Stranger in a Strange Land

Alumna Charlotte Kate Fox shares how she landed a huge acting role, and the adventure of a lifetime, in Japan

June 2015—It was the second day of filming for a Japanese television show called “Massan,” and between takes Charlotte Kate Fox (’08) was quietly crying in the stairwell. She was exhausted and intimidated. She’d gone from working sporadically in small films and theater in the U.S. to being cast as the female lead in an asadora, an exceptionally popular type of drama series. Asadoras have been on the air in Japan since 1961, but “Massan” was different—it would be the first to star a foreign woman.

Fox’s role as Ellie, modeled after Rita Cowan, tells the story of the real-life Scottish wife of the founder of Japan’s whiskey industry who moved to Japan with the love of her life and faced hardships as she attempted to understand the culture and the language.

In that way, Fox and Rita were very much alike. That common bond, along with the knowledge that Rita survived and thrived—plus the never-give-up attitude that Fox honed while at SFUAD—gave Fox the courage to wipe her eyes, come out of the stairwell, and keep shooting.

“I never thought in a million years that I would be working in Japan,” Fox says. “It’s been a difficult, wonderful journey, and I’m excited to see where my life leads me to next.”

Fox grew up in Santa Fe, where as a child she studied ballet and acted in local theater productions. At 16, she decided to leave her Catholic high school to be home-schooled so that she could focus on acting. She attended the College of Santa Fe (now SFUAD) to study the craft. “It gave me the foundation I needed to continue my training as an artist,” she says. “It was fundamental to my path as an artist and was the best starting point.”

Next, she obtained her MFA from Northern Illinois University, going on to act in professional and regional theater productions and small independent films, while supplementing her income as a waitress and a babysitter.

One day, while scanning auditions, she saw the casting notice for “Massan.” She was intrigued, but initially dismissed it because it didn’t seem practical. “Later that night I was sitting on my couch and I came back to the casting call,” she says. “I thought, ‘Why not? You never know. Be brave, Charlotte. Take a risk.’ So I submitted.”

Her submission led to a video audition. Many days later, while drinking coffee in bed at her parents’ house in New Mexico, she received an email from the casting director asking her to come to Japan for a screen test. She got the part, moved to Tokyo to work on the script, and attend language school.

Learning lines for the show was uniquely difficult. First the words were translated into English so she could understand them. Then she’d learn to pronounce them in Japanese and memorize the lines in that language.

“I was so overwhelmed by all of the Japanese lines and not understanding anything anyone said to me,” she says. “But I was comforted by knowing that Rita felt similarly. We both struggled to fit in and adapt to the culture.”

The 15-minute episodes aired daily from September of last year through March to wide acclaim. And her work on the show caught the attention of a New York theater producer, who cast her in the musical “Chicago.” She’s also working on a music album and writing a script for a project she’d like to film in New Mexico and Japan.

“My life is completely changed now. I have more opportunities now than ever,” she says. “It’s reminded me that the most important thing you can do is to take chances. Don’t get attached to the idea of who you think you are. Life is most fruitful, surprising, and rewarding when you open yourself to other ideas of what life can be, of what you can be, of what you can change into. Be brave and take chances.” —Christine Van Dusen