Japanese actor Hiroyuki Sanada is best known for his
superb portrayal of the reluctant Samurai, Seibei Iguchi, a
sensitive and loving family man in the 2002 Japanese
foreign language film,
Tasogare Seibei (The Twilight Samurai).
That film was nominated for
an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It swept the
Japanese Academy Awards, winning twelve awards including for Best
Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and a Best
Actor win for Sanada.
Sanada, who was born in Tokyo, was already a major star
in his native Japan, having crafted an extensive, multi-faceted, and
stellar acting career on stage, screen, and TV.
The Twilight Samurai and its talented star caught the attention
of US and international audiences – and filmmakers who wanted to see
more. Hollywood came calling the very next
year in 2003, with Sanada’s American major film debut in The Last
Samurai, starring with Tom Cruise. From there, Sanada’s career
Hiroyuki Sanada began his acting career at just five
years old, playing a Yakuza’s son in a Japanese film, after a talent
scout noticed and enrolled him in a school for child actors. Sanada
also trained with martial arts icon Sonny Chiba’s Action Club. He
went on to star in a host of hugely successful martial arts and
Samurai films, many for Sanada’s favorite film director, Kinji
Fukasaku. These included 1981’s Makai Tensho (Samurai
Reincarnation) – which garnered Sanada a Japanese Academy Award
for Best Newcomer Of The Year – and 1983’s Satomi Hakkenden
(Legend Of The Eight Samurai).
Sanada then went on to amass a diverse and acclaimed
landscape of roles. His work in drama, romance, comedy, horror, science
fiction, and musicals showcase his immense emotional depth and
Sanada starred as the heroic father in 1998’s Ringu and its sequel, 1999’s Ringu 2.
Ringu is Japan’s highest grossing horror film and a cult
classic that paved the way for many Japanese horror films to become
hit underground favorites here in the USA. Both films were remade
here in America, into hit English language films, as 2002’s The
Ring and 2005’s The Ring Two.
Hiro also starred in numerous Japanese TV series,
including the hit 1997 Japanese dramatic TV series Konna Koi No
Hanashi (A Story Of Love), which dealt with serious, topical
issues of social commentary within its romantic subplot.
Sanada’s first love is the theater, as well as also being
a gifted singer, songwriter, and musician. He has continued to
light up the stage throughout his career. He starred as Seymour in
the 1987 Japanese stage production of the hit horror rock musical
and comedy The Little Shop Of Horrors. Hiro also appeared in
Japanese stagings of the Tony® award winning Broadway musical Big
River in 1988, Broadway Bound, the Tony® nominated story
of playwright Neil Simon’s life in 1989, and Shakespeare’s
Romeo and Juliet in 1986.
In 1998 Sanada became much the venerable thespian owing
to his lauded role in Hamlet on the London stage with a
Japanese theater company.
This led to Sanada receiving international acclaim when British
actor Sir Nigel Hawthorne personally invited Hiro to star with him
and portray The Fool in The Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1999 and
2000 London stage production of King Lear. Sanada learned
and became fluent in English for his role in King Lear.
Sanada’s portrayal in King Lear also garnered Sanada an
honorary MBE (Member of the British Empire) from Queen Elizabeth II.
After Sanada’s international acclaim in The Twilight
Samurai, he lit up the American screen for the first
time in the fact-based blockbuster history epic, The Last Samurai, in 2003. Sanada
portrayed the formidable and proud Samurai warrior Ujio, who
mentors Tom Cruise’s character, Captain Nathan Algren. The role of
Ujio became a favorite with American audiences. An esteemed dream
list of directors and actors went on to cast Sanada in their
Art house film director James Ivory cast Sanada in two of
his critically acclaimed films. The first of those was 2005’s The White
Countess starring opposite Ralph Fiennes in a tale of
emotionally vulnerable people traversing the political upheaval of
1930’s Shanghai. Ivory again sought Sanada’s talents in 2009’s
The City Of Your Final Destination starring as Anthony Hopkins
character’s young gay lover.
