Sonoya Mizuno is Breaking Barriers

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Dance led Sonoya Mizuno into one of the most iconic scenes in director Alex Garland’s dystopian 2014 film Ex Machina, in which her character, Kyoko, impromptu-boogies with Oscar Isaac to the disco hit „Get Down Saturday Night.“ Mizuno’s inherent physicality is similarly scene-stealing in Garland’s 2016 Annihilation, and she will reunite with him once more this year in the upcoming FX thriller series Devs, in which she plays the role of Lily Chan, a computer engineer who suspects her employer, a cutting-edge tech firm, may be responsible for the murder of her boyfriend. Such subject matter is far from the posh exuberance of her Crazy Rich Asians character, Araminta, a role that may have spared Mizuno from the grips of continuing education. Here, she speaks with her Crazy Rich co-star Awkwafina about validation, representation, multi-hyphenates, and the necessity of boring old research.

AWKWAFINA: Hey Sonoya! How are you?

SONOYA MIZUNO: I’m good! I’m sorry, have I woken you up really early?

A: It’s okay, I had to get up anyway. So, let’s go back to the beginning with Ex Machina. What was it like getting the part to play a robot so early in your career?

SM: Well, I didn’t really know much about acting on a technical level before I did that film—I was pretty ignorant about it all, to be honest. It was the first film I ever auditioned for. I was just lucky; I was in the right place at the right time. They happened to be looking for a Japanese person who could use their body in a particular way, and I used to be a dancer.

A: I mean, I’m a Japanese dancer who can use her body in a particular way. I don’t know why they didn’t call.

SM: Yes! [Laughs]

A: What was the inspiration and driving force behind that role?

SM: I mainly used my dance experience. When I read the part, I also thought about the time I spent in Japan modeling, when I noticed how badly hair and makeup artists would treat their assistants. I was shocked by how the assistants would take it and be so subservient, so that definitely informed the part along with my dance background.

A: When you were younger, did you ever see yourself acting as you are today?

SM: Well, I always loved acting because my uncle was an actor, and he was my favorite person as a child. He’s the person who taught me how to dance as well. But at that point in my life, I never really expected I’d be doing film. Did you?

A: No, definitely not. I mean, the whole landscape has changed so much. When I was a kid, I thought movies were like, Beetlejuice. [Laughs] Anyway, I know you grew up in the countryside in Somerset, which is pretty picturesque…

SM: I mean, I guess it was picturesque… The countryside is very beautiful, but my clothes always stank of pig shit! [Laughs] My mum also passed when I was young, so it wasn’t like I had this perfect childhood in the countryside. It was very hard at times.

A: What do you feel is one of the most challenging roles you’ve played?

SM: Physically, mentally, emotionally, probably the one I’m working on now: Devs, a new FX show directed by Alex Garland. I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about it much, but it’s a very long TV show, which drags work on much longer than working on a movie or whatnot. I quite like it though, to be honest. Staying with something for a long time really allows you to get into character, and it allows you to make more mistakes.

A: How did you prepare for that role?

SM: Alex and I sat in on a meeting in a very specific department at Google, which is not easily accessible, it was fascinating. I did a lot of reading on the scientific themes of the series and took a basic class in coding so I had an understanding of my character’s day job.

A: You probably know that I did music before acting, and you’ve spoken a good amount about your background in dance and modeling. Do you ever think there’s an industry bias against people who come into acting as we do? Do you think there are advantages to having a different skill and coming into acting?

SM: I think you and I have been acting for around the same amount of time, and since we started, I think things have really changed. Now, people are very open to and excited by the idea of people who are adaptable, but I remember when I started out, I found it impossible to get an agent. People basically just saw me as a dancer. I remember sending CVs to every management company in L.A.—which were basically all rejections—but there was one in particular that stood out to me, because it was so mean! It was this guy who told me, “You seem like a great dancer… I manage actors.” [Laughs]

A: I know for me, personally, I like to see actors who have other dimensions to them–and if someone’s really good in a role, then that’s ultimately all that matters.

