Meet the multi-talented
man behind the gorilla, an actor so good Tim Burton had to make up a
new character just to keep him around.
Amidst the madness
of the Comic Con, we found a spot of calm in meeting Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa.
If the name doesnít quite ring a bell, trust us, youíve seen him and
youíve enjoyed his performances. After making his official film debut
in Bernardo Bertolucciís The Last Emperor, Tagawa played a lot
of heavies until making his mark as the slick Eddie Sakamura in Rising
Sun. Fanboys, however, may best remember him as the evil Shang Tsung
in the first Mortal Kombat, still the best adaptation of a video
game to film. In addition to his years of acting, Tagawa teaches martial
arts, writes, designs clothing, and, as youíll read, has a strong grasp
of history. Contrasting some of his bad guy roles, Tagawa greeted us
warmly and spoke softly but openly about his time in Hollywood.
Letís get the obvious out of the way. Tell me about the role of Krull
in Planet of the Apes.
Sure. Krull was an added character. He wasnít in the original script.
In fact, I had been cast as Attar, Michaelís (Clarke Duncan) character.
I was being fit for the costume when they announced that Michael was
coming on board and in the middle of that I said, how can I play a General
to and then I thought, oh, my god, what if heís gotten the part? You
know? So they aced me and sure enough they said, weíll have to wait
until the next draft to see if Caryís in it.
Tim decided that
although Michael was going to play Attar that he would still want me
to be in the film, so he created Krull. And this character originally
was an aging silverback gorilla servant who was in Ariís, Helena Bonham
Carterís, household. I had a conversation with Tim. I said, Tim, Iím
going out with the hero group, right?
Donít you think
itís kind of a waste just to have me this aging, you know, standing
next to a woman all of the time?
I mean Iím still
kind of macho. Especially the physical kind of stuff. Why have an aging
guy who canít move and is always whining? You know, kind of cowering?
So I said alright, Tim, hereís my backstory. I was a General in the
Red Army, opposed Thade, he was going to have me killed. Ariís father
the Senator befriends me, under two conditions which Tim (Roth, playing
Thade) gives him, which is one to be a servant and two never have anything
to do with the Red Army again.
Which gives me the
opportunity, as I get out of the household, to really become the warrior
again. And so he loved it, and I really collaborated with Tim to build
Krull up into this character that has, figuring Iím really going to
be the only other male in the group, as a monkey, with Helena being
the chimpanzee. It also gave me something to work off of Mark. If youíre
a cowering silverback in the background, you never have this male vibe
that should be going on. So it also allowed me that. We had moments
where I donít like humans and I let him know, that kind of thing. Krull
is a warrior servant.
DM: You mentioned
that Tim added you back in and saved you for the movie. Had you worked
with him before?
CT: No, I
DM: So he
really just took a shine to you?
Itís interesting because this part wasnít written for an Asian; it wasnít
described in the script that way. Attar or Krull. I was kind of curious
why he chose me. He said it on his own in the beginning. It was two
things. One was my movement, which Iím very conscious of in films, especially
coming from martial arts. Think about how many times a character is seen just
sitting or walking or standing, itís a lot of time in film and it says
so much about a character. So Iíve always been keen to pay attention
to movement and that was one thing he said he noticed. Never have I
heard a director talk like that about me. And also he said that the
eyes were important because it really has to come through the make-up.
So he was interested in those two aspects especially. He did mention
the four-hour make-ups. ďOh, by the wayÖthereís this thing about make-upÖĒ
DM: But itís
worth it, right?
CT: Oh, yeah.
As an actor, the fantasy is to have such a range in your career. I have
to say that certainly in my career Iíve come from playing a eunuch (The
Last Emperor) to a playboy (Rising Sun) to an alien (Space
Patrol) to a surfing grandfather (Johnny Tsunami) and now
to playing an ape; I canít complain. In my career Iíve had certainly
more than the average opportunity to have that range.
touched on an issue that I was going to ask you about, which is the
ethnicity of the apes. This seems to be the first time Iíve seen you
in a role in which your ethnicity really doesnít matter. Do you feel
as you look back that there are things you didnít get because of that?
CT: One thing
that Iíve always done in my life in general, I was born in Tokyo and
then raised in Louisiana and Texas and North Carolina on army posts.
And we know that Japanese werenít received very well after the war.
