While she might be relatively new to the acting world, you'd never be able to tell by the phenomenal performances Kat Inokai as demonstrated this past year. Having worked with Jason Armstrong on 9 Days with Cambria, Inokai doesn't fail to blow audiences away with another stellar performance in Swerve. Learn more about how she tapped into the role of Jen and her work both on and off the screen.
netTVnow: How did you get involved with Swerve?
Kat Inokai: I’d been working with Jason Armstrong on a few projects both as a producer and as an actor. He came to me with an idea for a series and asked if I wanted to be involved and of course I jumped on it. I love working with Jason – he’s an amazing director and writer, and a genuine friend. When I first said I wanted to move from more of the production side into the acting world he was one of my biggest supporters. The best part was that I also knew he would be brutally honest and push me. I think that made him asking me to be part of Swerve one of the best. I felt really honored that he was actually thinking of me as a lead.
netTVnow: How has your experience with this web series differed from others you have been involved in?
KI: I’ve only been involved with one other web series, and my experience with it was completely different. 9 Days With Cambria had incredibly quick turnaround in terms of production and from a content standpoint, dropped you into the deep-end of a character. Mike Klassen and Jason wrote that script together and it’s outstanding. It’s so unique — with 9 women playing the same character — and the messaging and topical exploration of mental health, addiction, sexuality and trauma survival so necessary, poignant and timely. It was fantastic.
As an actor I was only given one monologue — one part of a complete arc to work on — and I found myself innately curious about how the ‘other Cambrias’ would interpret the rest of the story. As part of the production approach, we were encouraged not to talk to each other so as not to influence each other’s performances or character decisions. We were also not given any direction to stay true to that unique interpretation. The end result was fantastic.
With Swerve it was totally different. I related to Jen in many ways from pre-production onward. It was really cathartic to experience the entire arc of her character and story, and actually have that on-screen/off-screen connection with Emily (Alatalo) and Sharon (Belle) over the entire shoot. We also had a lot of direction and support from Jason. I feel like our close-knit team comes across in the final product, and I also think it helped us genuinely portray the depth of the relationships between Stevie, Elise and Jen.
netTVnow: Let's talk about Jen, sometimes she came off a bit maniacal but her heart was always so genuine, how would you describe her?
KI: I think Jen has the kind of wisdom and clarity that only someone who knows they are about to die has, and that’s why her emotions are always on her sleeve. It’s not that she’s tactless and constantly over-sharing, but she’s just made an informed decision to remove the social filters and bullshit. That definitely makes her say and do unexpected things, which does at times make her come across a little manic, but far from that I think she’s just hyper-aware of time, and finally knows what matters in life. She feels everything and isn’t shy about saying it, but never acts with the intention of hurting others. There is always a component of sensitivity and caring for others in Jen.
netTVnow: Knowing now that Jen called in her own hit, why do you think she stopped to help Elise?
KI: This wasn’t something that Jason wrote into the script or intended, but I personally think that Jen stopped to pick up Elise because she wanted the experience of motherhood before she died.
When she first picks Elise up she mentions she is barren. I think that, along with knowing her days were numbered, almost made the decision for her. She’s very much a mama bear and her entire relationship with Elise is really maternal and nurturing. She takes Elise under her wing physically – giving her a place to live and grow — and spiritually. She calls Elise out on her life goals, she pushes her to find herself and she loves her unconditionally.
netTVnow: I love the plot twist and your performance was just phenomenal. Can you describe your process for tapping into Jen’s shoes?
KI: First of all thank you so much. That means so much to me.
In terms of tapping into Jen, it was hard not to because there were a lot of similarities between us. I remember Jason actually called me and asked me if I would be okay playing a character with a terminal illness that ends up choosing the path that Jen does, because I have been dealing with chronic illness and autoimmune disease for years. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s/Colitis about ten years ago, and I also have a rare autoimmune disease, Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, that I was diagnosed with only two years ago.
Basically I have my good days and my bad — there are days that I can’t walk at all and I’m stuck in bed, and there are days that I hardly feel symptoms and I can play with the kids and walk the dog without even thinking about it. I do deal with a lot of anxiety and frustration with the chronicity of it and it’s been a really long road to finding the medications and therapies that are now helping to manage my symptoms, but I’m learning to take it as it comes. It’s something that I have to consciously deal with every day.
When Jason told me that Jen was ‘sick’ I immediately became fascinated — what does she have? How long has she had it? What’s the actual prognosis? Who was she leaving behind? I am not going to lie, I went to some pretty dark places while I ‘got to know’ Jen, especially as I looked at her decisions and her mortality. At the same time though, I felt supremely liberated being able to play someone dealing with illness that close to the surface. I am usually terrified that I’ll have a flare while I’m on set, but as Jen, I knew that even if I did I could make it part of her. We actually even used my medications as props.
Otherwise my process was more a promise to myself to be as real and vulnerable as possible. There are just so many secrets and themes in the story that instinctively made me want to shut down, so I guess I kept checking in with myself to be present both as Jen and as myself when the camera stopped rolling; and to allow myself to really feel what she was feeling without being scared that it was going to stay with me off-screen. Emily and Sharon were so supportive and amazing and Jason was encouraging through the whole journey.
netTVnow: Do you think Jen recognized Koppen’s voice when he stopped by the girls’ table during their night out?
KI: Sure, I think she wondered if he may have sounded familiar, but I also think a part of her was always wondering ‘maybe that person is going to be the one that kills me’ about everyone.
netTVnow: Jen says she that knew from the first night that Stevie was going to be the cause of her death, why do you think Jen decides to continue creating and fostering this relationship with her?
KI: I think it was Jen’s way of coming to terms with her own death. My take on it is that feeling close to Stevie let Jen get over her fear of passing. The more she fostered the relationship and the closer she got to Stevie, the less afraid she became until she was finally ready to go.
netTVnow: It seemed that Jen and Stevie had very emotionally-based relationship, how would you describe Jen and Elise’s?
KI: I think that Jen is the ‘found’ to Elise’s ‘lost’. There’s a lot of guidance there, a lot of encouragement, and a lot of maternal pushing and nudging to find her path. It’s a really healing and nurturing relationship for both of them in many ways.
netTVnow: What was your favorite episode?
KI: All of them! Can I say that? It is really hard to choose. I feel like each one of them gives critical details and interactions that make me want more. A couple of my favorite parts were filming on the dock with Elise and Stevie, hugging Elise and calling her ‘Shorty’, and all the intro monologues which were just so perfect.
netTVnow: What was it like working with Sharon and Emily?
KI: Those women are so strong, so beautiful, so talented; I was blown away by their performances. It was an honor to work with them. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
netTVnow: What was it like working with Jason and Mike again?
KI: It’s always a pleasure working with Jason and it was very cool to work with Mike again after 9 Days with Cambria. I hope there are lots more opportunities!
netTVnow: Any upcoming projects to share or anything else you'd like to add?
KI: Watch for me in a feature called Sister Elizabeth — it’s a really interesting biopic about a nun who escapes from Hungary to Canada around WW2, and I’m the lead! It’s a wonderful story and I’m sure there will be more news about it in 2017.
In the mean time I’m really looking forward to the release of another Skeleton Key Film (SKG) film The Ghost Is A Lie which I had a producer hand in, and also have a small role in alongside kickass ensemble female leads of Sharon Belle, Chandler Loryn, Angela Kaiser and Rachel Sellan; and of course the world premiere of SKG’s Inspiration, also starring Emily Alatalo at the Blood in the Snow festival in Toronto on November 27th. Otherwise, I just want to say a big thank you to all the amazing fans online who were so supportive - Swervers are just the best!