Interview with Julia Morizawa
Julia Morizawa has performed in nearly 100 film, television, stage and internet productions throughout her career. Based in Los Angeles, she is a member of SAG, AFTRA and Equity. Highlights of her career include the feature films Judas Kiss (screening at festivals throughout 2011) and Tied Up (awarded Best Supporting Actress at the Denver Underground Film Festival); TV appearances on Lewis Black’s The Root of all Evil and ER; the title role in East West Players’ production of Masha No Home; and series regular roles in the webseries Star Trek: Odyssey and Frontier Guard. Julia has also written, produced and starred in some of her own original projects including:
Twenty-Two: A voyeuristic stage play about cocaine addiction that premiered at the Knightsbridge Theatre in January 2010. LA Theatre Review stated, “Well, if art is supposed to imitate life, Twenty Two has accomplished its mission. The characters are totally believable, the dialogue is as natural as it gets and the acting overall is amazingly realistic.”
Sin & Lyle: A short film exploring the topics of suicide and depression, which earned Julia a Best Female Filmmaker nomination at the Action on Film International Film Festival and was an official selection at the Boulder Asian Film Festival in 2007. Currently available to view in full on IMDB.
Memoirs of a Wannabe Sex Addict: A collection of short erotic stories, currently available on Amazon (paperback and Kindle). Erotica Revealed stated, “Morizawa is a first-rate writer. The quality of the writing blends literate prose with an accessible style that few authors can manage.”
Julia, you have garnered a number of awards and nominations. Among them, BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS award for “Tied Up” at the 2004 Denver Underground Film Festival in Denver, Colorado. and nomination for BEST FEMALE FILMMAKER for “Sin & Lyle” at the 2007 Action On Film Festival in Long Beach, California. When did you first decide you wanted to act?
I think I decided that I wanted to be a professional actor from the first time I ever performed on stage. I was cast in a community theatre production at Albany Civic Theatre in Oregon, where I grew up. It was a small role, maybe two scenes, but I’m pretty sure from that moment on acting became my passion and I began to pursue it professionally. In high school, I was reading books on how to become a professional actor and trying to learn the little details of the business before I came to Los Angeles. I even graduated a little early from high school for the sole purpose of moving down to California to start getting film and TV credits on my resume. But I’m not sure what inspired me to audition for that first play and join the drama club as a teenager. I had spent about 10 years of my childhood as a competitive gymnast, and when I got burned-out and quit, I needed something else in my life outside of school. I remember a close friend of mine in high school had been involved with drama for several years, so I asked her if she liked it and when she said “Yes,” I thought I’d give it a try too.
Tell us about your latest project, “Judas Kiss.”
“Judas Kiss” is a beautiful little independent feature film that I’ve been in love with since I first read the script back in, I believe, 2008. The project was developed by J.T. Tepnapa and Carlos Pedraza, both whom I first knew through “Star Trek: Hidden Frontier” (a fan webseries in which I played a Vulcan). They asked me to be a part of a table read for one of the early, early drafts of the script. And over the next couple of years, I just periodically kept in touch with them, like, “How’s the film coming along?” “I want to audition for you when the time comes,” etc. Then in the beginning of 2010, I helped them read opposite some actors who had been called-back for the lead role, and that ended up being my audition. We filmed on location in Seattle in August 2010 and the film has been circulating lots of festivals this past year. I call it “A gay-themed time travel drama about second chances.” It’s done well – won a handful of awards and made it on a few “Must See” lists. It will be released on DVD by Wolfe Video this October. There’s more info on the film’s website: www.judaskissmovie.com.
For “Sin and Lyle” you were the director, producer, writer and actor. It was a very personal film for you. Can you tell us about it?
I’ve openly told a handful of people the details of how this film was so personal to me, but for whatever reason, I feel a little hesitant to do so at this moment. I guess because it’s something I’ll share one-on-one but not so much otherwise. So let’s just say, in the past, my writing/producing projects have always been very personal – stories taken from my own life experience. Such was the case with “Sin and Lyle,” which explored the topics of suicide and depression. Similarly, my play, “Twenty-Two” tackled the issues of drug addiction, abuse, unhealthy relationships (sexual and otherwise), and, once again, depression. Every once in a blue moon, I’ll receive an e-mail from someone who watched “Sin & Lyle” and felt that they could relate to it and wanted to discuss it in depth with me. In those cases, I do generally share more personally.
You have also written a book, “Memoirs of a Sex Addict.” How did you come up with the idea for the book and how was the experience of writing it?
Well, since you ask, I don’t really know. I remember that I wrote my very first erotic short story while I was living in New York back in 2005, I think. And at that point, I already had the long-term goal in mind of maybe someday publishing a collection of such stories. But I didn’t really tackle the idea again until 2007, which was when I first got a story or two of mine published online or in compilations. Then, the remainder of the stories in the book was completed in 2009, after I had already signed a contract with the publisher, Fanny Press. But I don’t know what gave me the idea originally. I think I had read one of Susie Bright’s “The Best American Erotica” books and got inspired. I could tell a few stories about the experience of writing the book over those several years. But again, probably only in a one-on-one situation.