So this was ten years after the war that I grew up in southern America.
little hint of a drawl comes through when you say that.
it does. Iím a bit redneck. (laughs) I know how to deal with
the odds. Iím the kind of guy when you say one in a million, I say Iíll
take it. You tell me thereís none in a million, I say Iíll make one
and then Iíll take that one. So nothing ever stops me. Certainly coming
into Hollywood, I knew that there would be certain limitations. But
I also couldnít play a woman or I couldnít play a white hero. To play
Asian and to speak with accents because I speak Japanese, it never really
bothered me. All I always look for in every piece is how can I use this
piece to move to the next step? So the worst thing about playing Asian
bad guys would be to not be remembered. Really. That part of it I think
Iíve achieved so far with a kind of an intensity different from other
bad guys. Always knowing that eventually I would get an opportunity
if I hung out long enough. Look at Tommy Lee Jones. People didnít take
him seriously for a long, long time and heís been around forever. But
because he persevered and people started falling off, all of a sudden
the quality of actor, his ability, was truly highlighted and of course
he did go on. I kind of feel like Iíve done that in a certain way. People
think I just kind of showed up around Mortal Kombat or Rising
Sun but actually, this is my fourteenth year. Itís the same old
DM: I ran
a check on you on the internet, and youíve worked with some incredible
directors. Burton, obviously, but youíve got Bernardo Bertolucci, you
were in Big Trouble In Little China for John Carpenter, Philip
Kaufman, the other Paul Anderson, (Cary laughs) I think heís
Paul W.S., Edward James Olmosí film (American Me), youíve really
had a career thatís a whoís who. Are there any great directors that
youíre still hoping to yet to work for?
a good question. There was a time when I was really excited about working
with Spielberg. I kind of feel like I may have missed the Spielberg
peak. I have to say that only because I really liked A.I. for
what it was, but it didnít feel like a Spielberg movie or really a Kubrick
DM: It was
a strange feeling.
a director puts out a film that looks like somebody elseís film, then
itís kind of like ďwhatís left for you?Ē When you start doing remakesÖyou
do remakes because youíve run out of creative ideas. Iím just wondering
after the range of what Spielberg has done, what his nextÖit could be
Memoirs of a Geisha, which would be interesting. He had at one
time talked about directing that.
DM: I think
itís still on his plate somewhere but something else keeps coming up.
CT: And now
heís talking about maybe just producing it. Iíd be anxious to work with
him in the right project, but not something thatís just a run of the
mill thing. Other directors? David Mamet, guys like that. Or (John)
Boorman, if he can still walk. I donít know how old he is. Actually
some of the directors that I can think of, that I grew up with, that
I was really impressed with, wouldnít still be around. I got started
so late, but David Lean and those kinds of guys are who impressed me.
Weíre having it seems like a lack of new young directors who have that
kind of ability. Although Iím sure that at some point there will be,
so if I can hang out long enoughÖ
about Paul Thomas Anderson?
CT: Yeah. But Paul W.S. Anderson, I have to say, had a genius in Mortal
Kombat. I havenít seen that genius repeated in any of his other movies,
but for what the video game to movie genre was at that time, he certainly
was fighting the odds. Itís like taking a classic novel and trying to
bring it to film. Youíre talking about a classic video game. Youíve got
a lot of kids who are monks. They go home afterschool, trying to get their
frustrations out, wondering if they were even going to make it home and
not in a body bag. So video games have that kind of religious feeling
for them. I watch my son certainly do that. For other reasons, but I knew
that across America video games had that kind of thing; it was more important
almost than anything in their whole lives. I liken Mortal Kombat to calling
all the monks to church. You have this big church meeting. And to take
that techno music and do it to martial arts was a stroke of genius. It
really needed that kind of intensity to bring the characters out. I felt
like being the English street kid that he was, they were really fortunate
to have him do that. To create such a great expectation about him as a
director, and I didnít see that in Stars My Destination and Event
Horizon. So I was glad to catch him in his peak. (laughs)
weíre at the Comic-Con, we really should explore this: You have been
mentioned as being involved with Shi (a popular independent comic
created by Billy Tucci)?
DM: Is that
yeah, itís true. Itís gone in and out, back and forth, and the latest
rumor, Iíll spread some more rumorsÖ
DM: Go ahead.
Yeoh. At one time, or the latest one that I heard about six months ago,
she might be doing it, and Iíd love to work with her. Then I heard rumors
that Jet Li was going to play my part. I was like (laughs nervously)Öbut
I was told by Billy Tucci that he felt that I would be very good in
the role. Itís certainly not out of my range. The character, Arashi,
is very interesting. What I liked about the character, being the heavy
ex-Yakuza guy that he was, was that he is an artist. He was into being
an actor, so I thought thatís cool, I can relate to that. And heís a
character with depth and I certainly would love to do that. You never
know what studios do with great projects, and of course Billy has been
going through it back and forth. Heís gotten frustrated with the whole
thing. Thatís always the problem. Weíll see.
