This New York City born and bred actress stays true to her roots
Story by Annalise Cho / Photography by Heidi Hartwig
As with most things in Mizuo’s life — the acting, the modeling—there has been a sort of organic, natural development.
Mizuo Peck grew up in a treehouse in TriBeCa. The 31-year-old actress, who this spring reprises her role as Sacajawea in Night at the Museum 2, Battle of the Smithsonian, chuckles as she describes her unconventional childhood. Born to a Japanese artist mother who met and fell in love with the bartender at New York’s Ear Inn bar, she and her brother were raised in a loft on Leonard Street, in what is now the upmarket neighborhood known as TriBeCa, but was then a somewhat seamy and neglected area of industrial warehouses, being transformed at the time by a pioneering group of artists and eccentrics. Among them were the young Peck family, and Mizuo recalls their living space as, “Wonderful. We had a tire swing, and the rooms were like these little bungalows, like treehouses. It was a great place to grow up.”
It was a fabulously bohemian upbringing, thanks to her mother, who had been a rebellious and courageous adventurer providing guidance along the lines of was “cleanliness is not creative,” which Mizuo states she likes to live by. Naturally, creativity was encouraged, and for Mizuo the stage proved to be the most alluring forum. At 11 she joined TADA! (Theater And Dance Alliance) stage school, where she belted out “The Lady Is A Tramp.” “I have no idea where that came from,” she says, but she was accepted nonetheless. So joined the company and that was it — “I loved it,” she says. “It was awesome — kids from all different backgrounds from all over the city would come to this thing, and they really treated us like professionals, and we put on these huge productions.”
Although the fondness for musical theater didn’t last — “I’m not into [it] any more,” she says. “Although I do like singing, but it doesn’t really go beyond karaoke for me.” — the commitment to acting did, and she went on to join SUNY Purchase’s prestigious Acting Conservatory to pursue a BFA in theater. The school was strict, and Mizuo found it difficult to maintain focus, with the city and its distractions so close. “I was already totally submerged in New York life — I was auditioning and doing stuff, so it was really tough to just go to college,” she says. “I’d come back home at weekends, and it was such an intensive program, that you really weren’t allowed to miss any classes or anything.” Nonetheless she stuck it out with only one notable “the dog ate my homework” moment: “The one time I lied to get out of school — I guess I can tell it now since it doesn’t matter any more. I said I was going to my sister’s wedding, that I was part of it, you know? But I actually went to the southern tip of Florida to be in a Bruce Weber shoot for Vogue. I was like, there’s no way I’m not going to do that!”
The photographer, who had a studio in the neighborhood, had noticed the striking young actress and her younger brother as teenagers, and had first secured their parents’ permission to shoot them for L’Uomo Vogue when Mizuo was 16, and had later come calling again. As with most things in Mizuo’s life — the acting, the modeling — there has been a sort of organic, natural development. She refuses to move to Los Angeles, living instead within a couple of blocks of her childhood home. “I don’t want to be bitter and I don’t want to be unhappy,” she says. “Things have happened without me killing myself to achieve ridiculous goals. Even though I have been completely focused, and pursuing this since I’m 11. It’s interesting because now I’m taking things a little more seriously and investing in myself a little bit more than I had, but I think that’s just what happens when you cross 30. Like, I gotta make this count! That’s how I feel about this second Night At The Museum movie. I had my big shot for the first time around so I gotta keep that going for the second time around.”