We met with Shuna Iijima, an actress based in Japan. She has worked across various disciplines of acting including Shakespeare, physical theatre, clown, puppetry, and devising. Shuna tells us about her journey in becoming an actress and her aspirations for the future. Recently, she even collaborated with us on a photo campaign for our shoes with the streets of Tokyo being the backdrop.
What led you to become an actress?
As a child, I used to watch a lot of films on HBO. I spent my childhood in Indonesia and the TV channel we always watched was HBO and it was a lot of American cinema. So as a child my life was influenced a lot by movies. After that when I was in high school as part of our extra-curricular classes I joined the drama club. That is how I got interested in acting as a career.
I understand you studied acting in the UK. How come you decided on studying in London?
After finishing high-school, I went to language school in Tokyo for one year. The next year I went to Cambridge, and later to London. I had never been to any European country before, and because I watched a lot of television and films showing England, I was attracted to the scenic beauty of this country. I knew I wanted to study theatre but the reasons for choosing the UK were not very specific or deep since I was young and open to exploring.
What kind of roles or stories that get your attention?
I usually like something far from myself and my personality to play a role. Every character is unique. It is not only about the character, but how this person spends their life and how the role is connected to the story. Recently, I am attracted to play roles that have difficult situations that I have never experienced. Otherwise, I enjoy working on all kinds of stories and I do not like to limit myself to any particular genre.
What do you find the most challenging with your work?
I am not sure if this is challenging or not but it is very important to me is to stimulate myself. As an actress, I’ve to go for a number of auditions every week, sometimes almost every day but then many times you do not get the role, the job. It is an extremely difficult process, sometimes you lose confidence and faith. You keep questioning yourself if this is the right job for you or if you are good enough to keep doing it. So this has been very important for me to motivate myself and keep going.
What is your method or process to get into character?
My method is a mixture of lessons I have learnt in theatre school and through my acting career. Before filming, I take the time to prepare for the role by reading the script many times to get familiar with my character. I try to understand the character and his relationships to the other characters in the story. And then I start making background stories, things which are not written in the script. This process takes time, it is not like I sit with a pen and paper and give the character a background story. I try to take time and live in the role whenever possible. It could be anything from waking up in the morning or making a cup of tea. And then gradually it settles and I have a better understanding of the person I am playing.
Do clothes play a role in your work? And how does dressing up help you become a character?
Yes, clothes are an important tool for me to get into character. In my regular life, I usually wear jeans and pants, I do not wear many skirts. And sometimes when I play a very feminine character, I have to wear a long skirt or so. This helps me to figure out, how the character is supposed to walk or how to sit and that naturally makes my attitude a lot more feminine. So that way shoes, clothes, and hats help become the character I am to play.
Where do you see yourself in the next few years with your craft?
I hope to do a variety of roles. I am very keen on working internationally as well. I guess it is still hard for me to do films in other foreign languages since I can only speak Japanese and English. And hopefully, in few years I would be able to learn more languages as well which could open more opportunities for me.
Since we are a niche, boutique label, we are always curious to learn about other independent creators. It would be great if you could recommend couple of independent films or any particular director’s works that would be interesting for our readers.
‘The Ark in the Mirage’ (2015) directed by Yasutomo Chikuma was a great and unique Japanese independent film I watched last year. ‘Roling’ by Tominaga Masanori and ‘Sanchu Uprising: Voices at dawn’ (‘Atarashiki Tami’ -Japanese title) by Juichiro Yamasaki are quite interesting as well.