Stone Mountain's RonReaco Lee ('Survivor's Remorse') rises to the occasion

attends TheWrap's 2nd annual Emmy party at The London Hotel on June 11, 2015 in West Hollywood, California.

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Teyonah Parris (Missy) and RonReaco Lee (Reggie Vaughn) on Survivor's Remorse, season two. CREDIT: Starz

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Thursday, August 20, 2015

Former Stone Mountain resident RonReaco Lee has been building his acting resume brick by brick for more than a quarter century.

And thanks to Starz, he is now relishing a starring role in a funny and critically acclaimed series called “Survivor’s Remorse,” based and shot in Lee’s hometown. The second season starts Saturday, August 22, at 9:30 p.m.

Lee plays Reggie Vaughn, the business manager, cousin and confidante to a LeBron James-style basketball star Cam Calloway (Jessie T. Usher) who signs a hefty contract with an Atlanta pro basketball team. Cam brings his family down from Boston and moves them into a Buckhead mansion.

Reggie’s goal: protect and build the Cam Calloway brand.

While this is an ensemble cast, Lee’s character is the glue that keeps the show together. “It’s a lot of responsibility,” Lee said at the mansion in May during a break in shooting.

"Survivor's Remorse" offers a dense matrix of witty, fast-moving dialogue and often wackier situations. In tonight's episode, Reggie tries to allay Cam's resentments when the team owner doesn't treat him with proper respect. Next week, Reggie grapples with a public relations nightmare when Cam's sister M-Chuck (played by Decatur's Erica Ash) punches Cam in the eye.

M-Chuck (Erica Ash); Cassie Calloway (Tichina Arnold); Cam Calloway (Jessie T. Usher); Uncle Julius (Mike Epps)_1

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Press Kit - Creator, Co-Executive Producer, Co-Executive Producer, Cam Calloway (Mike O'Malley, Maverick Carter, LeBron James, Jessie T. Usher)

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

The vibe is a reflection of show creator Mike O'Malley, who is better known for his starring role in CBS sitcom "Yes, Dear" (2000-2006) and an Emmy-nominated guest role on Fox's "Glee." In this case, he is totally behind the scenes.

O'Malley "has taught me I can get through anything," Lee said. "Before this, I would have winced at an audition for a Shonda Rimes show but now I look forward to those opportunities."

Taking a brief lunch break of Frosted Flakes on set, O’Malley marveled over Lee’s versatility: “He’s a writer’s joy, how hard he works, how authentic an actor he is. He can play angry, play tough, play comedic, play thoughtful. There’s no trick that’s not in his bag.”

Ash, in a separate interview, said she knew Lee was special the moment he walked into the audition room: “He seemed so comfortable and in control of himself and his surroundings.”

In some ways, "Survivor's Remorse" evokes HBO's "Entourage" and Reggie is a stand-in for Jeremy Piven's agent Ari Gold but with lower-key swagger.

“He’s not over the top with the bling and the sunglasses like other managers,” Ash said. “He plays it with subtlety.”

RonReaco Lee's character Reggie Vaughn on "Survivor's Remorse" evokes Jeremy Piven's Ari Gold from "Entourage." CREDIT: Getty Images

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

Although Lee is just 37, he’s been acting since the late 1980s when he moved to Stone Mountain from Illinois. He took acting classes at Alliance Theatre. He modeled for now defunct department stores Kessler’s, Uptons and Rich’s.

RonReaco Lee in "Glory."

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

He got used to cameras with TBS as part of a one-minute kids' broadcast show called "Kid's Beat." His early acting credits included cheesy ("The Return of Swamp Thing" starring Heather Locklear) and classy (a mute drummer boy in "Glory"), both shot in Savannah. In "Glory," at age 11, he rubbed shoulders with legendary actors Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington.

“I don’t know if I fully appreciated it,” Lee said. “But I still draw upon that experience as an actor. I remember watching Denzel and being in awe. I’m still in awe.”

Acting didn’t take over his life as a teen. “I walked away from acting a couple of times,” he said. “Sometimes I just wanted to be a kid. I was teased a lot for being an actor. Kids get jealous.”

He recalled doing a CBS historical drama "Unconquered" starring Peter Coyote and Dermot Mulroney set in 1962 where he played a busboy forced to crawl across the floor to get a two-dollar bill. "It was a humiliating scene and kids made fun of me," he said.

In junior year, he quit acting, graduated Stone Mountain High School in 1994 and studied early school education at Georgia State. But his agent tempted him back with a juicy role in a film “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” He moved to Los Angeles and pursued acting full time.

RonReaco Lee as Tyreke on "Sister Sister."

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

He quickly nabbed a regular role on the WB's "Sister, Sister" as Tia Mowry's squeeze for two seasons. Up to that point, he had never done comedy. Co-star Deon Richmond, who worked on "The Cosby Show," helped him out.

Throughout the 2000s, he worked small roles in TV and film ranging from "ER" to "The Shield" to Tyler Perry's "Madea Goes to Jail." He then picked up bigger jobs on shows that didn't work out ("Worst Week," "In the Motherhood') before he landed a regular job back in Atlanta with the ensemble comedy "Let's Stay Together" for BET in 2011.

BET's "Let's Stay Together" aired for four seasons from 2011 to 2014. CREDIT: BET

Credit: Rodney Ho

Credit: Rodney Ho

As the actor with the most experience, he said he was reluctantly thrust into a role of leadership. “I just wanted to be the guy to do my part and take care of my family,” said Lee, who had gotten married in 2010. “But I was often asked to be the voice for the cast.”

After "Let's Stay Together" was cancelled last year, he heard about “Survivor’s Remorse” and nailed the audition. He hopes the show will be a big enough success to enable him to shoot in Atlanta for many years to come.

“Being here recharges me,” Lee said. “I like to spend my days on my boat on Lake Allatoona. I have a kid now and a second on the way. I sometimes think, ‘This couldn’t be any better!’ "

TV PREVIEW

"Survivor's Remorse," 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, beginning August 22, 2015 for second season on Starz

And as bonus for folks who scrolled all the way to the bottom of this story, Lee is in the opening scene of this trailer of "Return of Swamp Thing" (1989):

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