Brittany Ishibashi has quietly spent the past several years building an impressive resume of roles in some of this decade’s most memorable television series. As on of the hardest working actors in the business, she has held recurring and guest star roles on more than three dozen series including: “The Office,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “House M.D.,” “The Mentalist,” “Emily Owens M.D.,” “Bones,” “Castle,” “Major Crimes,” “Grace and Frankie,” “Young & Hungry” and “Supernatural.” After an exciting debut at Comic-Con, Brittany reprised her role as Maggie Zeddmore in the “Supernatural” spinoff “Ghostfacers,” which developed a worldwide fan base.
However, Brittany might be best known for her role as Anne Ogami on USA Network’s Golden Globe and Emmy nominated series “Political Animals.” She was a scene stealer as the bright, beautiful interior designer whose distress quietly mounts as the pressures of life in a family of political animals takes its toll. On the film and multimedia front, Brittany worked on nearly two dozen projects, some of which were under the direction of Joan Scheckel, Robert Redford and Danny DeVito. Her amazing body of work has continued to turn the heads of showrunners, critics and fans alike.
This summer Brittany is taking on her biggest challenge to date as she co-stars in Paramount’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” a sequel to the summer 2014 blockbuster. Set to premiere nationwide June 3, 2016, the film, which also stars Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Laura Linney, Tyler Perry and Will Arnett, follows the turtles once again as they are at odds with T.C.R.I. scientist Dr. Baxter Stockman [Perry], The Foot Clan, and the return of their enemy, The Shredder. Brittany shines as Karai, a highly trained ninja assassin and leader of the notorious Foot Clan. She is Shredder’s right hand woman and is determined to carry out his plan. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with this star on the rise to discuss her journey as an actress, the challenges she has faced along the way, the making of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” and much more!
Let’s go back to your early years. When did you know a career in entertainment was for you?
I was born into a performing arts family and I grew up backstage. My father is a concert promoter and my mother is a singer. My sisters and I kind of had no choice but to pursue careers in the arts! [laughs] All we knew was that energy and the performance lifestyle. It became addictive, that live audience vibe. In the moments before an artist is about to take the stage and the audience quiets down, you can feel that very tangible buzz. I got into musical theater and classes when I was younger for fun and as an extension of what my parents had raised us on. It was probably in high school when I first realized grownups do this for real! Then I started thinking about it as more of a career and my parents were very supportive because they are artists themselves, so I felt very lucky that way.
Did you have reservations about taking the plunge and becoming an actor?
I didn’t have any reservations at all, I think that was because I didn’t know any better! [laughs] There is that wonderful thing you have when you are younger and you just feel invincible and you haven’t really been hit by any failures on a large scale. My parents, even though they were artists, were very good at showing us the positive side of things. There were constant affirmations! It wasn’t until I got into working professionally where I started to have some reservations. There were definitely a few times where I had to step back from the business a bit and figure out why I had lost the joy. It really made me question why I was doing it in the first place. It always came back to getting back into a class, finding a great teacher, watching a great play or a movie again to find that spark, the magic of it and how important it is to be an artist. It is really a noble profession.
That leads me to my next question. Who was behind the scenes giving you the push when you needed it as a mentor?
I had a couple great mentors along the way. I also have to acknowledge having two younger sisters and parents who were both in the arts. It was like having a built-in support system where everyone understood what was happening and had my back. Richard Green is a teacher I found, or he found me, when I was around 20 years old. That was when I was really questioning why I was doing all of this in the first place. He helped me rediscover that spark again. He told me, “If you are living the life of an artist and having this fire burning inside of you, it is incumbent upon you to keep that flame alive, whether that is coming to class, listening to a great piece of music or taking the time to watch a street performer.” He was the one who really helped me to get out of my head. I have a tendency to go back to the rules. I don’t know if that is an older sibling thing, a Japanese thing or just a me thing! If I start feeling insecure or lost, I feel like, “Oh, I better go back to the books or the law and figure out what is written because that must be right!” He was the one who helped me to start to let go of all of that and trust more in myself.
Where do you look for inspiration these days?
I am really behind on “Game of Thrones,” so no spoilers! [laughs] I have to stay away from the Internet! I am a full season behind, so I just started the previous season last night when season six premiered. It is amazing how a great program like that can lead to binge watching an entire season over the course of a weekend! Also, it can make you so inspired and happy to see all of these characters that you love and what happens to them through this masterful storytelling. It is all so beautiful, so “Game of Thrones” is definitely one thing I always turn to for inspiration. I am a huge fan of exploring a new hole in the wall music venue or exploring a city when I am working. I love walking around and discovering a new theater or performer. I like surprising myself and I am always open to recommendations from my friends and they are always turning me on to new things as well.
You have a big project on the way in the new few weeks — “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows!”
I am so excited about this movie!
TMNT has been a huge phenomena for decades. When were you first introduced?
When I was a kid, in the early ‘90s, that was my childhood! I had all of the action figures, the lunchbox and watched all of the original movies until the VHS tapes wore out! [laughs] When I got the audition for this film, they were keeping everything top secret. They wouldn’t send a script or sides or even really name the character. They just had it written as female soldier. I was like, “I really hope that is Karai! I had a feeling it’s Karai but I don’t know!” [laughs] That is who it ended up being and I think I am still geeking out over the whole thing! Being on set really took my breath away. The world they created is unbelievable and to physically step into that world just had me breathless. It was so beautifully done!