In 2007 Sanada starred with Chris Evans in director Danny
Boyle’s science fiction disaster film Sunshine. Sanada
portrayed a villain opposite Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in
director Brett Ratner’s comedy action hit Rush Hour 3. The
infamous Lana and Andy Wachowski (of The Matrix fame) invited Hiro to play Mr. Musha, President of Musha Motors in their 2008 live
action film of Speed Racer.
The last few years have seen Sanada celebrate a cult
status for his many recent film and TV roles throughout the science
fiction, fantasy, and comics genres. Sanada lit up fan boards and
garnered acclaim from mainstream audiences as the mysterious “Other”
Dogen on season six of the ABC TV Network’s Lost and for the
role of Satoshi Takeda, the martial arts mentor to Emily VanCamp’s
character Emily Thorne on ABC’s Revenge. 2013 saw Sanada
in the summer blockbuster The Wolverine, the hugely popular X-Men spinoff.
Hiro also stars in the independent, critically-acclaimed
film The Railway Man, along with Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman,
Jeremy Irvine and Stellan Skarsgård, The movie is the autobiographical true
story of Eric Lomax, a British soldier and survivor of a WW2
Japanese POW camp, coming to terms with his past in the present day.
The film received standing ovations and accolades from the press
when it premiered last September 2013 at The Toronto Film Festival.
Sanada portrays Takashi Nagase, the Japanese Officer who tortured
Eric in the camp, who also comes to terms with his past in the
December 2013 saw Sanada star in 47 Ronin,
opposite Keanu Reaves. Hiro portrayed real life Samurai hero Oishi
Yoshio in the blockbuster supernatural fantasy envisioning of the
true story of Japan’s most beloved and legendary chapter in their
nation’s proud history.
On the day of the January 10, 2014 premiere of Helix,
Sanada’s new science fiction, suspense thriller TV series, Hiro
graciously took time to discuss his starring role as mysterious
scientist Dr. Hiroshi Hatake. Helix is executive produced by
Alan D. Moore, renowned screenwriter and producer of Battlestar
Galactica and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The series
also stars Billy Campbell, Kyra Zagorsky and Mark Ghanime.
Helix airs on the Syfy Cable Television Network, Fridays at 10pm
Hiro also regaled me about his luminous acting and music
career, and the many esteemed upcoming creative projects he’s
currently working on. This summer 2014 he will be starring with
Oscar® winner Halle Berry in the CBS Television Network’s science
fiction series Extant,
produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. Sanada is also
voicing the character of Sumo Villain in the summer 2015
Despicable Me spinoff animated feature film, Minions!
the January 10, 2014 premiere of Helix. For
people who haven’t yet seen it, what can you tell people about the
show’s storyline: especially about your scientist character Dr.
Hiroshi Hatake and how he relates as a pivotal figure to the plot
and to the other characters on an urgent scientific expedition?
My role in Helix is Dr. Hiroshi Hatake. He is the director
of research in the Arctic, at Arctic Biosystems.
beginning of the story, CDC (The Center For Disease Control) members
arrive to the Arctic base to investigate a possible disease
outbreak. Dr. Hatake explains to them about the disease but he has
a lot of secrets in his past. He is a mysterious man and has his
own mission. It will be clear how he's involved with the disease
and what kind of relationship he has between the other members
little by little.
Helix is executive produced by Ronald
D. Moore, known for his esteemed work as a screenwriter and producer
on Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: The Next Generation
and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. How did you become
involved with Helix? What’s it like working with Ronald and
also Helix creator Cameron Porsandeh?
I am so excited to work with Ronald and had a wonderful time during
received the script and the offer letter at the same time. I really
enjoy the story and my role. Cameron told me that he created the
character of Dr. Hatake for me. It's a very happy thing as an
actor, but also, it's a lot of pressure for me, too.
How did you prepare for and immerse yourself in your character?
I followed my first impression for my character and I just reacted
to the other actors on set. They helped me a lot and I enjoyed the
collaboration with the great directors.
You’ve done science fiction genre roles before, most notably
as Captain Kaneda in the 2007 film
Sunshine. But Helix is also a
suspense thriller with a mystery to be solved as well. Are you a
fan of those genres and how exciting is it for you to be playing Dr.
