On May 8, 2014 Tao Okamoto celebrated 15 years as supermodel and actress with an exhibit at Hudson Studios containing15 pieces from 15 different photographers who are amongst the next generation of influencers in fashion. The photos of Tao varied from a simple and girlish to fierce. The photographers whose work was showcased included Victor Demarchelier, Johan Lindberg, Maruzio Bavutti, Max Snow, Max Von Gumppenerg and Patrick Bienert, Tim Richardson, Santiago and Muricio, Benjamin Lennox, Bjarne Jonasson, Charlotte Wales, Daniel King, Daniel Sannwald, Jeff Bark, and Ward Ivan Rafik.
Other notables we spotted at the event were designers Phillip Lim and Richard Chai, model and publisher Tenzin Wild as well as models Manuela Frey, Natalie Westling, Ashley Smith, Valery Kaufman, Stephanie Shiu, Daphne Velghe, Madison Headrick and Magdalena Jasek. We got to sit down with Tao exclusively to talk about the exhibit, her career and her charities.
Q: The exhibit is celebrating your 15 years as a model. How did you pick the photographs?
Tao: The whole idea came up last summer then a few months later I signed with my new agency, The Society, and we were talking about direction and which way I should present myself as model and as a new actress. Then we came up that the next year would be the fifteenth anniversary of my modeling career and they said. “Oh, we should celebrate” and we talked about different ideas. The booker brought the idea of the collaboration with 15 photographers who are all new generation, upcoming and we just matched 15 and 15. Mainly, my booker, Christopher, made the choice of the photographers. They are all doing really well but all have the promise of being really successful.
Q: How did you get into modeling?
Tao: When I was 14, which was 15 years ago, I was scouted on the street in Tokyo. I was having a hard time understanding myself because I was always very tall for a Japanese girl. I was having a hard time then someone asked me to be a model and I thought oh, that's a good idea. I started because I just wanted to appreciate myself as girl. I felt like I was a freak or something. I was very tall. I’m 5’10, but in Japan that’s a giant girl. That’s how I got started.
Q: There are some charities here selling goods tonight. What’s the story behind that?
Tao: In 2011, we had this big earthquake and after that we did a charity sale. I asked my friends who are fashion people to bring fashion items that they don’t wear any more; clothes, shoes, hats, accessories to sale to other friends. The whole concept was that I didn’t want to make them feel that they had to send money to Japan to help people; more like enjoy the shopping, but the profit goes to Japan. I wanted to do it in a very positive way. These things [sold at the event] are made in the disaster area but I like the energy of the products. They are very positive that they are moving on to another step of the recovery. They are really doing great. I think some of them still live in temporary houses but they are really living in the moment. I wanted to present to others for this occasion.
Q: We bought a few things tonight. The necklaces are beautiful.
Tao: Oh great! Do you know the story? It’s the horn of deer and threaded like a dreamcatcher. They are really beautiful. I have a pair of the earrings.
Q: What’s next for you?
Tao: I have a movie coming up. I can’t really talk too much about it but it’s about "Superman" and "Batman." I really excited about it. I’m ready to shoot.
Q: "Wolverine" was your first movie, right? How did you enjoy acting?
Tao: I just loved it. Hugh Jackman is just the nicest person in the world. I know everybody says that and it’s almost boring to hear but he is really, really perfect. I didn’t have any [acting] experience before I was kind of fearless and I didn’t need to worry about anything. I just jumped in.
Q: You weren’t concerned about not having studied acting?
Tao: I was when I was booked for this role. I just did it how I would really do it but I would rather be trained. The director, James Mangold, told me “do not take any lessons” and I thought OK. I think the point was that he believed in me that I had some instincts and he didn’t want anyone to ruin that before he got to cook me. He was my mentor and teacher so I didn’t need to train because I was being trained by him everyday on the set.
Q: How physical was it?
Tao: I got to do some self-defense, throwing knives and karate form, which was really interesting because I was bad at P.E. The stunt team was amazing and I managed to do something’s but with a great stunt double, of course.
Q: What’s something people don’t know about you?
Tao: I always admired Hugh Jackman as an actor in movies but also in theatre because I’m a big fan of Broadway musicals. When I was shooting "Wolverine" it was right after he did "Les Mis." He was singing pretty much everyday and I could hear he was singing songs from Les Mis and I thought “great, this is a free concert. That’s my dream one day, I want to standing on the stage on Broadway." I sing, my dancing is terrible, but I can be trained. That’s my dream. That’s something I really want to work on.