Hiroyuki Sanada on Nude Scenes, Lost, and The City of Your Final Destination
How's this for an unlikely trajectory: in your late teens, become a Japanese action star, and then, in your late forties, transition into English-language dramas. That's how it's happened for Hiroyuki Sanada, who got his start in Sonny Chiba's action club in Japan but crossed over to Western films with an appearance in 2003's The Last Samurai. Since then, Sanada's worked almost exclusively on American productions, and though he has a few big-budget films under his belt, he's also appeared on Lost (as this season's temple master, Dogen) and in two films directed by James Ivory, The White Countess and this week's The City of Your Final Destination, where he plays the younger lover to Anthony Hopkins.
Sanada called up Movieline last week to chat about the film, what it was like to curl up naked next to the man who played Hannibal Lecter, and the bait-and-switch that happened when Lost producers asked him to join the cast.
In English, you've done megabudget films like The Last Samurai, Speed Racer, Sunshine...and then you've also done these James Ivory dramas. Which would you like to do more of?
I love both. I need both! Sometimes I'm doing a big movie, or sometimes I'm doing a TV show, but as an actor, it's almost the same thing for me. If I'm doing action, or comedy, or something more heartfelt, it's a different approach, but it's all acting for me.
How did you go from Japanese action roles to English-language drama?
Action is just one of my skills. When I was a child, I was wondering if I could be an actor in the future, and I thought, "What should I do now?" So I started training for singing, dancing, martial arts. It's all on the same level for me. If there is an action scene, I want to do everything myself. This is just another skill.
Anthony told us that his approach to acting is to intensely memorize the lines, then try to put them out of his mind. Is it the same for you?
For me, I read and memorize many times, more than a hundred, maybe. It's hard for me to perform in English. I memorize it all perfectly, and then I will forget everything when I'm on the set. Anthony, too; after he learned and memorized everything, every take, he was so fresh. He'd change the timing, nuance, everything. I learned a lot from him: memorize everything perfectly, then forget it and it will feel fresh in every take.
Your character has been in love with Anthony's since he was just a teenager. How did you assemble all that history between them and make it feel natural?
They've been together over twenty years. I could use my real feelings from watching [Anthony] and respecting him for a long time. It was very easy to switch to love.
They also gave you a nude scene. Have you done that before in a film?
No, it was my first time. This kind of role was a big challenge for me. I had to rehearse a lot, but I tried not to be dramatic about it too much. I told myself, "Calm down, relax. Be natural." Again, I had to forget everything. I had done research into movement and how to pronounce words and how to say something, and then I forgot everything before shooting. I tried to have it come natural.
How difficult is that to do in English?
Years ago, I did Shakespeare in London, and it was one of my first experiences speaking English in front of an audience. During the rehearsal, I worried, "Can they understand my dialogue? Are they laughing at my jokes?" But I had always wanted to be in the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the final two months, I was somehow able to enjoy myself. I was really enjoying the cooperation on the stage. That experience taught me a lot. After that, I decided to join another international project, The Last Samurai, and then my first English-speaking movie was The White Countess, with [James Ivory]. Little by little, I feel more comfortable acting in English. I feel like a student. Always, I will be a forever student.
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