I am a big fan of Alien and many other science fiction
movies. I was so happy to be a part of the cast of Sunshine. I learned a lot from the director, Danny Boyle. I really enjoy
playing Dr. Hatake because he is deeply involved in the story, but
with a mystery….
From the first fifteen minutes you feel Dr. Hatake is an ambiguous character with complex motives. Is he a hero?
Is he a villain? Is he part of a conspiracy? Without giving too
much away, what can you reveal about his hidden motives and agendas?
Dr. Hatake has a huge dream as a scientist. He has devoted all of
his life towards discovery. But
sacrifice is always necessary for the development of science. So,
he must be a villain for somebody, but also he could be a hero if he
can get something! Part of a conspiracy? Maybe... As a
victim?... Let's see!
The project I’m most excited about of yours is the science fiction,
Extant, your new summer 2014 TV series on CBS. You co-star
alongside Halle Berry! The show is produced by Steven Spielberg for
Amblin Television and is directed by Alan Coulter. How did you come
to the attention of Steven Spielberg and how did he cast you in the
I met Steven a few times before (Author’s note: Including during the
making of The Last Samurai per Hiro’s management),
but this is my first time working in one of his projects. I
got the offer with a letter from the writer Mickey Fisher, and also
the producer, in which
they explained the story and my
character. I am so interested in my role and so excited to work
What can you tell people about the show’s storyline and your
character Kinji Matsumo, in
Kinji Matsumo is a wealthy technological genius who
privatized the world's space programs into a single entity. One
of my astronauts, who Halle Berry portrays, returns home after a
year-long mission and tries to reconnect with her family.
What was your first meeting like with Halle and what is your
experience working with her and Steven?
Well we have not started working yet. I have yet to meet her.
You also star in the new film
The Railway Man. You portray the
real life, multi-dimensional character in the film,
Japanese Military Officer Takashi Nagase. He’s a person who
committed unspeakable atrocities against his fellow man, overseeing
the imprisonment and tortures of British soldier Eric Lomax and the
other POW’s. Yet after the war ended, later on in his life, Takashi
was also a person who gave his life to atoning for his actions
through incredible acts of compassion, charity work, and a complete
evolution of the heart, later becoming a Buddhist Priest. What were
the challenges for you, to create and find your emotional center for
this deeply contrasting role – a person who was capable of such
striking dualities as a human being?
I was shocked when I read the script because I didn't know about
this story. I read the novels written by both Mr. Lomax and Mr.
Nagase. They told the same thing: about what happened in the past
and how they could have a reconciliation. How they became
friends in the end. When I got the offer I thought; as a Japanese
born actor I have to do this role, even if it's a difficult and a
On a lighter note, you also are voicing Sumo Villain in the upcoming
2015 animated feature film and
Despicable Me spinoff, Minions! How
did that voice acting role come about for you and how do you get
into your character for that? What can you tell people about your
character Sumo Villain and his plotting against the Minions?
I don't know how this voice acting role came to me, especially in
English. It was a good surprise though and an honor for me to get
an offer to work on this kind of big successful series. I had so
much fun when I first saw the image of the character. It was
completely different from any other role I've done before. He is a
sumo wrestler and looks funny but called “Villain”, means
After doing projects that often are filled with such dark and gritty
subject matter, is this a nice way for you to have fun, relax, and
recharge your creative and artistic energies?
I had so much fun playing my character for Minions, because
it was my first experience to be a voice actor in an American
animation feature film. Yes, I had a blast!!
I just saw 47 Ronin and you are just phenomenal as real
life Samurai hero, Oishi Yoshio. The 47 Ronin are part of Japan’s
most venerable history and folklore. What were your emotions
portraying a legendary hero so important to your nation’s history?
At first I felt a lot of pressure to do that role, because I had
watched a lot of my favorite actors play great Oishis before in
movies and TV. But Oishi's character in this fantasy movie was very
different from the original story of the 47 Ronin. I could create
my own Oishi. I really enjoyed that freedom without the pressure of
the traditional version of Oishi.
