Some of the greatest success stories begin with a moment of inspiration, a guiding force that helps actors discover their true potential. For Louis Ozawa, that moment came in the form of a supportive college teacher during his earlier years. It was here he first discovered his passion for acting, something that’s evidently continued to burn bright throughout his career. 

Today, you may know Louis best for starring alongside Al Pacino in Amazon’s original series Hunters, having starred in a number of series and achieved multiple accolades since those earlier years. But had it not been for those earlier years of mentorship and guidance, who knows where Louis’s career may have taken him. Grateful for crossing paths with mentors that would change the course of his vocation, Louis tells us he remains thankful for the encouragement one particular teacher gave him.

“His name is Kent Nicholson,” he tells Student Pages. “He saw something in me and encouraged me to audition for the school plays. Without his kind words of encouragement, I don’t think I would’ve had the confidence to pursue acting.”

After seeking out training in New York City, it wouldn’t be long before another mentor crossed Louis’s path.

“I started taking acting classes at night in New York City with a wonderful teacher named Marcia Haufrecht,” says Louis. “At the time, I considered myself a budding method actor. I’m grateful I started with a training that emphasised working from an instinctual place.”

Further down the line, Louis decided to pursue a three-year conservatory training program at Brown University where he graduated with an MA in Fine Arts – and it was here a shift was created in him, transforming from a purely instinctual actor into a professional with the tools to tackle any medium.

And the rest? Well, you can see his methods on screen for yourself. Ahead of the release of his latest endeavours, we sat down with Louis to get a glimpse into his life on and off set.

When the Hunters become hunted: Louis delves into his character on the Prime Original show

Prime Video’s Hunters is known to be a series that regularly blurs the lines of history and fiction. For a largely fictitious show, you may be surprised by the number of factual elements woven into the script. 

With the second – and final – chapter hitting our screens earlier this year, we had the pleasure of catching up with Louis Ozawa, who plays Joe Mizushima in the series, to uncover the story behind his character. 

David Weil, the mastermind behind the popular series Hunters, chose the surname Mizushima with a profound purpose. In Japanese, “Mizu” translates to “water”, while “Shima” means island – conveying a powerful message of resilience in the face of adversity. Just as an island withstands the relentless pounding of waves, Louis’s character too had to learn to weather life’s challenges with unrelenting strength.

“That morsel of information unlocked everything for me. It was a window into Joe’s psyche,” says Louis. “He is a lonely island in a huge ocean. A soldier who is ostracised and marginalised by the very army and country that he so patriotically fought for. By the time you are first introduced to Joe in season one, he has become a volcanic island.”

In the second season of the hit series, Louis wanted to put his character’s resilience to the test. At the start of the season, Joe is a mere shadow of his former self – broken and unable to pick up the pieces.

“In season two, I wanted to explore what would happen to Joe if he is pushed over the edge – if he’s traumatised to the point of no return.  […]  He’s broken apart and built back up, by the monster of all monsters… Adolf Hitler.”

For Louis, the process of stripping away the character’s humanity was a new and welcomed avenue to explore in his craft. 

“Joe has become part man, part monster,” he explains. “The challenge for me this season was stripping away humanity and then finding the moments where the real Joe fights to regain his authentic self.”

Speaking of the similarities between himself and character Joe Mizushima, Louis tells us he has sadly experienced his own share of adversity throughout his life.

 “Along with most Asian American actors, I’ve had to stomach countless indignities, racist slurs and aggressions both micro and macro,” Ozawa explains. “Although I don’t know what it’s like to suffer PTSD from being in battle, I do know what it’s like to feel like my life is insignificant.”

But it wasn’t until the actor began to read accounts of Asian American soldiers that the message really hit home.

“When I started reading accounts of Asian American soldiers who’d fought in the Vietnam war, it broke my heart,” he continues. “There were soldiers who slept at night with grenades in their hands, not because they were afraid of the enemy, but because they were afraid of being abused by their fellow soldiers.”

The joy of creative fuel 

Despite not getting into acting until later in his youth, Louis Ozawa has had a love of all-things creative since being a young boy. At the age of 12, his accomplished amateur photographer father gifted him a vintage Nikon that he immediately fell in love with.

“I fell in love with taking photos immediately. I continued to take classes throughout college and at night classes in my early 20s,” Louis tells us. “There was a time in my early-to-mid-twenties when I thought I’d give up acting and pursue a career as a professional photographer.”

After deciding to gamble on a career in acting, instead, it’s safe to say his bet paid off – today enjoying a prosperous career gracing screens across the globe. 

That said, Louis’s passion for photography has never left him. Today, he continues to hone his craft on every set he works on, savouring the opportunity to capture moments of beauty and meaning through the lens, while on set in front of the camera himself.

For those currently venturing down their own creative path, Louis recommends to keep on pushing. 

“Get as much training as you can afford,” Ozawa advises. “There is never any downside to having the tools to become a professional. And if you still really love your career, then keep at it. There will be ups and downs and if you don’t love it, it’s just not worth the heartache.”

But most of all, Louis stresses the importance of following your own path.

“There are no rules to succeeding in this business,” he explains. “You have to follow your own instincts – always.”

Gabriella Wieland
Author: Gabriella Wieland

Gabriella Wieland is a writer and English Literature graduate. She spends most of her time trying to keep her mini-poppadom obsession at bay and finding adventures of the ‘free’ variety. Residing in Manchester, she also spends much of her time liaising with scientists to find a geographical cure for eternally-grey skies and Vitamin D deficiency.