You might expect the son of Baywatch star Pamela Anderson and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee to be used to the spotlight, but Brandon Thomas Lee had a relatively camera-free childhood. Today, however, he’s all grown up and stepping into the public eye for the first time—on his own terms.
At 23, Lee is the youngest member of The Hills: New Beginnings, MTV’s reboot of the beloved mid-2000s reality show The Hills, which put the antics of Southern California rich kids on display and helped launch a trend that’s still dominating the airwaves today.
Much of the original cast has returned, so we get to catch up with Spencer and Heidi Pratt, Stephanie Pratt, Whitney Port, Audrina Patridge, and Justin Bobby 10 years later. (Former stars Kristin Cavallari and Lauren Conrad sat this one out.) Joining the cast are Lee and Mischa Barton, previously of the hit teen show The OC.
Here, Lee talks with T&C about growing up in a famous family, his friendship with Brody Jenner, and his most embarrassing moment on the show so far.
How did you get involved with The Hills?
I knew Brody [Jenner] growing up in Malibu and we’ve been friends for years. I got news that MTV was bringing back The Hills. Brody called and I kinda knew before I picked up the phone what he was gonna ask. The stars were just aligning. I told him, “I don’t know, I’ve never done reality TV in my life and this would be a huge step for me”—since I’m trying to be an actor. In the end I thought it would be a great opportunity for people to get to know me.
Reality TV has changed a lot since The Real World came out in 1992. Why do you think people still love watching these kinds of shows?
The entertainment industry is such a small world and there’s always gonna be stardom and interest in those individuals. It’s the mundane stuff thatI think people are really interested in—the family life, the behind the scenes. Just people doing normal, everyday people things. It’s the relatability of reality TV that keeps people watching.
What was it like growing up in a famous family?
When my brother and I were growing up no one got to know us, my mom kind of shunned the camera, no press, nothing. It was a very private life. Our family has been approached maybe over 100 times to do our own show, but that was something we never were interested in. My mom wanted us to make those decisions as adults and she was never willing to put me and Dylan into the position where we would be forced into the spotlight. Which I’m thankful for, because having that ability to make that decision for yourself means you can shape your own life
So were your parents supportive of you doing the show?
I think they were more surprised than anything! My mom knew how seriously I was taking my acting career. I grew up running from the camera, but these last couple years I’ve been seeking it out in a different way. I’m at a point in my life now where I’m more than happy to show people what I’ve been up to.
Is there any part of your life that you kept off-camera?
The relationship with my brother is really important to me. I’m the older brother and I’ve always done everything first and made sure everything was ok. As the show progresses that’s something I would love to showcase but for the first season I was skeptical about bringing my family on the show.
What do you hope people learn about you from The Hills?
I hope people realize that I’m just a normal kid working really hard, trying to make a name for himself in Hollywood. And it’s not as easy as it looks, no matter who your parents are. It honestly is harder sometimes when your parents have a big name because of the stigma that comes with that. I feel like people don’t really understand that and most celebrity kids ride on their parents coat-tails, and I never wanted to do that.
What’s been your most embarrassing on-camera moment so far?
One of the moments is in in the first episode! I was late getting up when they got to my house ready to film and I was about to get in the shower and they asked, “can we film you shower?” And I said, “As long as you film me from behind.” That was one of my first times filming and that was a big wake up call for me. There are other scenes where I cannot believe that just happened on television and millions of people are gonna see it.
The question everyone wants to know: how real is it?
I try to remain as real as I can and forget the camera is there. There’s a lot of risk that you take in real life to get the things that you want, and taking that risk on a worldwide stage is different than when it’s just one-on-one. I told myself this wasn’t gonna stop me from having any real, cathartic experiences in my life.