Two members of the cast of The Wolverine made their names outside of acting. Both Tao Okamoto, who plays Mariko, and Rila Fukushima, who plays Yukio, have a history in modelling.
It’s easy to be cynical when somebody hops from the pages of high fashion, coffee table magazines to acting roles, but I was left in no doubt that director James Mangold and the studio have searched long and hard for these actresses, and they seemed to have a lot of faith in them.
I spoke to both Okamoto and Fukushima on the set, about their work on the film, transitioning into acting, and also their take on the material. Let’s start with some of what Okamoto had to tell me.
This is my first film, ever, and my first acting experience. I’ve been modelling for over ten years but I never imagined myself acting. They were looking for a Japanese girl for this role and I’m sure they looked at a lot of good actresses but couldn’t find the right one for them, then they opened the gate a little wider and started to look at models.
My Japanese modelling agency called me and said “We’ve got you an audition” and I said “I’m not interested.” But then she said “Yeah, but it’s X-Men and it’s Hugh Jackman” and so I said “Yes! I’ll do it!”
I wasn’t sure that I wanted to act but I met Jim [Mangold] in LA for an audition and I fell in love with the way he thinks and what he taught me. I started to think “I really want to do this.”
I was very worried because I never took any acting lessons ever. I asked Jim what I should do and he said never take any lessons or any advice from others because he thought I had good instincts. I trusted him and listened to only him and he gave me everything I needed. I was freaking out before but now I’m very confident.
Recently, Jim told me that this role didn’t make much sense to him before but since he met me, he built up the character more.
Mariko is trying to find her place in her life and meeting Logan, finding herself and what she wants to have in her life. I have similarities in my life… I had a difficult childhood because I was always the tallest girl in the school and everybody was staring at me.
Hugh taught me a lot of things. I didn’t know anything about the system, little tricks and things. I didn’t even know how the camera is going to shoot. If Im on camera that’s fine but if I’m not, if I’m off camera, I didn’t know what to do. He taught me to stand by the camera as close as I could to make the eye line for him.
I speak English as a second language and sometimes it’s really difficult for me to understand things. Hugh is very patient and he’ll listen to me. He has such a graceful manner and keeps a good energy and atmosphere. I’m sure everybody is tired but I look forward to seeing everybody on set and I think that’s down to Hugh.
We really appreciate that they’re featuring Japan. There’s a lot of Japanese culture – Samurai, Ninja, Yakuza – and we shot some scenes in Japan. It’s such a great thing, an honour, that this kind of big feature film focuses on Japan, which is just a little country.
Fukushima told me a similar story… before digressing into some great praise for Hugh Jackman and a rather poetic description of his hyper-muscly anatomy. Here’s what she had to say.
I was taking acting classes on and off when I was modelling but I’d never done anything until now. I’ve completely fallen in love. Compared to modelling it’s completely different and I definitely want to try more.
On my first day I was nervous. Jim tried to make me relax. He has a lot of positive energy so I felt like I’d be fine.
I came to Australia and started training for the action scenes. I trained for three weeks before filming. I’ve done a lot of exercise but I’d never done anything like this. I didn’t know how much I should do. At first I thought “I’ve got to do everything” but, actually, I just do part of it and the stunt double does part of it.
Hugh is super wonderful and super professional, super nice and a super gentleman. It’s interesting to see how he behaves between the takes. And I learned from him how to eat more. He eats every couple of hours to keep his energy up. Every time I look at him he’s either eating or exercising. Now, I don’t do weights between takes but I am eating every three hours, a little bit of exercise to try and develop my muscle.
Hugh’s body is like a sculpture, all the veins and the muscles. That’s something people will have to check out in this film. There’s no CG, it’s his actual muscles and they move like waves.
I think Japanese fans will like this movie. When we shot in Japan we had a lot of fun. A lot of people were excited to see Hugh, screaming and running towards him. Somebody came up in front of me, I thought they wanted my autograph. They asked me “Can I ask you something? Can I get an autograph from Hugh?” and I said “Maybe you should just ask directly.”
And if they did, I’m sure he’d oblige. I’ve met Jackman a couple of times now and he’s been incredibly charming on both occasions. There’s a reason this guy’s a movie star – but more on that in a future report.
The Wolverine is released on July 25th. You can use the WSR tag to see all of my Wolverine set reports to date. Coming up next: a look at The Viper, big screen style, then some discussion of the film’s third act…