SM: At the end of the day, if you’re an artist, you’re an artist, and it can be expressed in so many different ways. There shouldn’t be a wall built around it.

A: How do you prepare for a role?

SM: It’s never quite been the same, but I try my best to truly understand the role. I also work a good amount with my teachers and in my classes.

A: This is what everyone doesn’t know. Sonoya takes a lot of classes!

SM: [Laughs] I know! I have such great teachers. I’m a bit of a sucker for classes.

A: Are there any movies or movie genres you look to for inspirations?

SM: I don’t really have a genre, but a period—I like movies from the ’70s, like Midnight Cowboy and Paris, Texas; old school films like that. 

A: Do you have any insecurities? If so, are you good at pushing them aside?

SM: I do, but I don’t think I’m very good at pushing them aside! My main one is always that I’m doing a bad job. It seems to just exist; it co-exists with me doing the work and I have to just push through to do my job. 

A: I think performers need validation constantly—us horrible insecure people—and if we don’t get it, then we do feel those insecurities. We just want to know that we’re doing a good job.

SM: Right. It’s a pretty vulnerable position we’re in.

A: What was your initial reaction when you learned you’d be in Crazy Rich Asians?

SM: I was so fucking happy. When I got the call—I swear to God that this is completely true—I was downloading a prospectus for London University to study English Literature. I was literally about to stop acting—I couldn’t deal with the rejections any longer. Just as I was doing that, my agent called me. 

A: What was your reaction when Crazy Rich took off?

SM: It took a long time to sink in, and still now, I can’t quite believe it. Because we had such an amazing time making it, and because it meant so much to all of us at that time, it feels kind of like a perfect ending. 

A: How has your life changed from it?

SM: My personal life hasn’t changed at all, but I definitely have noticed a shift in the industry. There are a lot more Asian people being cast in parts, and getting the equal recognition that they deserve. It’s so brilliant to see, isn’t it? I mean, look at you—I’m so proud of you, and it’s so wonderful to see you in everything.

A: You as well—it’s a wonderful time to be doing this. Where do you see yourself going from here?

SM: My life has taken to many unexpected turns. Family is really important to me, so I’d like to stay close to them. I’d also like to have a family of my own one day. I’d like to get into theatre as well. 

A: Do you have a dream role? If I could make one for you, it’d just be a show where you play yourself (laughs).

SM: Well, the truth is I’m not very good at being myself in front of many people, so I don’t think it’d be very entertaining! I’m not sure, honestly. Like I said I’d really like to do theatre.

A: How do you feel the industry could better represent people of Asian descent, and in particular, Asian women?

SM: Primarily, just through opportunities—there need to be more ways for people of Asian descent to be represented in film. I think a big part of it is including Asians in parts where their ethnicity isn’t a central part of their identity; being a part of a story that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the fact that they’re Asian. Those parts are important as well, though.

A: A role that doesn’t have anything to do with their ethnicity, per se, but more to do with aspects like bravery and accomplishment. 

SM: Exactly. I think those roles challenge the construct of characters—as in, maybe that girl can be Asian or doesn’t have to be. For instance, I had a white mother, but people may never see me as a character that would have a white mother. 

A: Those characters are underrepresented too! 

SM: There are so many different experiences that are out there, and at the moment, it’s amazing to see that we’re just starting to scrub at the surface of it. It’s also fantastic that everyone’s celebrating it, but we also have a lot of work to do still. Hopefully we can stay on this path.

A: What would you tell a younger version of yourself?

SM: I think to just try and enjoy things as much as I could. I’ve spent so much time worrying about things working or not working out, that I would’ve just told myself that being in the moment and enjoying things is far more important. 

A: I could tell myself that right now.

SM: [Laughs] As could I.

CR Fashion Book Issue 14 is available alongside CR MEN Issue 8 on newsstands now. To order a copy online click here, and sign up for our newsletter for exclusive stories from the new issue.


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