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Conversations with Akira Lee Watanabe

Today we’d like to introduce you to Akira Lee Watanabe.

Hi Akira, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I grew up in one of the most underrated cities, a port town, Yokohama, Japan. To be completely honest, looking back at the start of my journey, I got into performing because I felt like I was being seen. I was an only child, painfully shy, and I struggled to find my voice and the ability to express myself. So, when I stumbled into acting through a school play, I was hooked. Back then, I got roles because I was the loudest. My parents worked extremely hard to provide for me, so I spent a lot of time at home alone watching films that I rented from the local video store. When I graduated from high school, I was torn between pursuing Fine Arts or Acting. I distinctly remember choosing acting by asking myself, “Which choice will I not regret taking?”. I lovingly call this question my “gut check.” From that moment forward, I asked that question every time I had to make a choice regarding my path in the Entertainment Industry. This led me to the UK to pursue in-depth training in acting, voice-over, and Industry processes. My “gut check” was the catalyst for me to inspire people by sharing my journey.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
No, it hasn’t but I think it’s all for the best. I think one of the barriers and blessings that I encountered in my career was that I didn’t fit in as a Japanese/Korean actor with an American accent in London. There have been times when I went into castings and they didn’t know what to do with me. On the flip side, there were amazing instances when I fit a casting to a tee, and the directors thought that they wouldn’t be able to find someone like me. I think being in a niche and accepting that you don’t fit in is sometimes your greatest gift. People like Michaela Cole and Phoebe Waller-Bridge are great examples of how you can embrace your uniqueness, open up avenues in the industry, and expand opportunities for similar people.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am an Actor, Voice Over Artist, Host/Speaker, and a Creative Consultant. I had the pleasure of working on great projects such as ‘Tom Clancy’s: The Division 2′, BBC Radio 3’s production of ‘Thousand Cranes’, and the film ‘Yesterday’ by Danny Boyle. These were great experiences where I learned a lot about myself and I was very lucky because the people I was working with were just so giving. I also had the pleasure of working with the Kingdom School of Arts in the UK, led by Ashley Walters and Nagajan Modhwadhia. They are a wonderful drama school, working constantly to change the demographic and accessibility in the UK industry. I had several opportunities whilst I was there to mentor and talk with the students about the profession, the industry, and their life. Those were the most fulfilling moments for me. The students are amazing and talented. They just need guidance and someone to talk with to dispel their limiting beliefs. When they step into their power, it’s the most inspiring thing to witness. I’ve worked in all facets of the industry as an Actor, Voice Over Artist, Production, Talent Agent, Casting, Personal Assistant, Social Media Manager, PR, Mentor, etc. I believe what sets me apart is the fact that I have a birds-eye view and an overall yet in-depth understanding of the industry which enriches my consulting skills. This also enhances the focus of my trajectory on anything I want/will accomplish.

Who else deserves credit in your story?
I’ve been very blessed to have such amazing people in my life who have inspired me and shaped me into who I am today.

  • Laura Russell: my best friend, cheerleader, and brilliant mind. She’s the Head of Development at SLNda UK: A production company that is heading up projects examining UK street culture, musical diversity, the spectrum of gender identity and telling the stories of modern, multicultural Britain.
  • Nagajan Modhwadhia: my mentor, friend, and brilliant strategist. He is also one of the most giving, kindest people I know. He is always expanding to be better and thinking outside of the box; He’s a game-changer.
  • Crystal M Lee: fellow Voice Over Artist and my manager, eternal supporter, and wonderful human being. She is a 20+ year retired U.S. Air Force disabled veteran that set up her own Voice-Over/Production business and is a constant inspiration for me.
  • Cheryl Neve: an inspiring British female director who is one of the most dedicated and talented people I know. She is such a delight that naturally everyone gravitates toward her.
  • Ashley Walters: last but not least, I couldn’t go through the list without mentioning Ashley. He is one of my supporters and such an inspiring person; I am grateful to have worked with him in different ways for the past 3-4 years. He is one of the most hard-working Creatives out there. Ashley’s work ethic, empathy, authenticity, and generosity always inspire me to do better; He is so grounded and wonderful.

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