Cara Mitsuko is an actress and producer based in Los Angeles, CA. After graduating with a degree in theatre performance from San Diego State University, she continued to hone her craft by studying with professional acting coaches such as Walker Clark, Stuart Rogers, Scott Rogers, Ivana Chubbuck, and, most recently, with Paul Schackman at Actor’s Instinct. One of the most memorable moments of her career was taking part in a production of “The Crucible” in Portland: the actors were cast in secret, rehearsed one-on-one with the director, and debuted the show to the audience after never meeting one another. As Cara said, “I had no idea what to expect from my co-stars, and I think what we created was really incredible.” Highlights of other projects Cara has worked on include the lead role in Luis Valdez’s play “Valley of the Heart,” Amazon Studio’s “The Man in The High Castle” and Netflix’s “You.” Read on to learn more about Cara and what makes her an Amazing Asian in the Arts!
Name: Cara Mitsuko
Hometown: Vallejo, CA
Current City: Los Angeles, CA
Nothing I’ve been hired to do. Working on a few scripts.
What are some of your favorite credits/projects:
The Man In The High Castle(Amazon), You (Netflix), Valley of the Heart (Theater)
Any advice for young people getting into the arts?
Read, watch, and find things that speak to you! Also take time to listen to yourself. What do you naturally love and gravitate toward? I feel like that’s such a wonderful exercise. Romance yourself.
How did you get your start?
I started to have an interest in acting when I was around 13, but was a really shy child. I finally got up the guts to audition for a local play and didn’t get cast, but loved the audition so much that I started doing drama in high school a year or so later.
I went to San Diego State University to study theater (performance emphasis), and did some plays in the community in San Diego. But I would say my first big TV gig was The Librarians.It was my first co-star! And, it was directed by Jonathan Frakes, which made my Star Trek loving heart very happy.
Do you have any favorite moments in your career that you'd like to share?
I did a production of The Crucible in Portland, a one-night show as a fundraiser for a company up there (The Anonymous Theatre Company, Portland). It was a very interesting model: actors were cast in secret, rehearsed one-on-one with the director, never meeting each other, and then the night of the show we took our places as audience members and stood up and took the stage on our first line. It stood out for a couple of reasons beside the obvious uniqueness of the format. For one, I remember reading The Crucible in high school and hoping one day I’d play Elizabeth Proctor, but telling myself it would never be possible because I’m Asian. And for another, it was such an empowering and exhilarating experience to almost be improvising the opening night - I had no idea what to expect from my co-stars, and I think what we created was really incredible.
What have you found is the biggest challenge in your career?
Having patience has been a huge challenge. I want things to move really fast, and sometimes they do, but then the waiting in between the more quick-moving periods can be really trying. I think hand-in-hand with this is that “progress” in the industry is not a straight line, or has not been for me. This has been a huge source of stress and self-reflection. I like measuring, tracking, and controlling, and that is not something that’s necessarily easy or beneficial to do as an actor!
What are some interesting facts about yourself?
I was the first person to take AP French at my high school (and the only person that year). I love dogs a ridiculous amount, and find them endlessly distracting. I’m sure they’ve distracted me in the middle of many meetings and conversations. My name, Mitsuko, is actually my middle name, and means “third child” which is a happy coincidence as a third child, because when I told my mom she said, “oh really?”
Who do you admire?
Of course it’s hard to pick only one person, but I do have to say my dad. He has had a very hard life, and has remained open minded and I might even say optimistic, with a great sense of humor. He also loves traveling and takes risks, and I hope I take after him in that department.
Do you have any mentors?
I don’t have any mentors, but I have been lucky to have lots of great teachers, who at different times have given me a lot of wisdom and advice. One teacher, Dani Bedau, told me L.A. was a ten year town, and I’m still grateful for her being the first to gently mention that, because if she hadn’t I might have been even harder on myself.
I think it’s interesting that sometimes advice or wisdom can be a double-edged sword. I find sometimes that I immediately mistrust what I deem flattering words from teachers, and then freak out about both compliments and constructive criticism. Sometimes a narrative can get lodged in my brain and I can find it hard to get out. Paul Schackman, an acting teacher here in L.A. has brought to my attention more than one narrative from a past teacher that I perhaps have distorted or allowed to carry far more weight than it was intended to.
Did you always want to be in the arts or did you have another path before you got here?
As a really young kid I wanted to be a librarian. I was really shy, and a job where people had to be quiet and I could read all the time sounded ideal (I had no idea what being a librarian actually entailed). But around the age of 12 I got really obsessed with our laser disc of Jurassic Park, and for about a year was sure I wanted to be a paleontologist. I read about it, pretended to go on expeditions and digs...but a year or so in I learned that in order to lead my own digs I’d have to have a Ph.D., and I was not about to do all that school. It was then I realized what I really loved was the pretend, and switched my focus to acting.
When did you know you wanted to have a career in the arts?
I knew around 13/14. I went to an audition at a local theater and didn’t get the part, but I had so much fun doing the audition that I knew I wanted to keep doing it. The audition was for Susan in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and I was asked on the spot to read the White Witch - I hadn’t felt that free and alive before, in that way.
