By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada plays a key role in the new movie release “Mr. Holmes.” Sanada was in town for the Seattle International Film Festival last month for an early viewing of the movie. In an interview with the Northwest Asian Weekly, he talked about his career, acting alongside Sir Ian McKellen and his role on ABC’s hit television show, “Lost.”
“I was surprised that there was a Japanese role in a Sherlock Holmes movie,” Sanada said of his opportunity to be a part of the Sherlock Holmes saga. “I got the offer with the script. I read the script and really enjoyed the story and the character.”
A part of Sanada’s role in the movie involves Hiroshima after the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city in August 1945. Sanada conducted research about the issue for his character. He asked the director about the story, character’s role, and the delicate theme of Hiroshima.
Sanada stars opposite Sir Ian McKellen who plays an aging Sherlock Holmes. Sanada plays a Sherlock fan named Umezaki, who’s surprised to learn the famous detective is different than his public persona. The movie takes a different view of the famous sleuth who is in his 90s and losing his memory.
“He [McKellen] is a great actor and a phenomenal person,” Sanada recalls of his work with McKellen on the set of Mr. Holmes, “He never gave me pressure at all.”
Sanada recalls when he saw McKellen for the first time on the set, McKellen brought up the fact that they were in a previous movie, “The Wolverine.” Of course, Sanada points out that their paths did not cross on the set.
But this time, Sanada and McKellen worked together on Mr. Holmes. “All of my scenes [in Mr. Holmes] were with him [McKellen].” Sanada added, “He’s so smooth.” Sanada revered of McKellen as he was in character whenever he was made up as Mr. Holmes on the set. This helped Sanada conform to his own character.
Sanada related his character of Umezaki who saw Holmes as his hero as in real life Sanada sees McKellen as a hero.
Born in Tokyo, the 54-year-old Sanada started out as an actor and martial artist at the age of 11. His background in martial arts allows him to do his own action sequences.
After making a name for himself in Japan appearing in movies, he expanded to do more films in the United States.
Sanada was also a part of the Royal Shakespeare Company in London. He was only the second Japanese person to perform for the esteemed company. “It was my biggest challenge in my life,” said Sanada. He performed Shakespeare twice in Japanese prior to being asked to perform King Lear in English for the Company in 1999 and 2000. “I did not know ‘thou’ and ‘thy,’ what were these words?” Sanada thought of his challenge with the Shakespeare dialogue. Sanada employed the use of five coaches to assist with his King Lear role while shooting two movies in Japan. For his work with the Company he received an honorary MBE (Member of the British Empire) for his contribution to spreading British culture in Japan through his performance in a joint Shakespeare production.
Known as the “Japanese Harrison Ford,” Sanada has played opposite the likes of Tom Cruise in “The Last Samurai,” Hugh Jackman in “The Wolverine,” and Anthony Hopkins in “The City of Your Final Destination.” The moniker of “Japanese Harrison Ford” came from co-creator Damon Lindelof of the ABC television series “Lost.”
“It was a surprise when I got the offer,” Sanada said of his chance to be on the show. “I felt big pressure because all of the “Lost” fans knew the story.” Sanada recalls his first line on the show was “Who are you?” He thought that “Lost” fans likely said to themselves, “Who are you?” in reference to his role. Sanada joined the cast in the sixth and final season of the cult favorite.
Working on “Lost” exposed Sanada to the great influence of American television. He recounted that when he was at a film festival in Uruguay, people called him “Dogen,” the character he played on the show. (end)
For more information on Sanada’s role in Mr. Holmes visit http://www.mrholmesfilm.com.
Jason Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.