Charlotte Kate Fox
The American Dream in Japan
New Mexico native Charlotte Kate Fox made waves in Japan as the first non-Japanese heroine of the NHK television broadcaster’s asadora [morning drama] series Massan (2014- 2015), taking on a challenging Japanese-language role with no prior Japanese experience. The role in the series, based on the Nikka Whisky Distilling Co.’s founder and his Scottish wife, made Fox a household name across Japan and launched her career in Japanese television, film, music and theater. Fox has also tackled roles back in the U.S., recently starring as Roxie Hart in Chicago on Broadway before touring with the international production to Japan. Tokyo Journal Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie sat down with Fox to talk about her experience living and working in Japan as well as her role in Chicago.
TJ: How did you first get involved with Massan?
FOX: I thought I’d never get it but I’d just apply ... At that time I was living in Chicago, and I got a very nice email saying, “ Thank you but they’re looking for someone who can actually speak Japanese.” Eight months later, the day after Christmas, I got an email saying, “After all that time we still want you to come to Japan for a screen test. Can you come in for a week?” [Laughs.] I memorized the Japanese lines and fIew there. I got back and moved there 10 days later.
TJ: Can you tell us a bit about Massan and your role as Ellie?
FOX: It was based on a true story about Rita Cowan. She moved [to Japan] with her husband to make the first Japanese whisky. It was a really lovely love story, which I was happy to be a part of, but it was very hard in the beginning.
TJ: Did you speak any Japanese when you started?
FOX: Not a lick [laughs]. If I could go back in time and tell myself at night, [whispers] “Start learning Japanese!” [laughs] it would have been so much less stressful. I had an incredible team of script makers. My script had four parts to it. On top it had the Japanese characters. Under that was the romaji [Romanized Japanese], and then tiny little words under the romaji were the direct translations of the words, so I knew how the sentences were put together. And then under that was English. I took Japanese for about a month before the show started, which is not nearly enough time. But I had a wonderful coach on set with me from beginning to end and he would help.
TJ: Where were you living during filming?
FOX: I lived in Tokyo and then I lived in Osaka for most of the shooting. Then in the third part of the show we lived in Hokkaido, which is amazing! There’s this tiny little town called Furano — I’m from the mountains in New Mexico, so it had a very similar atmosphere and the air is really fresh. It was really peaceful.
"We lived in Hokkaido, which is amazing! ... The air is really fresh. It was really peaceful."
TJ: What was the most challenging thing about moving to Japan?
FOX: It was very lonely. There’s this thing that starts to happen when there’s a limited amount of knowledge to communicate more complex feelings, so for me it was finding a way to connect with people outside of those limitations [laughs]. I had great people to work with, people in hair and makeup especially. I was with them all the time, so I really did build a good relationship with them. I went out to karaoke and I tried to do as much as I could to connect with people. I love the courtesy and I love that people listen to you when you talk. It’s really comforting now.
TJ: How did you land the role of Roxie Hart in Chicago? How was that experience?
FOX: The Japanese producer was interested in me doing it in Japan. I was able to audition for the producer and creative team from NewYork as well. Then I got to go to New York and I rehearsed for about five weeks. I did two weeks on Broadway, and then I did the international tour in Tokyo and Osaka. I was scared. It’s so iconic. But the people were incredibly welcoming — they see so many new people coming and it gave me a lot more perseverance to learn to let go of little failures and just walk away at the end of the day and say, “You just did Broadway, that’s cool!” [Laughs.] tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #278 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.