Isabella Kai is a dynamic young star on the rise with notable roles in both film and television. She can currently be seen starring opposite Dakota Johnson in the new film Our Friend. The film was released on January 22, 2021 in theaters and on PVOD. Previously, Isabella starred in the films Jem and the Holograms and Unforgettable. Isabella also had guest arcs on both Pretty Little Liars and True Blood. YEM spoke with Isabella about her budding career.
Young Entertainment Mag: What got you interested in becoming an actor at such a young age?
Isabella Kai: I started modeling when I was a baby by accident, and my mom met an agent on that first job, who asked to represent me. After that, I went on my first audition and booked the job. I did a lot of commercials and modeling jobs, but I didn’t really start acting until I was 7. My first big theatrical audition was for a recurring role on True Blood and I got it.
YEM: What’s it like being a part of Our Friend, a movie with intense themes such terminal illness and the pain of loss?
Isabella: When I first read this script, I was instantly moved by the story and especially the character of Molly. The audition was by far the hardest audition I have ever had to do, so when I got the call, I was speechless. I haven’t gone through what Molly has gone through, but I have gone through things in my own life I find to be difficult. This story is such a portrayal of the beautiful rollercoaster of life, and the emotions it entails.
YEM: What are some ways that helped you get into the character Molly? Molly is forced to grow up a lot due to her mother’s illness and help take care of the family. How does this situation affect her?
Isabella: When I read the sides to that first audition, I felt such empathy for Molly. I was Molly’s age at the time this happened to her, and my mom was her mom’s age when she passed away. So there was an immediate connection to her story. I didn’t try to exactly be the way Molly was in real life but also keep her story real and bring a little of myself to the character.
I hung out with Molly off set and we had the best time. A lot of the time during filming, I felt I kept putting myself into Molly’s shoes as to be what is was like going through. Some of the scenes we had to film were extremely hard emotionally. And knowing she actually went through this made me feel the emotion even more. Molly did have to grow up quickly during this time, and she adored her mom.
Dakota and I have a really special relationship on and off screen so that made our scenes even more real. Casey and I had some of the heavier scenes because Molly and her dad don’t have the best relationship, and there is a lot of resentment they have to both work through.
YEM: Jason Segel’s character Dane helps out the family and also relieves a lot of tensions with humor. Do you think it’s important to have a sense of humor in dark times?
Isabella: I do think it’s important to have a sense of humor during dark times. I’ve learned a lot this past year and if we don’t find the happy in the sad, then it will only get darker. I think a lot of the scenes with Jason’s character Dane bring such a light to this film, as Jason did on set every day we worked together. Life is never one emotion and that’s what makes it beautiful.
YEM: How does Our Friend portray the importance of support and togetherness in the face of tragedy?
Isabella: This film to me is everything life is about – love, loss, friendship, grief. Friendship is so important, and even if life gets messy and ugly, a real friend will always be there for you. It’s a beautiful thing to see this portrayed in the movie.
YEM: How was it getting to act alongside seasoned actors like Dakota Johnson, Casey Affleck, and Jason Segel? If there was one acting tip that you learned from this talented cast what was it and how do you plan to use it in the future?
Isabella: I would literally have spent one second on screen to work with these 3 unbelievably talented actors. First of all, I am humbled by this experience and forever grateful for it. They all are such great people and I am lucky to know them all. I loved working with them, and every day with was special.
Dakota and I instantly bonded. I felt like I’ve known her forever, and that’s because she is just so magically great. She is always there for me, always, and was on set, during our tougher days. Dakota reminds me of my own mom in a way as they both just love to live life to its fullest, and have fun doing it. That’s one of the things I learned from Dakota’s acting is she can be playful one minute and then give the most insanely incredible performance the next minute. She’s so good, it’s crazy. She’s my friend forever.
Jason was our light on set. I always looked forward to our days together because I know we’d end up laughing hysterically at some point. He’s so good and so much fun to watch, I learned a lot of from him as an actor, as he pushed me on things I didn’t know I could do. I just love him.
When I heard Casey was playing my dad, I think I may have felt a little pressure knowing he’d won an Oscar. But the first day we hung out, he quickly became my friend and also a dad figure. Casey and I had the hardest scenes together, some of which got cut, but he always made me feel safe and at ease. He also taught me so much as an actor. SO MUCH. He’s incredible to watch and to see him work is indescribable. He’s just the best.
YEM: A scene from the trailer shows the family ending up in an outdoor fountain. What was that like to shoot?
Isabella: The fountain scene was probably my favorite scene to film. It was such a happy day. There were all these real people from Fairhope who some actually were part of the “real life” scene, and that was special. Molly and Evie and their friends were there, too. There was also the most beautiful sunset, I’ll never forget that day. It was magical, just happiness everywhere.
YEM: What’s a lesson you’ve taken away from being on set of Our Friend?
Isabella: This entire experience has been so perfect. The people I got to work with, the story I got to tell, the great town of Fairhope, and so many other memories that I will cherish forever. I am forever grateful for all of it.
YEM: You’ve already been a part of many productions from Jem and the Holograms to True Blood. What are some acting roles you’d like to try out in the future?
Isabella: I have been very lucky to be part of some great things. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I do know I want to tell stories that make a difference in peoples’ lives.