These days, the life of James Karz, OMS III, isn’t much different from that of any other osteopathic medical student. Karz attends the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and is getting ready to begin his clinical rotations. He’s traveled to Ecuador for a medical mission trip and is active in the PCOM chapter of the Jewish Medical Students Association.
But 19 years ago, Karz was embarking on a career as a child actor. In Matilda, a film based on a book about a young girl’s magical powers, Karz played a memorable role as the title character’s classmate, Bruce Bogtrotter. In one of the most famous scenes from the movie, Bruce steals a piece of cake from the school’s malicious principal, the Trunchbull. The Trunchbull retaliates by challenging him to eat a cake that approaches his body weight. To her dismay, he polishes off the whole thing as his classmates cheer him on.
Karz later had small roles in The Wedding Singer and on the TV show ER. In this edited interview, he talks about acting, transitioning to medicine, and how he applies what he learned in the entertainment world to his studies.
How was your experience as a child actor?
It was a lot of work—especially filming Matilda. That scene took about three weeks to film, from what I recall. I had to be on set all day, and I had to wear the same outfit every day. The chocolate was already encrusted on this shirt I was wearing. For continuity’s sake, every day I had to have the chocolate painted on my face the way it was painted on the day before. I despised the smell of chocolate for a few weeks after that.
I realized then that acting is not easy. There’s a lot of skill and professionalism involved.
How did you transition out of entertainment and into osteopathic medicine?
After undergrad, I worked as a production associate for MTV News for nearly two years. I realized I wanted to do more service-oriented work. I was really into community gardening at the time, and I began volunteering to teach people from low-income communities how to grow their own food. Through gardening, I learned a little bit about biology and chemistry, enough to realize I wanted to delve more into science. I went back to school to study biochemistry, which led me to medicine. I liked osteopathic medicine’s focus on helping the whole patient, and I was interested in learning manual techniques to help patients.
How have you applied what you learned in the entertainment industry to your work in medicine?
I learned a lot from working for MTV. The people I worked with were very good at what they did. They were very thorough. We always had to think ahead and plan for the worst and make sure things ran smoothly. That correlates a lot with medicine, in that you can’t always expect things to go smoothly. You have to be prepared for anything to happen.