You asked what directors
Iíd like to work with, and in the future, Iím wanting to hook up with
Japanese animation. I just came from Tokyo doing the publicity there.
I think the greatest crime that we experience of racism in this country
is when we say ďTHEĒ Japanese; weíve been saying ďTHEĒ Chinese for a
while. As if theyíre all responsible for the inequalities. Theyíre having
it done to them, but we all put them into this one lump to say ďTHEĒ
Chinese. It was very clear when they announced the Beijing Olympics,
people were crying, overjoyed because of the change that was going to
happen to make it better. These are obviously not the evil empire kind
of people. Itís full of people who are great people, and we tend to
do that with everybody. And now having said thatÖĒTHEĒ Japanese. Thereís
such a level of Japan ink that is totally creative, and weíve seen that
in Japanese anime. I would like to be part of a move with them to make
a shift toward the west easier, and do an American-based animation.
Or the characters could be speaking English.
DM: And you
donít think Final Fantasy was that?
CT: One thing
I have to say about Japanese anime is that thereís a certain sort of
tone there that bypasses the Asian part. And the characters really turn
into something more Western. Iíd like to see a true Japanese character.
We donít need to make the eyes look round, we donít need the light in
her hair. We can have dark hair and the eyes look like mine. They can
be speaking English. We have Asian-Americans. And certainly there are
plenty of people from Hawaii that are very Asian and totally local.
Itís part of America. Thereís a lot of things in Hawaii that I would
like to bring out, a lot of stories. The internet started in Hawaii.
Hello? Why would it start in Hawaii? Because it was military based,
and anything they want to test in the military they test in Hawaii.
Itís the closest of all the services being together in one place. Currently
theyíre testing military credit cards there. Hawaii is the central point
for fiber optics between Asia and the U.S. Itís like the perfect place,
culturally, to understand what our future is about, East/West.
If you took the
discipline and the spirituality of the East, and the freedom and creativity
of the West, and put those four things together, who could stop you?
And yet weíre at each otherís throats. The Japanese donít understand.
We donít know ďTHEĒ Japanese. And certainly I do, and have had
to, deal with being responsible for a lot of their actions. But I think
thereís a lot more creativity available there. Iím even more excited
about hooking up with them than any more Hollywood stuff. Iíve kind
of done my Hollywood round. Iím certainly going to have to keep my foot
in the door, but Iím looking for new venues.
had your TV series, youíve done all kinds of stuff.
some other TV series to be done, but on my terms. No more on their terms.
DM: I also
see youíve got a clothing line, called Mu?
part of whatís coming. Of course, we had Atlantis this year,
and thereís still an uncharted area of the planet called Lemuria. So
Mu is the short version of that. As Atlantis was the continent between
Europe and the United States, and Mu was the continent between the United
States and Asia. So considering that the Pacific Ocean is the largest
body of water in the world, thereís a huge chunk of land there. Hawaii
was the middle of it, we know that. The volcano on the big island, Mauna
Kea, from the top to the continental shelf, is higher than the Himalayas.
So when there was no water in there that was the highest point on the
planet. Now that was the middle of that continent. Sixty million people,
all different races,† theyíve found the symbols in Egypt, Scandinavia,
Nigeria, all talking about the motherland. And so this clothing line
is based on that. With a new comic book character. I didnít mention
that, did I?
CT: My comic
book. Itís coming. Weíre in discussions right now. Next Comic-Con, Iíll
be there with that.
through this other guy. Iím looking very clearly, Iíve always played
a lot of bad guys and warrior kinds of characters. This story clearly
draws a distinction between soldiers and warriors. All native cultures
had warrior energy, and certainly non-native cultures have had soldier
energy. And to have superior warriors be defeated by guys who can only
pull a trigger, there hasnít been that distinction made enough, I think.
What Iím going to do is make it a futuristic character who has to sort
of work through that.
be writing that yourself?
CT: Oh, yeah.
DM: You do
have a screenplay credit as well.
CT: I donít
CT: Oh, yes.
I co-wrote that. But thereís another one that someone had mistakenly
put on there, but that one, yeah, thatís right.
DM: Do you
have an artist lined up?
CT: No. But
the guys have a number of people to choose from. In fact, Iím supposed
to meet two of them today. Iím really excited about that. The future
is to do your own projects, to own your own projects. No more serving.
With no limits.