Where did your love of English through drama come from?
I grew up in Ottawa and Montreal, and that’s when I first learned English. However, I was always interested in drama. I wanted to be an actress in Japan but couldn’t find a place where I could be happy, so later on I went back to the States. I trained at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York. Then I was able to direct plays and musicals such as Hair, The Magic Monkey and The Winds of God.
Tell us about your schools.
One is the Model Language Studio, which consists of training for actors, audition practice and workshops, as well as English training for business professionals, adults and children. The other is the United Performers Studio. It is similar to the Actors Studio in New York and is based on the Meisner technique, where students work “from the inside out.” UPS is also a production and management company for professional actors, focusing on international film and television.
What is your teaching method?
In learning English through drama, you use your body, your heart and not just your mind. Whether you are young or old, we nurture who you are [by] using drama techniques.
Tell us about your experiences as a casting director.
That started with Steven Spielberg on Empire of the Sun in 1987. More recently, I was casting director for The Last Samurai, Memoirs of a Geisha, Babel and The Ramen Girl.
Memoirs of a Geisha attracted a lot of controversy, didn’t it?
Yes, because the director [Rob Marshall] opted to cast Chinese actresses as Japanese geisha. I really wanted him to use Japanese girls, but the director had his own concept about how he wanted to do it.
How about The Last Samurai?
That was easier to cast because Edward Zwick, the director, respected our culture and was very open to all my suggestions. I was the dialogue coach for Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe.
Why aren’t Japanese movie stars making it big abroad?
Language is one factor. Some Japanese actors think that because Ken Watanabe did it, they can too, if they learn English. But it doesn’t work that way. Often, filmmakers decide to go with Asian-American actors, but that’s not the same thing. Japanese characters have certain mannerisms and gestures, which a Japanese actor can best express. Then, on top of all that, he or she needs to speak fluent English, be talented, and have charisma or sex appeal.
What advice would you give to anyone auditioning for a part in a movie or play?
Try and enjoy yourself. Be grateful that you have a chance to perform. Don’t take it personally. Be confident in who you are.