Rinko Kikuchi: Actually I didn’t care because everybody thought that way even before I got the role. I knew it was the last chance for my career. I started at 15 and 10 years is a kind of limit. I was 24 when I got the audition.
LB: Did the Japanese respond well to your performance in Pacific Rim?
RK: I think so. Before my family saw Pacific Rim they were worried because I’ve done a lot of very serious roles with some naked scenes. But for this film I had a fierce, dramatic role. They loved it. I was really happy to hear that.
LB: Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro described you as having a mysterious, private quality. Do you think this is true?
RK: I’m not sure exactly what he meant. I think I’m a really open person. I don't feel that I have any secrets.
LB: It’s been said that you loathe doing promotional tours. Is that true?
RK: No, not at all. I just think it’s better for people to see a movie without knowing anything beforehand. That way they can form their own opinion. But at the same time I really want to help directors promote a movie.
LB: How was it working with del Toro?
RK: I’m a really big fan of his work.
LB: Del Toro said he chose you to play Mako Mori because you have a combination of strength and femininity. Do you think you’ve helped change the perception of Japanese actresses for complex roles, as opposed to directors casting Chinese actresses for Japanese characters?
RK: I don’t think it matters if an actress is Chinese, Korean, or Japanese. What matters is if she can work with the role. At auditions I consider how I can individually play the role. There’s no need to categorize actors into Japanese or Chinese. We’re kind of a huge team.
LB: A lack of English fluency seems to prevent many Japanese actors from breaking into Hollywood. Is that true?
RK: I don’t think so. I’ve been studying English for only two years but I was able to get an audition and a really good role for 47 Ronin. If you make an effort, and don’t give up, I think it’s possible to succeed even with limited English ability. I haven’t focused on trying to be an international actor. I just want work with great directors.
LB: You really admire director John Cassavetes, a pioneer of independent film. It seems you like independent films. What kinds of films would you like to do in the future?
RK: I’d like to keep a good balance between independent films and blockbusters. I think there are opportunities for me in both. I’d like to do sci-fi, action, a variety of films.
LB: What kinds of challenges have you faced as a Japanese actress since moving to New York City about two years ago?
RK: Before moving to New York I didn’t really think about being Japanese. Now I’m feeling closer to Japan, and feel really proud of Japanese culture. I’d also really like to work with Japanese directors.
LB: Anybody in particular?
RK: Some great directors like Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takashi Miike, Hirokazu Koreeda.
LB: So you’re thinking of returning to Japan?
RK: No, I love New York. I want to find completely new opportunities. Now everything is new to me. I’d like to work with Japanese directors but keep New York as my base.
LB: Asian actresses working in Hollywood have sometimes said they’ve encountered unwanted advances from men. Has this happened to you?
RK: I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about that. Maybe I’m just really lucky because I’ve gotten really good roles. I’m working with a really good team. I’ve made many friends in New York, and it feels like home.
LB: Your 47 Ronin co-star Kou Shibasaki is also trying to have an international career. Are you supportive of up and coming Japanese actresses?
RK: Yes, of course. I’m really happy Japanese actors like Kou are getting a chance to work abroad. We have very different skills; different acting styles. I’m really happy if there are more international Japanese actors. That makes me feel more comfortable.
LB: Is there an actor you particularly admire?
RK: I love Gena Rowlands because she’s so powerful and gorgeous and not too beautiful. She’s so beautiful on the inside. I really admire her.
LB: Would you like to work with her?
RK: Yes, I would. One time I almost had the chance to meet her. Maybe this year.
LB: Last summer you produced and directed your own film. Could you tell me about that?
RK: It was a short promotional film for the Japanese fashion brand Zucca. A lot of Japanese brand campaigns are boring, so I wrote up a different kind of synopsis, and they loved my ideas. I had lots of suggestions for lighting and beautiful shots, so they asked me to be the director. I’d like to do more directing work, maybe with dramatic roles.