What can you tell us about the character and how you relate to her?
I have always loved Karai. First of all, I loved that she was a total badass but, at the same time, she was so loyal. I can really relate to that. Family, whether it was her own personal family or The Foot Clan, always came first. She was very resourceful, really clever and would stop at nothing to get the job done. In this movie, our plan is very big! We have an incredible group of villains and I think everyone is going to be really excited to see them! When we recruit Beebop and Rocksteady and they mutate — let’s just say they were a lot of fun to work with! They are also hilarious and they bring a lot to this movie! They also kind of hold us up a little bit! [laughs] They are so good!
What did you bring to this character that wasn’t on the written page?
My version of the character is definitely a soldier first. She is intelligent and very militant when it comes to carrying out Shredder’s plan. It is all about respect for her and honoring the ninja code and way of life. It was really hard to keep that soldier persona up when you are dealing with people like Gary Anthony WIlliams and Stephen Farrelly! They kind of let them have free reign on takes and improv! They had some great one liners! We had to go back and reshoot a lot of stuff because people were cracking up the whole time! They were really, really funny! For me, my version of Karai definitely was more of the soldier and the warrior. That was great when it came to the fight scenes which were really exciting!
What did you get to do with this role that you may not have been able to do on past projects?
I had never played a villain before, so this was a lot of fun! There was something so liberating and exciting about playing a bad guy! I got to have a lot of fun with knowing how good I am at being bad and how good Karai is at being bad! I grew up in the martial arts and it was family bonding, which is a whole other terrifying story! [laughs] I was able to use a lot of that with our fight sequences in this film! I will say I was a little too enthusiastic and hurt myself on the very first run at it. I was like, “Put me in coach! Put me in coach!” They were like, “We haven’t done too much stunt training with you.” I was like, “I can do it!” I launched myself into this crazy cartwheel flip and I am supposed to land and do this big back kick! I twisted my wrist and was out for the next couple of days and couldn’t do any fighting at all! Luckily, that all happened very early on! [laughs] The action in this movie is going to really blow everybody away. There are some really cool action sequences!
I want to talk about working with director Dave Green. What did he bring to the table for this project?
I actually knew Dave Green from a short he had done a long time ago, that I loved, called “Zombie Roadkill.” What I love about him is that he brings such a wonderful artistic sensibility to this movie. A lot of people know him from the world of music videos and he does a lot of commercial music video directing. The way he can compose a shot and watching how he breaks it down in his mind and is able to communicate that to the actors was a gift. Sometimes when you work with a director you kind of feel like a prop. It was nice to have him tell us the whole thing through color and music. You really felt like you were a part of his process, almost as if he was making a moving painting. I really had to see his work on the big screen to see how it all came together. Going back to my youth, I grew up as a dancer. I think that helped too. I always love it when a director can communicate with you in ways that are more than just words and give you something to move off of with color or through music. It is just a different language in your body that works for me really well. I, along with all the other actors on the set, really responded well to it.
What was the biggest challenge on this project?
My initial response to that question is that my son turned one year old over the course of us filming the movie last year! We were filming in New York and I was in Los Angeles. Trying to negotiate a baby was a challenge! [laughs] Going back and forth from West Coast to East Coast, be up with him all night and then show up on set at 5 o’clock in the morning to work a 16-hour day and then come home and do it all again was incredibly challenging! It was also really cool to be in New York and he took his first steps on the streets of New York City! That time management was a big challenge and it was really my first experience with trying to be a working mom and figuring out what that looked like. There were also times when he was able to come to set and he thought it was the coolest thing! There were big trucks on set, really creepy costumes and all sorts of colors! I can’t even imagine what it looked like through his eyes! [laughs]
Looking back on your career, how have you evolved as an artist? Is there a lesson we can take from your journey so far?
That is a really good question. I have learned to be more patient and forgiving of myself. There was a huge part of me, and it still comes up a lot, with this idea of finding perfection or constantly one-upping myself. Once I kind of let go of that and relaxed, I found I was a lot happier. I found I would book more and I was doing better work because I was free of these weird restrictions that I had and kept the blinders off. I think motherhood has added an element to that as well. As an artist, there is a sort of innate chaos and I think you are always looking for some type of system. I think all of that together, being more forgiving of myself, taking a breath, knowing that it is all very fluid and accept everything as it comes, that is the most noble thing that I can do!
Are you involved with any charitable organizations we could help shine a light on?
I am a big fan and supporter of Working Wardrobes (www.www.workingwardrobes.org). They are a fantastic non-profit based out of my hometown in Orange County that helps people who are overcoming difficult challenges get back on their feet and achieve self-sufficiency. They offer career training and mentoring programs, job placement assistance and professional wardrobe services. I had the honor of speaking at a recent event, and hearing the success stories from those that they’ve helped, and seeing the heart and passion of all of those involved was truly inspiring.
Thank you for your time today, I really appreciate it and can’t wait to see what the future holds for you!
Thank you so much, Jason! It was a pleasure!
Follow the continuing adventures of Brittany Ishibashi on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Also, be sure to check out her official website at www.brittanyishibashi.com. Catch her as Karai in ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of The Shadows’ when it hits theaters on June 3rd, 2016!