Intrigued, the journalist in me kicked into high gear and I reached out to his publicist. A few days later, I had the privilege of interviewing Kazy Tauginas for about 30 minutes. As a major “Equalizer” fan, I was pretty nervous to interview him, but he was honestly one of the most down-to-earth and kindest souls I have ever interviewed. He also has a massive heart for people living with lupus and is so keenly focused on raising awareness. As a lupus patient and advocate, it was a pleasure to interview him.
While you may recognize Tauginas from his bad-boy role as Ari in the box office hit “Equalizer 2,” the actor is now showing off his activist side in “Standing Eight,” a short film that he not only wrote, but also stars in as the main character, Dusty.
“Standing Eight” brings audiences into the life of Dusty Abrams, a professional boxer who is diagnosed with lupus shortly before a major fight. Forced to retire from the sport, he is now faced with not only the physical ramifications of lupus, but the challenges that chronic illness can bring to all aspects of one’s life.
The film, just released on Amazon, brings awareness to lupus, a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that is often mislabeled as only a “woman’s disease.” While it is estimated that 1.5 million Americans have lupus, and approximately 90% of those are women, it is believed around 150,000 men in the United States are currently battling the disease — a number that can’t be ignored.
While most actors typically have to immerse themselves in research when portraying a character that is living with a specific illness, Tauginas drew from his own life as a son and caregiver to his mother, Victoria, who was diagnosed with lupus before he was born. “When I was younger, I didn’t really understand everything that was going on with my mother, but one of the first times it really registered was when I was 8 years old and watched her go into the hospital to receive chemotherapy,” he shared in our recent interview.
While chemotherapy has become more widely recognized as a potential medication used to manage lupus, Tauginas reflects on what was considered an “experimental treatment” for the disease many decades ago. “You don’t understand what chemo is at the age of 8, but I remembered the situation looked really bad. But my mother never complained or looked for excuses, she has always been a fighter.”
Watching his parents make the tough decision many years ago that his mother would leave her day job after receiving chemotherapy greatly influenced the “Standing Eight” storyline. The 26-minute-long film follows Dusty from the moment of diagnosis to the decision to step down from his career to the war that plays out in both his life and his mind.
Though his mother was the inspiration for the film, Tauginas brings his own experience as a former athlete to the role of Dusty. “My sports background is pretty unique; I grew up as a figure skater and competed in the collegiate circuit, but boxing was always in the back of my mind. While I was at the University of Delaware, I met Cliff Johnson, the owner of Left Jab, and I fell in love with the sport,” he added.
Tauginas would go on to compete in 13 fights, while simultaneously running his own 24-hour diner before he moved on to his other passion — acting. One of the main aspects of the film that stands out (and is appreciated by many) is the fact that the main character is a man living with lupus. When asked why he chose a male character vs. female, he shares, “From an acting perspective, telling the story from a man’s perspective was more original — they are the minority of the minority. And I felt if we told the tale of a man, we would be stepping up the awareness game when it comes to lupus.”
The film — which was screened at over 30 festivals during the past two years — has received 23 nominations in various categories and has won four honorable mentions and 11 different festival awards.
The film’s title choice is a term close to Tauginas’ heart; while “standing eight” is a boxing term hat describes a fighter being knocked down and having eight seconds to get back on his/her feet, it also accurately depicts the ongoing struggles of someone living with lupus — being continually knocked down with flares and symptoms and regaining composure time after time.
When asked what he wants audiences to take away from this movie, he said, “I want them to know they have an advocate in me, that this is just the beginning, and we are going to continue fighting for all of them. I know a lot of them do not have the energy to do it themselves and I will not stop. We need to raise awareness and cure this disease.”
As a lupus patient and advocate, it was a pleasure to interview Kazy and it is comforting to know there are people — many of whom we will never meet during our lifetime — who are fighting on our behalf.
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Author: Marisa Zeppieri-Caruana