Oishi, for me, was a chance for you to expand on a similar role,
that of Ujio in 2003’s The Last Samurai alongside Tom Cruise.
Ujio is a great warrior and an important mentor who teaches Nathan
how to sword fight and stick fight. In 47 Ronin as Oishi, you
are the star and you get to showcase your valor, bravery, and honor as a formidable
warrior and great hero. What are your perspectives on the two
characters, Ujio and Oishi?
Ujio and Oishi were totally different characters for me, but both of
them had the same Samurai spirit, I believe. They fought for
loyalty, justice, and honor. Therefore, I wanted to put the
Japanese spirit into both roles, even in the different story telling
What was the training like for your sword fights and stick fights
47 Ronin and The Last Samurai? Did you do your own
I started to learn sword fighting when I was a child actor and I
just continued learning until now. I'm trying to create an original
fighting style for each character, including the choreography. I've
done all the fighting scenes myself for both films.
What about your stunts for your other films, be they science fiction
or action. Do you do any stunts for them as well?
I have always done the stunts myself for each role, if the director
requests me. When I was a child actor, I was influenced by a lot of
leading actors who performed their own stunts in the movies. I
thought that's the greatest service to the audience, so I decided I
should be able to perform any task required to make the characters
more believable. Then I started training from the age of thirteen
for all skills that could be required in the future.
You also starred in the original Japanese versions of
The Ring, 1998’s Ringu and its sequel, 1999’s Ringu 2
as Ryuji Takayama, the heroic man trying to save his family from an
evil spirit’s deadly cursed videotape. What was your creative
experience working on this gothic and very terrifying horror story
as well as portraying a man trying to save his wife and child from
an evil ghost?
It was a great experience for me because Ringu was my first
horror movie. I had to use my imagination to create the scary scenes
because I couldn't see the ghost on set.
Do you enjoy scary movies and what are some of your favorite horror
I enjoyed The Exorcist and Carrie when I was a boy.
Why do you think that
Ringu captured the imagination and popular
culture of so many people here in the USA, as well as influencing
how American filmmakers make horror cinema?
Japanese traditional horror is very dark and slimy... very creepy. I
think those visions and the idea of the Ringu story were
fresh for the audience in the US. The director, Hideo Nakata, was
good at creating those visions in the film.
My favorite film of yours is 2002’s sublime
Tasogare Seibei, (The
Twilight Samurai). You are absolutely superb in this emotionally
meaningful, tender, and moving film. It’s a wonderful, beautifully
drawn, and emotionally rich and often complex character study.
Seibei Iguchihe is a Samurai,
he finds his great
and true happiness just staying at home and being a family man,
loving and taking care of his two daughters and elderly mother. It
really is a once in a lifetime role and for many it is your
signature role that showcases your emotional depth and range as an
actor. How did that film come about for you? How did you prepare
for and immerse yourself in a role of such deep and beautiful
emotional nuances and complexity?
I received the script while I was staying in London. I thought this
is the script that I've been waiting for, for a long time. I
immediately called my manager and said that I should do this! It
was so smooth to get into the movie's world and into my character.
I loved this film because it was such a unique Samurai movie.
My character Seibei is a good fighter in school, but he never drew
his sword in real life. He is always fighting against poverty,
which he and his family face, but he loves spending time with his
daughters and wants to become a farmer. Unfortunately, he had to
fight against another Samurai due to his master's order. Each
fighting scene has a reason and meaning. It was the best balance
between drama and action. Director Yoji Yamada tried to create an
authentic atmosphere in the film so I could feel like I was living
during that period as Seibei.
How did the international success of
The Twilight Samurai
affect your career? Was that when Hollywood and America first
recognized and took notice of your talents?
Yes, I think so. Thank God for this film!
