BACK TO ANN-MARIE STILLION: WRITING

Marie Matiko as Keiko in "Diggers"

This actress is having a BLAST

“Thank God for international film festivals. There is so much more to life than car chases and big tits.” — Marie Matiko, writing from Cannes 2007

Most of the time, words flatten out in e-mail communication — the energy and intention of the writer drowned in the hum of the digital world. But some people bust through the digital divide with ease.

Marie Matiko is an ALL-CAPS kind of girl.

Matiko was in Cannes last week for the 60th annual film festival in the south of France. She was there to promote a 2005 movie project, “The Civilization of Maxwell Bright.” In it she plays “a sexy saint who walks her husband Patrick Warburton through his death here on Earth and opens up the heavens to him.”

“I have been dancing to eight in the morning, meeting the crème de la crème of creative cinematography,” the actress explained in rapid-fire e-mail replies to my questions halfway around the world.

The actress will participate in the Seattle International Film Festival June 2-6, attending the June 4 screening of “Diggers,” a short film in the Northwest Ties program.

By way of introduction, her full name is Marie Lan Matiko. This actress of Chinese, Japanese and Filipino heritage recently appeared in “The Corruptor,” produced by Oliver Stone; “Date Movie,” with comedy greats Fred Willard and Jennifer Coolidge; the first national tour of “Miss Saigon”; and the forthcoming “Dennis the Menace Christmas” with Robert Wagner. She just finished “The Vagina Monologues” in New York and was invited to direct a future show.

In 2000, she played opposite Wesley Snipes in “The Art of War.”

“Working with Wesley was awesome. But working with Mark Wahlberg (and) Chow Yun-Fat for four months in ‘The Corruptor,’ produced by Oliver Stone, was a huge treat. Mark Wahlberg is damn good at what he does. …“Chow Yun-Fat, what a blessing in my life. I learned you don’t have to be an a--hole to be a successful actor. He moved lighting equipment, knew everybody’s name, whether you were a (production assistant) getting water or the executive producer. He was human as you can be. It is a rarity to see actors not get into their STAR … ‘I need Evian water to wash my face now’ mode.”

Her SIFF project was shot in just 10 days, but she is quick to explain that there is more to making a film than what happens in front of a rolling camera.

“It’s about the preparation. It is the profound deliberation to make those words mean something. It took two hard months of preparation and study to create my character,” Matiko said.

Asked to describe how she hones her skills as an actress, it quickly becomes clear that she does a lot.

“I EXPLORE LIFE EVERY DAY — new perspectives and angles and ways of thinking,” Matiko replied gleefully. “I speak four languages and am working on my fifth. I hang out with inventors, designers, scientists, kids, the homeless, the rich, the diplomats, those who are in need, those who need nothing but a trusted friend. I do everything from extreme sports to skateboarding and snowboarding. I ran Vivace Conservatory for the Performing Arts for seven years and practiced what I preach. Now I coach the moot court team for the law school at the University of Santa Clara and I teach and run a performance studio and acting ensemble in Hollywood called Studio Bonheur (“good hour” or “happiness,” in French). We have a BLAST. I produce and I’m thinking of getting into stand-up comedy.”

Matiko said making “Diggers” with Northwest director Cheryl Slean was a blessing.

“As an activist and as an Asian American woman, I sincerely thank and congratulate Cheryl Slean for her thinking outside of the box and delivering it with quality. It would be my honor to work as a Seattle actress and work with her over and over and over again.”

Matiko’s character in “Diggers” embodies key conflicts faced by Asian Americans, whether they are new immigrants or several generations on. She calls Keiko, her character, “a beautiful lady — brilliant, but completely frustrated.”

“Keiko is nothing that we have ever seen before. The Asian American experience is quite particular, isn’t it? We are expected to be Asian inside the house, yet also to be completely successful within the American system. So as an example, don’t ever talk back to your elders; that is disrespectful. Respect and honoring your ancestors is a big thing with us,” she said.

The spirited actress grows serious when she describes the pressure of being Asian in America. She explained that her character in the film mirrors her real-life experience.

“We are expected to be successful as lawyers, engineers or doctors. Within those professions you need strong communication skills. But how is that developed when you are not allowed to have discussions (in the home)? So we carry all of this weight of trying to honor our parents without having the skills to understand them, and getting frustrated that we are not honoring ourselves. Or do we even know who we are inside?”

Outside the home, there is another hurdle.

“My homeland is America, but everybody treats me like I’m some exotic foreign creature,” Matiko said. “It makes me sad in my heart. … I was on the road with ‘Miss Saigon’ for three years, so I talk from experience. Visually we don’t look like Americans. So we get treated different. Only within cosmopolitan cities do people think that English could be my first language.”

It is clear, though, that Matiko is determined to find her way through the culture clash of new and old while facing everyday reality with her own style, intelligence and honesty. After all, these conflicts are a creative source in the end, and she’s someone who KNOWS HOW TO EXPRESS HERSELF.