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Originally published October 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 7, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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"Dexter's" C.S. Lee gets to be "the naughty one"

In this year of the TV super geek — "Heroes' " Hiro, "Chuck's" Chuck, "Reaper's" Sam — the baldheaded, bespectacled, vintage-shirt-wearing...

Seattle Times TV writer

On TV

"Dexter," 9 p.m. Sundays on Showtime.

"Chuck," 8 p.m. Mondays on KING/NBC.

HOLLYWOOD — In this year of the TV super geek — "Heroes' " Hiro, "Chuck's" Chuck, "Reaper's" Sam — the baldheaded, bespectacled, vintage-shirt-wearing Vince Masuka reigns supreme. Or at least supremely foul-mouthed.

Masuka, played by Cornish College grad C.S. Lee, is terribly lecherous on Showtime's dark and delicious "Dexter." But would any of his pickup lines ever work in real life?

"Might get a slap in the face," Lee, who is single, says. "Or, they may just laugh and then go home with me."

Lee, 35, was born in Chonju, South Korea, but grew up in Vancouver, Wash., where he was known as "Charlie" and played running back and quarterback for Hudson's Bay High School. He also began acting in school productions in his junior year.

Lee enjoyed the duality of his two extracurriculars: Getting to be nasty out on the football field and getting to be sweet, funny, charming while on stage. So when it came to decide what to do with his future, he abandoned early notions of becoming an engineer and decided to try his hand as a performer.

He studied theater at Cornish, attending on a full scholarship, graduating in 1994. And then he trained at and received a Master's of Fine Arts from the Yale School of Drama.

Lee spent some eight years working in New York, mostly in theater, before a variety of various TV show guest-roles — "Spin City," "Law & Order," "The Sopranos" (one of Tony's doctors while he was in a coma) — led him to his current role as forensics specialist Masuka.

Based on the Jeff Lindsay "Dexter" crime novels, the TV show is terrifically addictive: the story of forensics specialist Dexter Morgan (played brilliantly by Michael C. Hall), who carves out a secret persona as a vigilante serial killer in Miami. The first season showed us Dexter's attempts to be normal, interacting with his cohorts in the Miami police department and his fellow forensics expert. The randy Masuka made Dexter look almost square. At least during office hours.

In the current second season, the story focuses on the killer trying to wrestle with his core self: Is he a good guy who does monstrous things? Or, a monster wanting to be good?

The show dwells in gray areas, and Masuka was one more way to walk-that-line, says coexecutive producer and showrunner Clyde Phillips. "Anything we can do to level the weight, to create a sense of irony. He's our go-to-guy for making a scene lighthearted. And for saying the unsayable."

A typical Masuka line oozes sex. His favorite target on the show is Dexter's cop sister Deb.

But one of his favorite lines, which he ad-libbed in one episode last season, was when he stood over a body and told the coroner to "bag her."

And then he turned to Dexter and blithely added, "I'm hungry. I'm going to get some sushi."

"Michael had to sort of bite his lips," Lee recalls during a recent interview in his trailer on the "Dexter" studio production lot. "You hate Masuka and you love him at the same time."

Lee, who lives in Los Angeles and spends his free time playing golf, returns to Seattle often, where he's sometimes recognized. "They have a big smile on their face because they know I'm the naughty one." A main incentive to return here: to go salmon fishing. (He caught a 15 pounder off Shilshole earlier this summer.)

Lee played an office worker in a classic and very funny Nextel commercial (guys dancing to Salt-N-Pepa; he was the guy holding the boom box). The commercial is available on YouTube.

He's also just made his debut as imperious office worker Harry Tang in NBC's new nerd-turns-secret-agent show "Chuck."

Being on "Dexter," says Lee, is a blessing. The writing's fantastic. And he gets to play an accentless Asian horndog of a man.

"My interpretation is that that's how he deals with all the gruesomeness," he says about his bawdiness.

"From what I've gathered Masuka's probably weirder than Dexter."

Florangela Davila: 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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