BWW Interviews: Julian Cihi Makes Off-Broadway Debut in ROMEO & JULIET
Julian Cihi makes his off-Broadway debut as 'Romeo,' the tragically love stricken adolecent, who falls for the daughter of his father's enemy in "Romeo & Juliet." Directed by Tea Alagi (JACKIE), and written by William Shakespeare, the production brings a unique interpretation to the timeless story of love and tragedy. Opposite Cihi is Elizabeth Olsen as 'Juliet,' T.R. Knight as 'Mercutio,' and Daniel Davis as 'Friar Lawrence.' The production officially opens on October 16th and will run through November 10th at the Classic Stage Company.
Cihi has been noted for performances in the Regional Theatre's production of "The Importance of Being Earnest." He has also been in the Japanese tour of "Rent," and the Williamstown Theatre's production of "A Month in the Country." His filmic credits include "Ginger," "Spectrophobia," and "Shadow Puppets."
The actor spoke exclusively to BWW about love, moving across the world to study in America, and how "West Side Story" gave him the acting bug.
Your Romeo is different. You [the audience] want to be his friend. He's not a love sick poet like Leonardo Di Caprio [in Romeo + Juliet] .
I'm glad that you say that because I thought about the play and I thought about the role and it's been done many, many times, with very very famous people- as we speak too. I thought about it, and Romeo can be any guy, because the whole point is that Romeo finds someone who returns his love. There's one key phrase I think in the whole play; where it's the first time you see the Friar and Romeo together and says "her I love now doth grace for grace and love for love allow, the other did not so." The other being Rosaline.
I walk around and see couples ya know, whatever age, doesn't matter, race age looks, whatever . And I see two people in love and I'm like "yeah," that's Romeo and Juliet. I wanted to just get rid of any preconceived notion or idea about Romeo at least and I know Lizzie [Elzabeth Olsen] does the same, and just make it our own.
You're so romantic!
I mean, I guess people can be romantic in different ways. I live with a bunch of different guys and they're from all over the world. One of my closest friends is from Italy, he's very passionate in his way. He's a little dorky and nerdy, and he buys flowers and candy. And my other friend from Spain has his own way of showing his love to his girlfriend. I see this and I go "Yeah, there's no one way to be romantic or to be this lover."
You're in this play with these very established actors and this is your debut, and it's great! You stand up so well beside them. Are you learning a lot?
I'm learning so much! Because as you said these a very, very established actors, very experienced, and I just love actors, I've realized. And I love learning from them, and I learn something new all the time. I was born and raised in Tokyo and I'm Japanese, and I come from a very different culture and being, with and working, with Americans, for the most part, is cool because I learn different things. And one of the most important things I learned is to really speak up and voice one's opinion. But you know working with actors who have been doing this for so long, they give me nice tips and just "go with your gut" and just the "do what you wanna do" sort of thing. I think that part is great when I'm questioning myself, and then I'm like, "Yeah that part is great! I'm gonna stick with my gut." So it's things like that, they give me confidence in my own vision and craft.
You know one of the highlights of the show, and I don't want to give anything away, but in the Masquarade scene you have a very... interesting costume.
Yes! Isn't it awesome? I love it! I love it because it's our own version of it, and it works great. My Romeo is my Romeo and her Juliet is her Juliet and we just get along really well. And that whole sequance came out of improv.
You know the whole intro meeting dancing whatever thing? I was just fooling around one day and everyone liked it and it stayed and I'm glad that it did.
Now you were born in Japan and moved here when you 18 is that correct?
17 to be exact.
That's a big move! That's an around the world trip..that's extreme!
Yeah, its 13 hours and it's literally on the other side of the world! I was born and raised in Tokyo, my mom is Japanese and my dad is American, he grew up in Connecticut and New York, but he moved to Japan many many years ago. I grew up going to an international school in Japan, in Tokyo, and most of the students who do their homework and get good grades go to college in the states or Canada or Australia, but 90% go to the states. The move was major but it was something that was always sort of planned.
And was the acting something that was always there?
I started out singing in choir, I was in men's choir and show choir and I really liked singing and one day they needed someone for the part of Tony in 'West Side Story.' The part...things are pretty high and they needed a singer, and I audtioned for that part and I got that part and that was the bug. That's what did it for me. And I was like: "oh you can sing and act at the same time, that's awesome!" That made me want to pursue theatre further.
But then I went to Brown for college, met some awesome people, awesome teachers, took theatre classes. Did some other shows like "Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Tommy," and "Hair," and I just loved it! I loved actors and being in that creative environment.
That's quite a journey
Yeah, I mean that's seven-eight years now?
And your English is flawless.
It's deceiving, it's quite deceiving I would say, because inside, culturally I'm still Japanese, and this is coming from my American father. He thinks I'm definitely more Japanese than I am American, and I agree with him. But I did go to an Enligsh speaking school all my life. But yeah Japanese is my first language, but I still feel like going home a lot and I just miss my family and friends very much, very much.
Ok 5 or 10 years from now, where do you see yourself going?
Well now that, hopefully, some opportunities will be arising in the city, I see myself living here and working here, in the next few years. I like this city a lot, I like living with friends that I live with and so I'm excited to live here and work here in the immediate coming years.
5 or 10 years, I have big hopes. Besides wanting to work in tv and movies, and more theatres. I want to bridge the gap between Japan and Broadway, Japan and Hollywood. Whether that means creating a school for acting, or a theatre in Tokyo, where I would bring American artists to teach there.
I need to establish myself here so that I can do that, but that's always been my long term goal. Like, how cool would it be if I could create a children's theatre? I can teach English to these Japanese kids while they do "Annie" They have a very different style over there which I respect but its very old school. As of now I can't change the whole system. And I don't want to change it, I just want to add some new flavor over there...
For more information on 'Romeo and Juliet' please visit: http://www.classicstage.org/season/productions/romeoandjuliet/
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus