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annyong!

Catching Up With Arrested Development’s Annyong Bluth

It’s a good bet we haven’t seen the last of Annyong “Hello” Bluth. When we last left off, Lucille’s adopted son was revealed to have been (and if any Arrested Development newbies exist, turn away!) plotting against the family to avenge his grandfather, who had originally conceived of the frozen-banana cart. Justin Lee, who won the role of the devious one-line wonder Annyong when he was 14, is not billed for the upcoming batch of new episodes but was spotted at last week’s Arrested Development premiere event in Los Angeles alongside other announced guest stars. Coincidence? We think not. Vulture caught up with the actor, now 23, who told us about having to go through high school with the bowl haircut and introducing a young Michael Cera to funnel cakes. 

Annyong had one line (“Annyong!”) for almost the entire original run. What did they ask you to do in the audition?
For sure I had to read the line [laughs], but it’s kind of hard to figure out an actor’s range from one word, so they had me read some lines for George Michael. It was the closing scene of episode three in the first season where George Michael and Michael are having a sentimental moment with the cornballer. He was making really little cornballs. I had no idea what a cornball machine was. They told me I could burn myself on it.

Did they tell you anything about George Michael?
No, they left it up to me, but I remember thinking I did something similar to what Michael Cera did after the episode aired. I identified with the father-son relationship.

Did you know from the beginning that you’d mostly be saying “Annoyong!”?
A lot of times on shows you end up getting scripts not long before you gotta go on set, so every time I’d get my script I’d read through it and that’s when I’d figure out, “Okay, just one line today.” But I’ll tell you what, one line was challenging. I had to find other ways to be interesting.

How did you do that?
I learned a lot of my reaction shots are what mattered and not the word. But also the inflection of how I’d say it. When Annyong’s in the attic spying on the Bluths, he says it as a question, you know? [Laughs.] I got to change it up a little.

But were you ever hoping for more?
Nah, I was just grateful. Mitch is a creative genius, and there’s always a reason for the madness. Eventually more lines did come. One that made me laugh was when Annyong was talking about going to the beach: “I went to beach once. Next thing you know, I in crate next to pig.” I had to take a moment before we started because I was giggling.

Annyong’s rivalry with Buster also gave you more stuff to do. Like brawl.
The wrestling scenes and the fighting scenes, man. I did my own stunts. That was always the most fun part, roughhousing with Tony Hale. We really bonded. He is such a genuinely nice, good-hearted person. We’d play the slap-hands game, where your hands are under the other person’s and you try to slap the top of their hand. When you’re 14, you don’t notice things like that, but when you’re older you realize, Wow, he was willing to go out of his way to hang out with me and make me feel comfortable. Same with Michael and Alia [Shawkat].

Did you mostly hang out with them?
Well, most of my scenes were with Jessica and Tony, but Michael, Alia, and I went to Knott’s Berry Farm together. I’ll never forget that either. It was just for fun. Michael’s from Canada, so he hadn’t been to Knott’s.

Did you introduce him to Knott’s funnel cake?
Yes! We got one right next to Ghost Rider, and that was also the first time I had ever had people walk up to me and recognize me. It probably helped that we were in a group. We weren’t sure how to react to it. That’s when we noticed that Arrested Development fans were college-aged. They were all older than us.

Annyong’s bowl haircut – did you maintain it just for the show?
Yes, and the thing about that is they did cut my hair using a bowl. They really put a bowl over my head to cut it. Eventually they got pretty good at it and could go without, but what we all found out is that my hair will always naturally grow out like a bowl, and it grows fast, so we were constantly trimming.

Was that rough? You were in high school at the time.
Yeah, but I was the runt of my class. So I got away with the whole “Oh, he’s so cute” thing. I was in upper division math courses, so I would have junior and senior girls in my class, and they’d just sit behind me and play with my hair. I didn’t mind that so much.

What was that last day like?
Bittersweet. No one wanted the show to end. I actually went to set with my grandpa that day, which kind of helped me kind of get into character.

That’s right! That was Annyong’s big reveal!
You could say I went Method that day. [Laughs.] We all wanted to make the best of it. I remember Ron [Howard] and Mitch [Hurwitz] that day, and they never looked worried. They looked comfortable, composed. Maybe they already had a backup plan, ideas for another season or the movie, but they didn’t look like they were dwelling. At the wrap party, Ron gave a speech and he actually said that when he first saw me he saw a little of himself. For someone of his caliber to say something like that, I’m just very grateful, and I appreciated it a lot.

Did you take anything from the set? Any keepsake?
I did not, but what I did was give a huge, huge hug to Jessica, who literally took care of me and treated me like I was an adopted son. We were on the Queen Mary, and I remember it vividly. Jessica actually put in a very good word for me with the producers. Whether or not they had wanted to bring me back for the finale already, she did tell them that Annyong needed to come back. She didn’t need to go out of her way to do that. She’s just the best.

What are you working on now?
One thing I’m working on is an episodic web series titled "One Warm Night." It’s a kinda crazy, quirky series, filled with a lot of misfits, oddballs … ninjas.  

Photo: 20th Century Fox