Stage & Screen

Mad House’s Hanako Footman: “If you don’t see your lived experience, create the space yourself”

The actor-writer chatted with &ASIAN about industry differences across the pond, her favourite past gigs and exploring her sexy side.
Bill Pullman (Daniel) and David Harbour (Michael) in Mad House. Photo: Marc Brenner.
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Mad House’s Hanako Footman: “If you don’t see your lived experience, create the space yourself”

Hi Hanako, thank you so much for chatting with us at &ASIAN! Before we get into discussing your work, do you mind sharing your heritage and how you self-identify for our readers?

Thank you for having me! Yes of course, I’m a Japanese-British actor. I’m trying not to say ‘half Japanese’ anymore. I’m both!

Though progress never feels fast enough, it’s been frankly incredible over the last couple years to see and recognize more and more mixed-race and third culture performers in the spotlight.

What's your experience of casting been like, and do you have any advice you may have for younger actors who face rejection simply for not fitting neatly into one box?

I couldn’t agree more. To be honest, it’s been pretty painful a lot of the time. Even now, I’m often regarded as ‘not enough’. Not Asian enough, not white enough. Other times my heritage is completely disregarded. Representation is something I feel very strongly about. The other day I saw my name—a name that has had its fair share of ridicule—on the side of the Ambassador Theatre, and I burst out crying. I hope seeing a Japanese name like that offers some encouragement to Asian and mixed heritage folk pursuing their dreams.

In terms of advice, I would encourage our community to tell our stories. If you don’t see your lived experience in film, TV, theatre or novels, create the space yourself! It’s early days, but I’ve written a book about being mixed race, with all the identity crises and beauty that come along with that! It’s been one of the most empowering, gratifying things I’ve ever done.

Your resume is full of exciting past projects that showcase your impressive range. What are some of the interesting differences you’ve observed between UK and US-based projects and practices, and do you have a particular genre or past project you consider your favourite?

I haven’t really observed a huge difference between UK and US based projects! But I suppose in regards to casting, I feel the US is way ahead of us in terms of representation. I remember when I was at LAMDA, Chiwetel Ejiofor came in to do a talk. He encouraged any non-white actors to pursue US representation. I’d have to agree with him. We’re more accepted and celebrated over there.

In terms of favourite projects, I’d have to say The Crown. I was so nervous before shooting, barely slept the night before, but as soon as I stepped onto that set all my fears melted away. The attention to detail was extraordinary. From the set, to costume, to the extras. It was a dream come true.

One of your upcoming projects is the world premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s new play Mad House, where you’ll be performing alongside David Harbour (Stranger Things) and Bill Pullman (Independence Day) under the direction of Moritz von Stuelpnagel.

Without spoilers, can you tell us a bit about the process around creating your character Devon?

Devon is a fun-loving exhibitionist! Her and Skylar are a welcome relief after watching Michael and Daniel’s dysfunctional back-and-forth. I have a tendency to really ‘go in’ with a character, but the nature of Devon is free and fun, and so too much work would almost be a disservice to her and her role in the play. She’s very sexy, which has been something that has been so fun to explore! 

Me and Charlie (Skylar) are taking a pole dancing class next week because it’s something our characters would definitely be good at and interested in. It’s so fun when a character pushes you in a new direction, gets you out of your comfort zone, and ultimately imbues you with more confidence.

David Harbour (Michael) and Hanako Footman (Devon) in Mad House. Photo: Marc Brenner.

Mad House also boasts a stellar production team, some of whom have worked on incredible projects such as Cyrano de Bergerac. As a teaser for our readers to run and buy their tickets, what is your favourite set piece, production element or moment of Mad House and why?

Well I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was the scene where you meet Skylar and Devon! They bring sex, drugs and… Jamiroquai. What more do you want?!

Hanako, break a leg for Mad House and we are rooting for you and your future career moves!

Ohhh, thank you so much. It’s been an absolute pleasure and privilege. Thank you so much for amplifying our voices &ASIAN!

Hanako Footman can be found on Instagram. Mad House runs at the Ambassador Theatre from the 15th of June to the 4th of September. Tickets can be bought here.
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