Interview with actor/filmmaker/lupus advocate Kazy Tauginas
Today on What On What’s Good with Host Jovin Tardif, I am here with actor/ filmmaker/ lupus advocate Kazy Tauginas. You may have seen Tauginas in film and television roles, including “Person of Interest,” “Blindspot,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Blue Bloods,” “Turn: Washington’s Spies,” “John Wick”, “Equalizer 2” and many more. In our interview, we discuss his sports background, pursuing a career in acting, writing tips, his roles in some of our favourite television shows and films, some news about his award-winning short film “Standing Eight“, and much more.
1. Tell us a little about your background in sports growing up.
My sports background is actually unique. When I was young, my parents had me play a different sport with every change of season. Soccer in the fall, ice skating classes in the winter, baseball in the summer. Being that I was an only child and not much of a team player, I settled on figure skating. I really enjoyed the performance aspect of skating and my success was dependent on my own skills. After high school I enrolled at the University of Delaware.
At the time it was one of the top tiered figure skating programs in the nation. Being that I was 6’2, pairs skating became the obvious choice for me. My partner and I skated together for a couple seasons until I was about 22 years old. After growing frustrated with the politics of the sport, I decided to walk away. I’ve never regretted figure skating. I learned time management, focus and made lifelong friends. Not to mention, it kept me out of trouble.
After college, I wanted to continue some form of athletics. I needed a healthy outlet, especially because at the time I came to own a 24hr diner (Long story for another day). I was always curious about boxing although for years I wasn’t quite brave enough to walk into an actual gym and learn. Fortunately, I ended up hearing about Lef Jab Boxing club through a friend. I decided to check it out. After the first workout and sparring session, I was sold. Boxing became meditation for me. I can honestly say that when I owned that restaurant, boxing kept me sane. Clif Johnson, my trainer, became like a second dad. When all was said and done, I had thirteen amatuer fights under my belt. I learned incredibly valuable lessons from boxing. I still do my old workouts and visit the gym whenever I’m in town.
2. When did you decide to start acting and writing?
After a dispute with my landlord, my adventure in the restaurant industry came to an unfortunate end. At the time it seemed like it was a devastating blow. Luckily, I could see the writing on the wall before we closed and I decided to enroll in acting school at the New York Film Academy. Literally the best decision I’ve made in my entire life. The diner closed down Nov 1st, 2008.
Two months later I was in New York City starting school again. Being that I was completely beginning again, I knew I had to take my education as seriously as possible. Acting was a career decision for me, not some social experiment. While I attended classes, I realized that I needed an edge. I decided to write. It just came naturally. The realization that I needed to create my own content became part of my approach and since then, nothing has changed. I still believe creating your own content as an actor is critical to not only succeed, but to stay mentally healthy and make you more competitive because you learn about other aspects of the industry.
3. What was it like working on popular tv shows “Person of Interest,” “Blindspot,” “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” “Blue Bloods,”
When you’re an actor in NYC, you always feel you have to cut your teeth on the shows that are considered staples in the area. I always felt very honored to be cast in any television project in NY because it was such a crucial addition to the resume.
4. Any fun moments working on “John Wick,” “Dolemite is My Name”, “Terminal Legacy,” “The Equalizer 2”?
“John Wick” was an amazing experience from start to finish. It was my first mainstream booking. I can’t tell you how excited I was to step on a set with Keanu Reeves. I was on-set when they blew up a couple of SUVs. That was mind-boggling to see. A memory that sticks out in my mind was watching Jonathan Sela, the cinematographer work his magic. He is such an artist. I think you can see from how well-shot “John Wick” was.
“Dolemite is My Name”… being on-set for a period piece with Eddie Murphy. I found myself just watching him work. He was so passionate about playing Rudy Ray Moore.
“Terminal Legacy” was one of my own productions. My stand out favorite moment of filming was shooting the climatic fight scene. We had an awesome location at King’s County Hospital in Brooklyn and the fight really turned out great. Fight scenes are always a ton of fun.
In “Equalizer 2”, I adlibbed a bunch of lines during a sequence where my partners and I were combing through the town that McCall (Denzel Washington) was hiding in. After the take, Antoine Fuqua hopped out of the director’s van and ran over to me. He was so excited. He said “You woke me up!!!”. It was a truly reaffirming moment for me to know that such a high-level person in the industry appreciated my work.
5. How would you describe writing short films to others?
Writing short films is such a great way to exercise your talents. Shorts take less of an investment all around – less time to write, produce, complete post production. I think of shorts as a workout. They’re a great way to create a production resume without the financial investment and it’s an excellent entry point when it comes to content creation. You never know what can happen with a solid project and a successful film festival run. It could lead to feature, or series or sometimes just recognition is sufficient.
6. You wrote “Standing Eight” a short about a boxer who is forced to retire and contend with life outside of the ring after being diagnosed with systemic lupus. What can we learn about Lupus?
I wrote “Standing Eight” as a present to my mother who has been suffering from Lupus for my entire life. Lupus is an autoimmune disease wherein the body’s immune system attacks healthy organs and tissues. It can be fatal. On average it takes six years for a patient to be diagnosed. (Luckily, Exagen has developed new tests and diagnostic tools which are helping to change that unacceptable timeframe.) With the knowledge I had about Lupus and seeing how it affected my mother’s life, I really wanted to have a storyline that would put the disease front-and-center. Lupus patients are severely underrepresented in Hollywood and it was time to change that.
7. Can you tell us a little about the Lupus Foundation of America?
The Lupus Foundation of America is the non-for-profit that I’ve partnered with. I think they’re a really fantastic organization. They’ve been working with the NIH and sponsored an incredibly important research study involving stem cells. They hold an advocacy event every year in Washington DC. Because of LFA, I’ve been able to lobby lawmakers to increase funding for research… all because I made a film to help raise awareness! Last year, the Foundation sponsored a premiere event for “Standing Eight” in Hollywood and promoted the film for its release on Amazon.
Through LFA, I’ve met so many people who are affected by Lupus across the country. Having made a product that speaks for Lupus Warriors has been so fulfilling. If anyone would like to learn more about Lupus… https://www.lupus.org is a fantastic resource.
8. How can we help?
Sadly, this has been a tough year for fundraising… The Walk to End Lupus Now in-person events were all canceled this year due to Covid, but the foundation just held a virtual walk this past weekend. I’m proud to say that my team doubled it’s goal this year. If any of your readers would like to support the cause, I’ve created a team walk page… http://support.lupus.org/goto/teamstandingeight