartwheel from bed to bed,” Lloyd, and other gay TV characters, are merely there to “distract us with some saucy banter,” Defamer wrote.

Lee, who hadn’t seen the posting, says steps are being taken to give Lloyd a love life, “but you’re not going to see my character rolling around in bed with anyone,” he says. “I do think that is how progress needs to be made; that gay characters can have partners and sex partners and not have it be so icky to everyone else.

“I don’t mind saying that I’m a gay man and that I’m a sexual being,” adds Lee, sipping another Diet Coke, this time with a dash of Captain Morgan (“Easy on the Captain. I’m a lightweight”). But that wasn’t always the case. Lee, who was born in Ohio to immigrant Korean parents, kept his sexual identity to himself until graduating from Oberlin College in 1990. His mother, a Presbyterian evangelist, could never accept his coming out, and nine years ago they stopped speaking. “I talk to my dad all the time,” says Lee. “He’s still married to my mom, so I see her, we just don’t talk.”

Lee, whose candor and matter-of-factness are disarming, says this without fidgeting or looking away. As he sits, posture impeccable, on the shag rug of a pool-side cabana at Beverly Hills’ Avalon Hotel (we’ve moved on), he’s recognized by two gleeful diners. Ivy Koral and Evan Cavic are junior managers with a management firm and, says Cavic, “When people don’t know what I do, I ask them, ‘Do you watch “Entourage”? I’m Lloyd.’ ” Koral laughs. “I live his life,” she says, adding that she once worked for an agent who upset her so much she “had to pull over on the side of the road to throw up.”

Lee listens to their stories with sympathy. “I’m shocked by how many people tell me that their bosses really do abuse them,” he says, adding that people adore Lloyd because he’s an everyman.

Lee’s worst work-related horror story was being told that he could never again wear a pair of “bright red shorts that looked really cute on me.” Hardly gut-wrenching. But his experience working in casting for five years taught him that “a lot of people are way too self-important.”

Does Lloyd put up with more than Lee would? “Maybe just a little bit more,” Lee says with a giggle. He adds that he’s not personally offended by the show’s jokes and he likes the fact that Lloyd stands up to Ari. (“When [Ari] says, ‘Speak or I will intern you like it’s 1942,’ Lloyd quickly responds, ‘I’m not Japanese.’ ”)

Lee shares Lloyd’s unflappable self-confidence, which he chalks up to “inner weirdness.”

“I’ve always understood that I’m incredibly strange,” says Lee. “And at some point in my life I decided that I really liked myself the way I was and that a lot of this weirdness didn’t have to be stamped out of me.”

For Piven, Lee’s appeal comes down to professionalism and an unusual lack of pretension. “He doesn’t embellish anything, he doesn’t need to draw attention to himself. He’s a real person -- what the Jews call a mensch.”

A real person who, much like a real person, can’t get a date. “I’m single -- I’ve been single for a really long time,” Lee says casually. “People are shocked. They think because I’m on television it should be really easy for me to get a date.”

He admits that holding on to friends has been a challenge too, speculating that some might find him self-centered. “I am the center of my own universe, and I sort of interact with the world that way. People have this strange idea that a level of selflessness is required in order to be considered a nice person. I don’t accept that.”

Ari Gold would be proud.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The Rex Files

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Unlike Lloyd, Rex Lee has an actual life outside of work. Chief among his extracurricular activities: dancing. “I love shaking my groove thing! It’s very primal.” And a nice way to keep off the pounds. By the end of last season, he says, “I was in parade float mode.” During the day, he might indulge in a little shopping. The Rex Lee hit list:

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Dancing

Cabana Club

1439 Ivar Ave.

(323) 463-0005 www.cabanaclubhollywood.com

A large dance floor and an outdoor courtyard with reflecting pools and waterfalls. “I love how it has that huge open area. The whole space is amazing.”

Play

6423 Yucca St., (323) 309-2166

www.play-Hollywood.com

Formerly Red Buddha, the blue-toned space comes complete with a stripper pole and large outdoor patio. “It’s a really intimate atmosphere, and everyone there is friendly -- both the staff and the guests. They have the best DJ. I like a discernible melody.”

Les Deux

1638 N. Las Palmas Ave.

(323) 462-7674

www.lesdeuxhollywood.com

A plush European oasis in the heart of Hollywood. “Les Deux is great at making you feel like you’re at a huge Hollywood event, even if you’re not.”

The Abbey Food & Bar

692 N. Robertson Blvd.

(310) 289-8410

www.abbeyfoodandbar.com

Delicious martinis and classic open-air ambience. “This is my favorite place to go in West Hollywood. It has a good mix of the gay and straight crowd.”

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Shopping

Lisa Kline

136 S. Robertson Blvd.

(310) 246-0907

www.lisakline.com

A full bar, hot with celebrities, and chock full o’ hip designer fashion. “The staff is friendly and attentive. I like how they offer me drinks.”

Ted Baker

131 N. Robertson Blvd.

(310) 550-7855

www.tedbaker.com

Glasgow designer Ted Baker’s men’s shirts are some of the finest around. Like Lloyd, Lee favors brights: “I love how he uses color. He’s my favorite menswear designer.”

Ed Hardy

7817 Melrose Ave.

(323) 951-9692

www.edhardyshop.com

Popular vintage-style designs based on the tattoo art of Don Ed Hardy. “I love the funky and fresh style. The layout of the store is unique and fun.”

Brooks Brothers

468 N. Rodeo Drive

(310) 274-4003

www.brooksbrothers.com

Founded in 1818 and still rocking the style. “I don’t often wear suits, but they have a great classic look.”

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-- Jessica Gelt


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