Sonoya Mizuno is ready for summer in the city. Casually rocking a tomboy-chic haircut and a flowing pale blush trench coat over a loose blouse, she looks the opposite of her high- fashion Crazy Rich Asians alter ego, Araminta Lee. But, like Lee, Mizuno is comfortable in her own skin. “Her style is so crazy. I’m kind of relaxed chic. Boyish. Feminine,” she explains. “It’s very simple. I like that kind of blending of the lines. I think that’s why I really am into my new hair,” she says, running her fingers through her luminous dark- brown locks. “I feel like this suits my personality more than long hair. I just cut this last week.”
Changing her look is also helping her get into character for an upcoming project — Mizuno’s next stop in a whirlwind year that has seen her taking on progressively more substantial roles in four back-to- back film releases and one TV series.
It’s a welcome and hard-earned development in the 30-year-old’s acting career, which began six years ago with an appearance as a forest guard in the Japanese fantasy drama Venus in Eros, before picking up steam with roles as Kyoko, Oscar Isaac’s android dance partner in 2014’s Ex Machina, Emma Stone’s choreographer roommate in La La Land, and a mysterious alien entity in Annihilation, which came out this February.
Now, Mizuno’s transition from classically-trained professional ballet dancer to working actor is complete, she will next be seen in more fully-fleshed personas—as fashionable socialite Araminta Lee in the upcoming romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, and as Dr. Fujita in Maniac, an Emma Stone-Jonah Hill- led project coming out in September on Netflix.
“It was great. I was waiting for the opportunity,” she gushes. “Dr. Fujita is a scientist—a neuroscientist— so, further removed from me and nothing to do with dance. I feel like they’re all stepping-stones to things I want to do. Dance has been a great vehicle for me to get through the doorway. And,in a way,I use it in all of my roles, in terms of the physicality of the parts.”
Her role (as Araminta) in Crazy Rich Asians is similarly an adventure in becoming someone new. “Out of everything I’ve ever done, Araminta is the most different from me as a person. I feel like I’m more like Kyoko than I am Araminta,” she notes, referring to her quiet yet intentional role in Ex Machina. “Araminta has such an outlandish quality to her. There’s something about the way that she grew up in such privilege that she doesn’t really see what’s going on around her. She’s so not aware because she’s so fully immersed in what’s going on in her own bubble. That was something which was so different from my experience growing up.”
Growing up for Mizuno meant living in the “real, beautiful” Somerset countryside in England with her five siblings and her single mother before attending boarding school at the Royal Ballet School in London. Staying grounded is important to her—the experience of being the only Japanese family around made childhood “difficult at times,” but strengthened her resilience and the bond between the brothers and sisters.
Being a part of the first Hollywood film in 25 years—after Joy Luck Club—to feature an all-Asian cast was a thrilling experience for the actor, who is open about the challenges of not fitting easily into casting molds due to her background as a mixed-race woman of Japanese, Argentinian, and English descent. Science-fiction films have often been an avenue through which actors of diverse backgrounds could break into the movie industry, so the chance to play someone neither otherworldly nor an “other” was “such a breath of fresh air,” she admits.
“So many of the Asian parts that we see are either sci-fi or stereotyped in some way,” she explains. “But Crazy Rich Asians is full of so many unique, three-dimensional Asian characters who are all so different from one another.”
It was apparently a feeling shared by the rest of the cast, creating a sense of camaraderie and mutual support that continues to this day. “I think a lot of us have struggled in our careers with those kinds of parts,” she says. “And then we were all given this opportunity at the same time to be taken off the leash. It was like, finally—here’s a proper part.”
Mizuno also takes the long view, from the audience perspective, noting the importance of viewers being able to see themselves represented in art. “I want it to speak to Asian people and I want them to feel proud and excited by it. Especially younger generations. Growing up, we didn’t have people who looked like us on the screen. I hope it speaks to them in a positive way.”
The key to Mizuno’s steady success might lie in her understanding that you can’t build a well-rounded career without building a well-rounded life. Toward that end, she kicked off the new year with a move to New York City, where it is “much more my kind of pace than LA.”
“There’s something about LA, the niceness of it and the seductiveness of it—which I’m not immune to—but it doesn’t feel real in a way. And for me, it’s kind of scary because I feel like you can get sucked into the bubble of it.”
Among her favorite out-of-the-bubble activities to do in New York: spending time with friends and family, grabing coffee at East Village shop Abraço, and going to the theatre. Asked if she would ever consider acting on stage herself, Mizuno’s eyes light up and her voice takes on a serious tone.
“I would love to. Have you seen Three Tall Women?” she asks, referencing the Tony Award-winning play featuring Laurie Metcalf. “You must go! Oh my god. I’m going to try and see it again. It’s so amazing. That’s the goal—to do stuff like that.”
Ultimately, Mizuno sees herself as simply trying to create work that she cares about and that is meaningful, “because life’s short, so otherwise, what’s the point?”
“There are so many unknowns in this business, and not everything is in your control,” she notes. “You do it and you feel proud, but it also has to come out and meet the world. The hope is that it not only does well, but that it catches onto the zeitgeist of what’s going on.”
And there’s always also the option to write the stories you want to see. “I am trying to write something at the moment, but it’s actually not for myself.” Does she envision writing for herself one day? “Maybe. So many things have happened that I could never have even dreamed of. They were beyond my dreams. Now I say, who knows? Anything can happen.”
Written by Heather J. Chin
Photographed by Zackery Michael
Flaunt Film by Zackery Michael
Styled by Rika Watanabe
Hair: Stefano Greco
Makeup: Charlotte Day