Kazumi Zatkin was born in Okayama, Japan. She attended college on three continents studying Social Science and Theater Arts. Kazumi continues her acting training as a member of Cartor Thor studio. Kazumi’s recent theater work includes Madame Butterfly by David Belasco, Hanjo by Mishima Yukio, A Fool On A Roof by Kikuchi Kan and Kyogen Hana-ko. Her IMDB credits include Tales From the Dead, the award winning War of the Wolves and Lucky Numbers, The Forest and the Short “Good Soil” which she co-starred with fellow Okayama resident Shin Koyamada who inspired Kazumi to pursue her acting career when she saw him in the The Last Samurai. Kazumi gained an internet cult following for her role as Noriko in The Lost Ring, an alternate reality game sponsored by McDonalds to promote the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Kazumi is a certified Reiki practitioner, has a B.A. in Sociology, and enjoys yoga, NPR, cats, and life.
ASIANCE: Kazumi, it is a pleasure to meet you. I know you are well known for your theater work but you also have done television and film work. Which do you prefer?
Kazumi: It’s great to meet you too, Tom. I love both mediums. I get instant feedback from the audience in theater, but TV and film reach a greater number of people. I just enjoy the magic of storytelling in any form.
ASIANCE: In “Two Plays by Yukio Mishima” you played a mentally disturbed former geisha pining for a long-lost client. It seems like a challenging role. What do you think has been your most difficult role to date?
Kazumi: I wouldn’t single out that mad geisha as my most challenging role; it actually wasn’t that difficult as I had only one note to play to. The most challenging role I’ve ever done was playing Madame Butterfly, which I’ll talk about later.
ASIANCE: You got great reviews from for your role Hanako and Lady in 2 plays by Mishima productions. Can you tell us about the production?
(LA Weekly and Glendale News Press)
Kazumi: This was fun because we did a series of short acts under the umbrella theme of Mishima. These were Hanjo, written by disturbed genius Mishima Yukio, followed by a Japanese song and the short traditional comic play, Kyogen. We then finished it off with The Lady Aoi, also written by Mishima. This was the first time that I got to do comedy on stage, and I loved every minute of it! One of the most challenging parts was actually the logistics; I played the mad geisha first, and then had 7 minutes while our singer sang a Japanese song to change my kimono, hairstyle, and mannerisms to do the comic play. I had this “I’m not gonna make it!” moment a few times, but with a “Naseba Naru (things that need done will be done)” attitude, I never failed to make that seven minutes change. Toshi Toda, who is well respected in the Japanese actor community, was the director for comic play Kyogen. He is a good friend now, but back then, since we hadn’t worked together before, I didn’t really know him. I think I surprised him in our first rehearsal by the way I chose to play the character “Lady.” Instead of playing her something like me (I’m usually described as the “always-sweet-and-smiling girl”), I come out as a loud, scary, authoritative Lady that yells at her servant and controls her husband – he loved it, so did the reviewers and audience. It was so much fun to play.
ASIANCE: You have also worked with the wonderful Kaz Matamura, whom I have also interviewed, and her theater group. What plays have you done with her?
Kazumi: I’ve been in “A Fool on a Roof,” “Houich, the Earless,” and “Memory of Mother,” performed all in Japanese with subtitles projected for the non-Japanese speaking audience. Kaz is a great director to work with. She directs using the Chekhov technique, so the direction is very precise. I just finished a playathon a few weekends ago in which Kaz’s theater company wrote, rehearsed, and performed five short plays in a 24 hour period. I acted in a piece written by Jim Beaver (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0064769/) and directed by Kaz, which was also a great experience.
ASIANCE: One of your more recent roles was in the 2011 film, “The Forest”, a horror film that takes place in the forest at the foot of Mount Fuji where many go to commit suicide. What was your experience working on the film like?
