Interview : Akie Kotabe
After roles in hit shows, including Mad Men, CSI : Miami and blockbuster movies like Jack Ryan : Shadow Recruit, we chat to Akie about his role in the new movie Everly, starring Salma Hayek.
Did you always want to be an actor when you were growing up?
One of my favorite pastimes growing up was watching movies over the weekend; yet I had no clue that I would try to be an actor until I was halfway through college. I always thought it seemed like an amazingly fun job, but didn’t think I really had the looks or charisma to be an actor – I was quite a quiet kid, and spent afternoons after school walking my German Shepherd in the woods, or reading. I think I believed I would become an author initially, then in my teens got into skateboarding and rock music, and thought I would end up working in one of those fields!
How did your family react when it was clear you wanted to pursue a career in acting? Were you encouraged to follow your dream?
To me, I felt I was coming out of left field when I told my parents. I was three years into my time at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in Computer Science – and had no inclinations in day to day life to stand in front of people and perform. I had already told my father I wanted to be playing guitar and singing in a band; computer science was the suggested backup plan. When I told him I was going to change my major, I think at the time he was very worried that I would be harming chances for future career opportunities. However, this past year while spending time with him, he admitted (as I was the first born child) he had been trying to guide me perhaps too strictly, and was glad that I (as well as my two brothers) was following my dreams now. That was really nice to hear coming from him, and he supports me all the way now.
Did you look up to any other actors and aspire to be like anyone?
I look up to many successful actors, as well as inspirational people in general, and aspire to have the drive and focus that I believe is evident in their actions. Examples I love include the YouTube clip showing Bradley Cooper as a student asking Sean Penn a question in 1999 on Inside the Actors Studio, and then returning as a guest in 2011. I do believe hard work and perseverance….and patience, are key ingredients to being able to enjoy life as an actor. I also aspire to be a productive member of society, and to enjoy life while I have the opportunity to.
How important do you think having diverse actors, from all cultures and backgrounds, cast in roles is?
I believe having a diverse selection of actors is important in helping viewers see what a modern, melting-pot world we live in nowadays. As getting to be part of telling a story, I find that diverse casting is a positive way to help educate viewers in how much variety exists in this world, and how everybody deserves to be loved.
The lack of diversity represented at many awards ceremonies has made the headlines this year. What are your thoughts on this?
Awards season is upon us, and the politics, campaigning, and reasoning for who gets nominated is something I feel I don’t know enough about to give an insightful answer. I always hope that there is a diverse selection of performers nominated.
Do you think there’s still racism and prejudice in the movie industry? Have you ever experienced this?
Racism and prejudice are such negative words. I believe in show business, first impressions are key. It has only been a little over 50 years since the time of stories such as Selma (when Dr. Martin Luther King accepted the Nobel Peace Prize), and 74 years since the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. I am optimistic that we, as a society, have achieved much since then, and believe it is very hard to answer what is ‘racism’ or ‘prejudice’ in a business that how you appear can be the reason for getting hired or not. I know I have once gotten a part because I was not a ‘known face’. I also know I’ve once gotten a part because I was ‘the alternate choice’, and they decided to go with that. I don’t feel I’ve been directly attacked or insulted within the industry because of my race, and understand that so much goes into how a role is cast.
“I do believe hard work and perseverance….and patience, are key ingredients to being able to enjoy life as an actor. I also aspire to be a productive member of society, and to enjoy life while I have the opportunity to.”
Watch the trailer for Akie’s new movie Everly, starring Salma Hayek. The movie will receive a limited cinema release in the UK, opening on 1st May 2015.
We’d love to know more about your new movie Everly.
Everly is an awesome action/thriller starring Salma Hayek that is a fun roller coaster ride journey about a trapped woman (Salma plays a prostitute), making the decision to fight for her family without regard for her own life, attempting to escape the clutches of her captor – a Yakuza (Japanese organized crime) boss.
The laws around prostitution differ all over the world, with it being more relaxed in some countries and illegal in many. What are your views on prostitution being legal or not?
It’s the world’s oldest profession, apparently. I don’t think it is the best, and can’t imagine that anyone would say it is their dream job. But, I do feel people should be free to do as they choose – I don’t like the idea of anybody being forced into prostitution.
How would you describe your character? What attracted you to the role?
My character, the Dead Man, is a member of the Yakuza gang who is somewhat forced against his will to help in the punishing of Everly (Salma Hayek’s character). The opportunity to play this regretful, unlikely Yakuza character was amazing. I loved that I got to work opposite Salma, get to explore a character arc for a large part of the story, and get to work with producers and a director that had such love for film. I think the first seven words really sum it up – I loved that I got to work!
How did you prepare for the role and how does it differ from roles you’ve played in the past?
This was one of the biggest roles I have done to date, and one challenging aspect was having very limited movement. (SPOILER) As seen in the trailer, I am gut shot and unable to move much; and yet help in certain ways to aid Everly in her attempt to escape. It was a fun aspect as well; everything is quite internalised and hopefully my respect for Everly’s decision to fight comes through!
“Racism and prejudice are such negative words. I believe in show business, first impressions are key.”
How was it working with Salma Hayek?
Salma Hayek is a great actress, and a loving mother herself. She was pleasant and casual to hang out with when not shooting, but also very focused and determined to find the truth in any scene. She also had many good ideas; one including her choice of footwear throughout the film. I have to applaud the director Joe Lynch on working so collaboratively with all of the ideas that were being introduced as well.
What was your highlight from filming the movie?
There were so many. Getting to work with the director, Salma Hayek, the producers – getting to visit Belgrade, Serbia, working with the Japanese stunt team – but in terms of filming, I’d say those little inspired moments that were captured that came out of the blue.
Can we expect to see you in any more movies or TV shows this year?
I’m not sure I can say too much yet, but yep, that is correct!
It’s International Women’s Day on 8th March. Is there a female in your life who has inspired you and supported your career?
My mother. She passed away from ovarian cancer over ten years ago now, but her picture is above my wardrobe and all she had was love for me, no matter what. Her support and her choice to raise me and my brothers the way she did, inspires me – I’ll love her forever.