I have heard you are writing a feature-length screenplay about the lives of a rebellious Japanese-American man and a traditional Japanese woman in the mid-twentieth century, and the events that turn them into a classic love story. Is this based on a true story and can you tell us more about it?
This story is a long-term project. I have to say that, as a bit of a disclaimer, because in the small amount of research I’ve done for it so far, I’ve learned that it may be a while before I even get to the writing stage. And the story is constantly changing in my head. I think it will remain a love story, but may involve several generations of these Japanese and Japanese-American families. The story is inspired by my parents. My father is Japanese-American – sansei or third generation. My mother is Japanese. The original idea was inspired by their relationship – coming from two totally different cultures, even though their ancestry may be the same. Perhaps this especially appealed to me because of my occasional frustration as a Japanese-American woman who is sometimes faced with people who assume I should know certain things or behave a certain way because of my heritage. For example, I don’t speak Japanese. I wish I did, but I wasn’t taught it growing up and language proves to be a difficult thing for me. And I dislike it when people learn that I don’t speak Japanese and respond with, “That’s terrible! What’s wrong with you? You should be ashamed.” My father also was not taught Japanese growing up but learned it when he lived in Japan in his early twenties. He was not taught because his parents were interned in camp during WWII and many people from that generation tried to be less Japanese because of that. So I wanted to explore those cultural differences but embrace it in a story that everyone could relate to. However, after a couple interviews with my parents and some initial research on WWII, I’m now exploring the relationships of my grandparents and am finding it so fascinating that I may need to expand my story to include them as well. The research is extremely interesting, but very tedious, so I know it will be a while before this story even makes it to the script stage. It’s all just notes and outlines so far. I semi-joke that this will be the film that I make when I’m rich and famous and could actually get the backing for it. So we shall see.
What is next? Any more books or films in the works?
Aside from my long-term, heritage-exploring project, I am currently developing a feature-length mockumentary with Shaina Vorspan (a close friend, with whom I co-produced my play “Twenty-Two”). I can’t give away the storyline, but it is an improvisational comedy, starring the two of us and a handful of friends from the Knightsbridge Theatre, where I am a company member. It’s a no-budget side project that we’re really just doing for fun, but we’re considering releasing it episodically online. We’re currently in the pre-production stage and plan to shoot it this fall.
Do you feel being Asian has ever held you back in any way?
Absolutely. But is there anyone or anything in particular to blame for that? I don’t know. I don’t want to get into a social commentary here, but I do know that I’ve struggled with my own issues regarding being Asian. I hated that I was Asian when I was a kid. And it took me into my late teens or early twenties, and living in LA, before I finally grew to accept it, then eventually be proud of it. The Screen Actors Guild report, “From Dollars & Sense to Screen: The API Market and the Entertainment Industry” (2010) states, “…Productions that speak specifically to API experiences are practically non-existent…The numbers of APIs on screen still do not reflect current API population demographics.” It notes that in 2008, Asian-Pacific Islanders held only 3.8% of all TV/Theatrical roles. That statistic alone shows how Asian-American actors are held back simply because of the lack of opportunities. And many of the opportunities we do get as performers continue to be the stereotypical broken-English-speaking store owners or tech-geeks or prostitutes named Jade and Lily. But at the same time, Asian-Americans are leading the new media industry – supposedly the most viewed You Tube vloggers are all Asian. So we’re persistent. We’re making our own original projects, which, because of internet technology, we can get out to the public easy and cheap. We’re promoting change for ourselves, and that’s what we have to do. We can’t rely on the rest of the world to do it for us.
Any advice to other women who may want to follow in your footsteps?
In no particular order: You are exactly where you’re supposed to be in this moment; Everything happens for a reason; Trust your instincts; You are worthy of love, success and happiness; Everything will be okay. That’s probably not the type of answer you were looking for. In terms of a career in the entertainment industry, I don’t feel I’m in a place myself in which I could offer solid advice. All I know is if it’s your passion, do it, no matter what. And if it’s not your passion, do something else. Don’t take short cuts or sell yourself, it’s not worth it and will come back to bite you in the ass. Study, take classes, get experience (working for free at first), develop your own projects, and be good to those you work with. Love and respect yourself and others, and the rest will come. There is no try, only do. And don’t ever give up. It’s okay to change – we all change. We have to. But don’t ever give up.
Learn more about Julia and her projects at www.juliamorizawa.com.
“Memoirs of a Wannabe Sex Addict” is available for purchase on Amazon (paperback or Kindle).
Check out Julia’s latest project “JesusCat (or How I Accidentally Joined a Cult),” an improvisational mockumentary, currently in post-production. Like her facebook page!