Interview with Atsuko Okatsuka, lead actress & writer of LITTLEROCK
By Lee Ann Kim
LAK: Congratulations on the success of LITTLEROCK and making it into our festival! Tell us a little about yourself - what you've done, and what you're doing now?
AO: Thank you! Well, Littlerock was the first feature film I have ever acted in. Currently, I’m finishing my B.A. in psychology at Brandman University and doing stand-up comedy whenever I can. It’s a way of therapy.
LAK: How do you do you explain the main storyline of LITTLEROCK?
AO: Littlerock is about a Japanese brother and sister (Rintaro and Atsuko) who travel to the United States on a tour and end up breaking down in the small desert town. They meet locals in the town who charm Atsuko into wanting to stay behind while her brother continues onto San Francisco. Staying in Littlerock for just those few more days open her eyes up to racism, love, friendship, and life as it could have been if she were born in the United States.
LAK: Not only were you the lead actor, but also the writer! The script is excellent, especially considering you don't speak a lick of English in this film. I was fully convinced you only spoke Japanese. do others feel the same?
AO: Yes. When the film premiered in San Francisco, I met people at the festival who hesitated to talk to me…and I found out later that it was for that reason.
LAK: What inspired you to write this story? And how did you collaborate with director Mike Ott?
AO: Well, Director Mike Ott and I are friends, and two summers ago, he called me to tell me he wanted to do a few test shoots. He had been brainstorming ideas about a story of language barriers from when he traveled overseas with his first film, Analog Days in 2006.
He said that he wanted to make a film about a foreigner visiting a small town in America, (just as he did when he went to other countries) and portray how it feels to not understand a word of what anybody else is saying. I came onto the project after the test shoot, incorporated my own stories from when I first moved to the United States from Japan, and helped write the Japanese dialogue.
LAK: As I mentioned before, you gave an excellent, convincing performance... as a stranger learning the American small town culture. What were your biggest challenges as an actor?
AO: When I had a scene with Cory in it. It’s hard to try not to laugh when I actually know what he’s saying. Besides that, I think the last scene was the most challenging because I had to be so emotionally invested in the conversation.
LAK: Any favorite scenes or even behind-the-scenes stories to share?
AO: I think my favorite scenes in the film are Cory and Garbo in the trailer smoking pot, and the very last conversation I have with Cory. The trailer scene is particularly memorable but at the same time a blur—because after 3 hours of shooting it everybody in the trailer had gotten contact high from the weed.
LAK: Haha! Really? Well, you must feel “high” about LITTLEROCK traveling to festivals all around the world. How has the Festival experience been so far?
AO: I have only attended the San Francisco International Film Festival in April of this year where Littlerock premiered, but so far it has been such an amazing experience. We are all so stoked every time we hear about a new film festival that we got into, or get nice feedback from people who have watched the film. We actually heard about the San Diego Asian Film Festival through San Francisco. We’re ready for more!
LAK: What is your next project?
Our next project is called Teenage Wasteland, which will be directed by Mike Ott. We are currently in pre-production for it and we plan to shoot it like we did when we made Littlerock: heavily improvised and incorporating real life into scenes. Cory and I will be in it as well!
LAK: Any guilty pleasures?
AO: I guess, reality television. “The Situation” from the Jersey Shore is ridiculously ridiculous…that makes me laugh and semi-obsessed.
LAK: How do you feel about premiering at the San Diego Asian Film Festival? We certainly look forward to seeing you and your co-star Cory Zacharia.
We couldn’t be anymore excited. We look forward to going to San Diego and partying with you guys.
Meet Atsuko Okatsuka and her co-star Cory Zacharia at the premiere of their film, LITTLEROCK, on Sunday, October 24. The film repeats on Thursday, Oct 28.