If you’ve read Chris Claremont and Frank Miller‘s Wolverine comic series from the early 80s, you know the character of Mariko Yashida plays a huge role in Wolverine’s lonely trip to Japan. However, while I’d love to tell you we’re going to see the same character arc in director James Mangold‘s The Wolverine, I can’t. Even though I spent some time on set last year when the production was filming in Sydney, Australia, everyone was guarded about revealing the story, and all we could get out of Tao Okamoto (who is making her acting debut playing Mariko) was how she came to the project, what it was like collaborating with Hugh Jackman and James Mangold, her thoughts on recreating Japan in Sydney, and other behind-the-scenes stories. However, with the film arriving in theaters in July, we’ll find out soon enough the answers to her storyline. Hit the jump for what she had to say.
Before getting to the interview, watch the recent trailer:
TAO OKAMOTO: Well, this is my first film ever – first acting experience. I’ve been modeling for over ten years but I never really imagine myself acting, ever. Somehow, they were looking for a Japanese girl for this role and I’m sure they look for a lot of good actresses and they couldn’t find the right one for them. Then, I think they opened the gate a little bigger and I think they started looking from models, like me. That’s how I was found.
What was your reaction when you got that phone call? Who called you?
OKAMOTO: My Japanese modeling agency called me and she said, “We got this audition,” and I was like, “Um, I’m not interested.” And the next word she said was, “Yeah, but it’s going to be X-Men and it’s Hugh Jackman in it.” I was like, “Yes! I’ll take it!” Because I’m a huge fan of him. I wasn’t even sure if I really wanted to do acting, but then he just opened the new door for me and I met Jim [Mangold] in L.A. for an audition and camera test. I just fell in love with what he thinks and what he teaches me and everything. I was just like, “I really want to do this,” and I got it.
Tell us about working with Jim, what he was teaching you?
OKAMOTO: Well, I was very worried because I never took any acting lessons, ever. So, I asked him, “What should I do?” He said, “Don’t take any lessons or any advice from others.” Because he thought I had some good sense and instincts. I just trusted him and I just listened to only him. He just gave me everything I needed. I was freaking out before but now I’m very confident working with him. It’s just great.
Do you remember your early conversations about the character with him?
OKAMOTO: Not on the audition but recently he told me this role didn’t make much sense to him before but since he met me, he built up the character more through myself. It was a grateful thing.
Obviously, the main reason why Wolverine is in Japan is because of your character. What is your take on your character? Obviously, he’s in love with you and it’s a big focus of the film. What is your personal interpretation of your character?
OKAMOTO: I think that the similarity I have with her is that she doesn’t have a normal life and I used to have a very difficult childhood when I was little because I was always like the tallest girl in the school and everybody was staring at me like, “You’re very different.” You know? I was struggling at the time and it’s a very different subject but still, she’s trying to find her place in her life. Meeting Logan later on, finding herself, what she wants to have in her life – I think I have a lot of similarity in my life.
Those things you’ve done just with Hugh, what’s it been like to work with him? Jim’s told you not to take any advice, so you just ignore Hugh the whole time?
OKAMOTO: Actually, he told me a lot of things like – because I didn’t know anything about little system tricks and things. I didn’t even know how the camera was going to shoot. If I’m on camera that’s fine but if I’m off camera, I didn’t know what to do. So he told me, “Oh, you have to stand close to the camera as much as you can to make the eye line for me.” I didn’t understand, first of all, because I’ve never done it but he told me very carefully and appreciate because I’m speaking English as a second language. Sometimes I find it’s very difficult to understand things but he’s very patient and listened to me, teach me and it’s just wonderful.
He’s got a big sense of humor as well, were there any jokes or games on set?
OKAMOTO: Yes, very much. He’s just such a graceful man, he always took care of other stuff too and kept the good energy and atmosphere. I think everybody – I’m sure that they’re tired. But me, I’m so looking forward to seeing everybody on set, every morning, and I think it’s because of Hugh.
What did you think when they told you that they were going to recreate Japan here in Sydney? Was it a weird thing to realize?
OKAMOTO: No, I think we really appreciate that they’re featuring about Japan and there are a lot of Japanese culture like: Samurai, Ninja, Yakuza, those kind of little stuff. And we shot some scenes in Japan so it’s such a great thing, it’s such an honor, that this kind of big feature film focused on Japan which is a little country.
OKAMOTO: It’s so impressive, it’s perfect, I’m so interested in all the set designs. It’s just so amazing. I keep saying, “I want to do one of the set designer.” I was asking the people, “Would you hire me?”
Have you pointed at anything that’s wrong?
OKAMOTO: You know what? Yeah, we found something wrong and they really listened to us, they really appreciated it. “Oh, it looks a little bit Chinese,” and they changed it because we don’t want to make any mistakes. They listened to us carefully, which is very, very grateful.
I want to ask about the costumes. Kimonos can be quite uncomfortable. Have you seen a range of costumes that you get to wear or worn them?
OKAMOTO: I’m in this Kimono for quite a long time in this film but I never really wear a Kimono in my real life so I’m enjoying. It’s very difficult to run in it or do some actions but it’s very fun and I think it’s a very beautiful costume they made.
The Wolverine opens July 26th. For more from our set visit:
- 40 Things to Know About THE WOLVERINE From Our Set Visit
- Hugh Jackman Talks His Training Regimen, Finally Putting “the Real Wolverine” on Screen, the Comics Influence, and More on the Set of THE WOLVERINE
- Director James Mangold Talks Making a Noir Film in Japan, Visual Style, 3D, the Rating, the Comics Influence, and More on the Set of THE WOLVERINE
- Producer Hutch Parker Talks the Long Development Process, Continuing to Develop the Third Act During Production, and More on the Set of THE WOLVERINE
- Svetlana Khodchenkova Talks Playing Viper, Landing the Role, Her Costume, Working with Hugh Jackman, and More on the Set of THE WOLVERINE
- Rila Fukushima Talks Fight Sequences, Similarities to the Comic, Working with Hugh Jackman, and More on the Set of THE WOLVERINE