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Interview With Artist Anzu Lawson

Updated: Jun 2

Photographer: Denise Vasquez Artist Anzu Lawson

Featured Interview in PROMOTE Magazine issue 3 April 2024

How Old Were You When You First Started Performing?

My first memory was being 5 years old and singing a nursery song in Japanese for Toei Films in Japan and being scouted at my very first audition. Then came modeling at 12,

a modeling contract at 15, then writing/recording my first song at 16, that led to a record deal in Japan a few years later after meeting Jon Anderson of the band YES, backstage at an INXS concert. He wanted to produce a song for me and I left school and joined “the circus” so to speak. I’ve never looked back, for better or for worse.

Which came first, music or acting or both?

Music came first. It was my full time job at 16 and I thought, I would move back to California and it would be just as easy as it was in Japan. It wasn’t.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up mainly in Los Angeles, and then my mother kidnapped my sister and I back to Japan during a tumultuous custody battle. Since I was already modeling in Tokyo during summer vacations as a teen, it made sense to go where the money was.

What led you to Hollywood? Did you move to Hollywood to pursue a career in the arts? Did you move alone or with family?

I’m a California girl, who grew up in a bathing suit, and rock and roll playing on the radio. When I was catapulted into a patriarchal, conservative Japanese society, as much as I wanted to succeed over there for my family, I always knew my real home was America. In order to pursue my dreams in America, I had to hock two guitars, secretly buy a one-way ticket, run away from my stage mother who was searching for me, break my record contract and leave my sister behind to fend for herself. My stage mom disowned me for 4 years until, she heard I was starring in my first American movie called “American Yakuza” opposite Viggo Mortensen. I had hurt a lot of people when I left Japan. A lot of tears were shed but it was literally “life or death” for me.

Where did you study in the states?

Study, hmm. I had no guidance early on in my career. This was pre-internet. After trying multiple schools, teachers, coaches, etc. Eventually I found my tribe and acting teacher, Jocelyn Jones in 2011. This was when I turned my back on music and wanted to focus solely on acting. That was the first time, I had a transcendent experience on stage doing a “Yoko Ono monologue” which I had only ever experienced singing. That moment, where time stands still, and you are channeling something bigger than yourself. Jocelyn no longer teaches but I was lucky to experience the tail end of that era.

Who or what influenced or inspired you to want write: Write Your own music? Write your own Stand up Comedy? Write your own One Woman shows? Is it the same process for writing all of the above? If not, how is your approach different for each one?

Before “Crazy Rich Asians” came out, the roles for Asian women were few and far between. I started out in the 90’s playing concubines and doctors. Margaret Cho was the only Asian

comedienne I knew of and Lucy Liu was Hollywood’s token Asian actress, and it was terribly frustrating as a no-name actress that TV had still NOT reflected “real life” with diverse casting or multi-racial families in TV or films. I wrote out of necessity for my sanity. I got my screenwriting certification at UCLA in 2009 and I started writing. I had been doing stand-up comedy since 2005 and yes, that opened a lot of doors BUT I eventually went on to embrace One Woman Shows because, in that medium, you have a captive audience for 75 minutes instead of an “8 minute set” bringer shows at The Comedy Store, which never allowed me much time to say something poignant or leave a real stamp.

How many feature films have you worked on?

I just looked and I have over 100 film and TV credits on imdb but strangely, I feel like I am just beginning my journey. Just like writing songs, the most recent one is the one your most excited about, right?

Have you received nominations or awards for acting, music, your one woman shows?

I was nominated for Best Actress in my role as Yoko Ono at The 2014 Fringe Festival.

You never forget your first big one, but currently, I am up for an award in a short film by Christopher Schultz called “Enemy No More.” I self-submitted on Actors Access because they wanted someone who could speak Japanese. I am so glad I did, too. It was cast by Dean Fronk and on the shoot, I met the most amazing people who will forever be in my life now. You never know what and who will lead you to where and when!

What challenges do you face getting cast on films in Hollywood?

Right now, the biggest challenge all actors are facing today is, this impending IATSE strike as well as Hollywood still finding its legs after the SAG strike. This industry is going through major shifts right now but it’s all par for the course. I think if we can survive a pandemic, we can survive anything. There is simply not enough projects being produced and cast at this time.

What would being nominated for an Oscar mean to you?

To me, it would mean I can start producing and directing multiple projects that I have piled up waiting; in that I would be able to create opportunities for other “up and coming” talent too. Much in the same way my co-writer Nick Vallelonga, on the Yoko Ono project we’re doing together, has done for me. He has TWO Oscars sitting on his shelf. That’s literally two more than what Alfred Hitchock has and it carries a lot of weight in this town. Nick won them for “Greenbook” which was “Best Picture” in 2019.

If there was anything you could change about the movie industry, what would it be?

The #MeToo movement already did that for me. It was a long time coming. The “cancel culture” is another topic but I am a firm believer that “the truth” will always be prevail with time.

Any new projects in the works that you are able to talk about?

I am so excited to reunite with my “American Yakuza” director Frank Cappello (writer of Constantine) on a movie called “The Womb.” It had its premiere on Feb 27th at The Golden State Film Festival at The Mann’s Chinese Theatre, won Best Feature Film Grand Jury Prize, and fingers crossed it finds a great distributor. Frank did all the 300+ special effects by hand and I know it’s going to blow some minds, as he always does. I am also excited to be able to talk about an adventure family movie by Ritchie Greer called “Curse Of Vandor” where I play a witch with the amazing Dee Wallace (E.T., Cujo) Dee and I did our first movie together in the 90’s called “Best Of The Best 3” and this is us coming full circle again on the big screen. It’s like being a kid again when you get to play with your imagination with your best friends and we’re all having fun, together. This movie is something special and fingers crossed there’s a bidding war for this film, too.

Where can people find you online?

I am very easy to stalk, LOL. My Instagram page is @AnzuLawson and my youtube page is Anzu Lawson.

Anything else you want to add?

I want to thank YOU, Denise. Thank you for asking me to be a part of your new PROMOTE magazine. I have always been inspired by you, when we were both doing the Music Connection music scene back in the day and your talent, passion and ambition has always made you stand out from everyone else. We both have been to hell and back on this yellow brick road but here we are, standing stronger today, than ever before. I think it’s priceless to find your “truly supportive and grounded tribe” on this path called life because it does get lonely. It takes a village and we can’t do it alone. At the end of the day, it's not about the awards, the credits or the car. It’s about the people, the art, the spiritual lessons we learn along the way and the LOVE we get to share and shine in this world. So keep shining, everyone!

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