You’ve shined in some independent and art house films, including 2005’s
The White Countess
opposite Ralph Fiennes and 2009’s The City Of Your Final
Destination starring with Anthony Hopkins, both for Director
James Ivory. You starred in last year’s The Wolverine
opposite Hugh Jackman and directed by James Mangold. In 2007 you
starred with Chris Evans in Director Danny Boyle’s Sunshine,
and you starred with Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan in Director
Brett Ratner’s Rush Hour 3. How did these creative experiences and working with these esteemed
directors and actors shape and evolve you as an actor?
Every experience has trained me and inspired me so much. I'm so
lucky and happy to have had the opportunity to work with them in my
life. It's a wonderful thing not only as an actor but also as a
human being. Working with great people keeps me fresh and teaches
me that I am forever, a student.
You’re also a gifted singer, musician and composer. You appeared
in the Japanese stage productions of the musicals
Little Shop Of
Horrors and Big River. You also composed the film score
for 1990’s Rimeinzu: Utsukushiki Yusha-tachi (Yellow
Fangs), which you also starred in for Director Sonny Chiba. What
first inspired you to become a songwriter, a singer, and a musician?
How did you become involved with the film in composing the score?
I started singing on stage when I was twenty years old and wrote
some songs myself, and
I directed my concerts too.
That's why they requested me to be the director of music for this
What artistic challenges does film scoring pose to you? Not just
writing music, but also adapting it for film via timed cues, edits,
rough cuts, accents, spotting, synching, etc.?
My favorite director, Kinji Fukasaku, was a supervisor for that
film. He gave me a lot of advice during the post production. It
was a great experience to learn how to make a movie.
What first inspired you to want to become an actor?
I was scouted by a child actor’s school when I was four years old.
I was on a film set before I watched any movie for the first time in
a theater. That movie, which I did when I was five, was actually
the first movie I ever saw, and it was in the screening room of the
Do you remember your first audition and acting role?
My first audition was when I was five years old, for the role of a
Director Akira Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune are perhaps the
most iconic influences in Japan’s cinema, as well as influencing
American and international filmmakers around the globe. How much of
an influence is their work on you as an actor and to your craft?
I'm a big fan of their films and I’m inspired by their
internationally acclaimed work in film.
In 2002 you were bestowed with an honorary MBE (Member Of The
British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth II for starring in The Royal
Shakespeare Company production of
King Lear in 1999 and
2000. How artistically fulfilling was that experience for you?
What were the challenges for you in tackling and inhabiting one of
Shakespeare’s most iconic characters and plays?
was one of the biggest challenges in my life, because it was my
first time acting in English in front of a live audience. I think
that experience changed my life and it made me decide to continue
choosing international projects.
How did you become involved with The Royal Shakespeare Company?
When I played Hamlet in London (in 1998), it was with a
Japanese company. The Royal Shakespeare Company was looking for an
Asian actor at that time.
Nigel Hawthorne, who played King Lear, and the producer for
King Lear, Thelma Holt, visited my dressing room after the
show. Then they asked me "Do you fancy playing The Fool in King
Lear with us?" I said "Excuse me, in English you mean?!"
Would you like to do more theater, perhaps perform some modern
playwrights’ works both here in the USA on Broadway and also in
Yes, I'd love to, if I have the chance.
What are some of your fondest memories as an actor, regarding the
directors, actors, and your many wonderful projects on stage,
screen, and TV that you have experienced in your stellar career?
When I was in The Royal Shakespeare Company, we spent seven months
together in London and Stratford-on-Avon. It was the best balance
between an exciting stage career and a peaceful life for me. Also,
when I shot James Ivory's The City Of Your Final Destination
in Argentina, we stayed in the beautiful Estancia. We spent a great
time together including Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
It was like a dream for me. That kind of
atmosphere helped me create a nice relationship between the cast and
the crew. I have a lot of unforgettable memories for each project
and they are my precious treasures.
What actors and directors are on your dream list and would you most
like to work with to evolve and stretch as an artist in your craft?
All of the great actors and directors I have worked with I want to
work with again. I have a lot of favorite people who I want to work
with, but I'd especially love to work with Steven Spielberg with him
directing in the future.
CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT
CO-STARS BILLY CAMPBELL AND JORDAN HAYES HAD TO SAY ABOUT HELIX!
us Let us know what you