Kazumi: My role was pretty small, but I got to work with Sonny Saito, whom I had worked with in a previous production, and with the very determined director Shan Serafin, so it was a good experience. That being said, the location they shot in was an actual hospital. Half of the hospital was still in use, and I can’t believe anyone would go there as a patient! It was the creepiest hospital that I’ve ever set my foot in, and I had to go outside between takes because it gave me chills to be in there! All I remember was the relief when the shoot was over and I could leave for the day. It was a perfect location for horror film though.
ASIANCE: You are well known for your role as Noriko in The Lost Ring, an Alternate Reality Game. Can you tell us a little about your experience?
That was such a fun experience! Before getting that job, I didn’t know what ARG was, so I had to research a bit. The part and story changes depending on what players do, so we had to be responsive, quick and spontaneous. I got to write my character’s storyline, and got paid to go to the Beijing Olympic. I also got to see the Athletics finals with an actual two time gold medalist Edwin Moses, and got to see the epic closing ceremony live. That was an awesome gig.
ASIANCE: You graduated from California State University, Long Beach with B.A. in Sociology and originally you did not have the intention of staying in the US. What made you change your mind?
Kazumi: Well, I didn’t change my mind, but a situation changed. I fell in love with a good looking American citizen who proposed to me, and I said yes. So, there!
ASIANCE: I see you played Madame Butterfly this year. Madame Butterfly is a name even non-theatre person would recognize. Can you tell us the experience of playing such an iconic character?
Kazumi: It was probably the most challenging experience I’ve ever taken on; I produced the play while playing the title role. What was I thinking? As an actor, I had a hard time digesting the script. The reason you don’t see this production much is the script is outdated, I think. It’s pretty much Butterfly chatter chatter chatter, and then “ohh no” tragedy. This was written in 1900 by Belasco to fill out an evening featuring the farce Naughty Anthony. We had to find ways to make it easier for a modern audience with only minimal script adaptation. Luckily my director Alejandra Cejudo (who is also an amazing actress and comedian) was so talented and open minded, so we could really experiment and take risks with our production. I had a lot of people come up afterwards with teary eyes and say how moved they were; it gave me the joy of being a storyteller.
ASIANCE: Did you always want to be an actress?
Kazumi: I did. But growing up in a small town in Japan where there’s no acting class or acting club or acting school, I never thought my daydream could be real. I remember being shocked to see “theater arts classes” when I came to college in the States. I immediately enrolled in those classes, but being a foreigner with English as second language, I never thought I could pursue the path as a career. Then I saw “The Last Samurai” in 2003, and found out that the actor Shin Koyamada was from my “small town” Okayama. That really opened my eyes that where I came from didn’t matter, and I realized that I was running out of excuses for why I couldn’t follow my dreams.
ASIANCE: Do you think there are enough opportunities for Asian-American actors out there today?
Kazumi: You knew the answer before you asked. No, even less if you are a foreign born and raised Asian-Asian actor.
ASIANCE: What actors and actresses inspire you and is there anyone you would like to collaborate with in the future?
Kazumi: I love Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe – I love their work, and their presence. They inspire me to dream. All my actor friends in LA who work so hard inspire me daily. There are directors that I’d love to work with. My acting coach says “write down five of them and carry it around,” so that’s what I’m doing, and no I can’t share the list just yet!
ASIANCE: What types of films do you enjoy?
Kazumi: I enjoy all genres of film (maybe except horror, unless I’m in it). The perk of being a perpetual student of acting is that it requires me to watch a lot of films. Lately, I’ve been watching a lot of older, classic films and have been completely enchanted by them.
ASIANCE: What advice would you offer to someone who wanted to act in present day LA?
Kazumi: I’m in no place to give advice, but Michael Shurtleff said “Don’t be an actor if you see yourself being happy doing something else.” I stand by that.
ASIANCE: What current projects do you have coming up?
Kazumi: The producer of “Two Plays by Mishima” came to see Madame Butterfly. He loved it so much that he wants to produce it so that he can watch it again. So we are gearing up to do “Madame Butterfly” at Luna Playhouse late Jan-Feb.
ASIANCE: Where can we find out more about you?
Kazumi: I have my website www.kazumizatkin.com. For upcoming/current projects, you can follow me on twitter @KazumiZ.