Did you have any interesting “odd jobs” you worked at between shows to pay the bills?
I used to think I didn’t have any interesting jobs, but I’ve had a few. My first job at 16 was housekeeping at my dad’s business. Then I worked as an administrative assistant in the mechanical engineering department at SDSU. I’ve worked as a dog walker, bookseller, front desk of a gym, office administrator of a theater company...and now a waitress, which feels like a really good fit for a survival job.
Do you have any other “special skills?”
I wouldn’t say I’m an expert at anything, which I wish wasn’t the case. I feel like I can get good enough at something to kind of fool some people, but not most. I can speak a good amount of French, I’ve played piano since I was eight, and I used to ride horses and do hunter/jumper courses and cavalry drills.
I guess a special skill is I can be really scrappy. Like, I’ll try to do most things, and can sometimes throw myself at things before asking questions, especially physical pursuits. For example, I’ve done a year and a half of Krav Maga, several months of karate. But I tend to become a bit obsessive and ultimately end up leaving it because it gets unhealthy.
Do you have any side projects you’d like to highlight?
At the moment it’s just a lot of writing. I’m writing a few screenplays with my husband. And my producing partner and I are always kicking ideas around.
If you come from parents who aren’t in the arts, what parts of them do you see in yourself that have helped you succeed in the arts?
It’s interesting, I’ve often seen the pragmatism of my mother or analytical leaning of both of my parents as something that sets me back in comparison to other artists I see who have the arts enmeshed in their background. I think in many ways I’m still making peace with that. But it has made me a good assistant director, when I have done that in the past, or a good producer. I think it helps me in ways I haven’t explored in my art much, to be completely honest.
What skills did you find to be the most helpful in your career?
I think open-mindedness and curiosity are skills I find very useful, when I engage and exercise them. I don’t feel quite healthy when I’m not engaging with those skills and growing them.
Where did you study at?
I studied at San Diego State University as a theatre major. After that I’ve studied at various studios, with Walker Clark who I believe is now in New York, Stuart Rogers, Scott Rogers, Ivana Chubbuck, and most recently with Paul Schackman at Actor’s Instinct.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Maintaining a healthy marriage for seven years. Maybe just having vibrant relationships in general that push me to be better and challenge me.
What are some goals you hope to achieve?
I’d love to produce a feature film with a script written by myself or a friend. I’d love
to act in something sci-fi or fantasy, or both! And I’d love to hike the Inca Trail. I’d also love to be as fluent as possible in French and hopefully someday Japanese as well.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love that it’s stories! I love that we get to talk about being human and all the tough questions. I love getting to explore other worlds and lives. And I love getting to know other people through my characters and carving out a little more empathy for them, even if it’s just in my small corner of the world.
What helped you most to rebound from what you considered your biggest failure or mistake in your career?
I can’t think of anything that I’d consider an enormous failure, but I did have to make a very difficult decision professionally a few years ago that I agonized over, sought council on, and eventually made, despite the potential professional setback it could mean. It was one of the most difficult times professionally I’ve ever had. I think what got me through it was the community around me that supported me and encouraged me, and the knowledge that “actor” is only part of my identity. I think sometimes one has to make decisions that don’t always feel like they're the best professionally, or move career forward, because those decisions help grow us as people. And I hope that even more than becoming a better artist, I’m becoming a better person. Although I think those are often one in the same.
If you are an actor, how do you deal with playing roles that go against your own personal beliefs? (For example in war or conflict dramas, etc.)
I come from a Christian background, although I have a good deal of trouble with the label “Christian,” and don’t truly feel it applies to me. But growing up this question was often on my mind. I think I’ve almost always had very little issue with playing roles that go against my own personal beliefs or priorities. I think believing something should not be an excuse to not try to understand or love those who are different or believe differently. I want to build roads of empathy for myself and others to all the characters I play, and that doesn’t change if the character behaves in a way contrary to my own beliefs as a part of their story and their truth.
What inspires you?
I think music, movement and nature really inspire me. But I often don’t let myself engage in them without motive. For example, hiking for exercise instead of to be in nature, or listening to music to get inspiration for something instead of just enjoying it on it’s own. I also love fantasy novels and want to read more of them.
If you could name one point in time when everything changed for you, what was it?
This may sound really dark, but my parents’ divorce when I was a kid really changed things. Logistically and geographically, but also emotionally, spiritually - all the ways. I used to say it was the moment I “woke up.” I think it opened my eyes to a lot of things, and caused me to desire to be more empathetic. I was lucky that both my parents stuck around. At first I wanted to point fingers and label who was right and wrong, good or bad. But that didn’t last long, because I love both my parents, and it felt wrong to reduce them. I think that probably is what propelled me toward art.
Is there anything else you would like to share about yourself?
My family watched a lot of Star Trek while I was growing up - I watched some TNG, and every night when DS9 and then Voyager came on we would watch it together, or record it and watch it later if we couldn’t catch it the first time. It’s probably influenced a lot more of my art than I realize. Also growing up I mainly listened to oldies, country, and musicals, so my pop culture knowledge is pretty abysmal.
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May 14, 2021
Great job on NCIS New Orleans tonight. Your look was so serious it even scared me enough to look up who you were.