Local actor relishes key role in Starz comedy

Former Stone Mountain resident RonReaco Lee has been building his acting resume brick by brick going on 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 show’s second season starts at 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

Lee plays Reggie Vaughn, the business manager, cousin and confidant 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 Saturday’s episode, Reggie has to allay Cam’s resentments when the team owner doesn’t treat him with proper respect. Next week, Reggie has to grapple with a public relations nightmare when Cam’s sister M-Chuck (played by Decatur’s Erica Ash) punches Cam in the eye.

The vibe is a reflection of show creator Mike O’Malley, who is better known for a starring role in the CBS sitcom “Yes, Dear” and an Emmy-nominated guest role on “Glee.” In this case, he is totally behind the scenes.

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 Ari Gold but with much 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.”

Although Lee is just 37, he’s been acting since the late 1980s when he moved to Stone Mountain from Illinois.

His early acting credits included trashy (“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,” he said. “But I still draw upon that experience as an actor. I remember watching Denzel and being in awe. I’m still in awe.”

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 the film “How I Spent My Summer Vacation.” He moved to Los Angeles and pursued acting full time.

He quickly nabbed a regular role on the WB’s “Sister, Sister” as Tia Mowry’s squeeze for two seasons.

Throughout the 2000s, he worked in 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.

With stability, he bought a place in metro Atlanta.

And after “Let’s Stay Together” was canceled 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!’ “

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