Interview: Japanese Actor Ken Watanabe - Saito in Inception
by Alex Billington
July 20, 2010
Those of you that have seen Chris Nolan's Inception already this past weekend know that Japanese actor Ken Watanabe plays a very vital role in the movie as the businessman Saito. A couple weeks back, I got to interview Mr. Watanabe briefly for Inception and I'm finally presenting that interview today. It was a tough interview to conduct because he speaks very broken English (and was not using a translator), however I've provided the audio for you to download and simply listen to if you wish (
download here in WMA) as it may be easier to understand than the text. Anyway, read on for my full interview with Inception's Ken Watanabe.
I've been a huge fan of Mr. Watanabe for many years, I've loved him in everything from The Last Samurai to Letters from Iwo Jima to, of course, Nolan's Batman Begins. He delivers another impeccable performance in Inception and really is a very important part of the movie. I wanted to talk with him about getting into the complexities of the character, but I still wanted to keep things fairly simple so our conversations would be understood. Hopefully you enjoy the interview and can make out what he's trying to say with his answers.
I'm so excited to speak to you, I'm a really big fan.
Ken Watanabe: Thank you.
Your character in Inception was something I almost wasn't expecting. I didn't realize how central to the plot and important he was and yet complex in so many different ways, I mean it was incredible to see.
Watanabe: Yeah. We were wondering about, you know, [being] too confusing or too complex and, I heard about the project… If he tried to do this movie with a low budget, there's not an easy way with him, with Chris… But to just wrap a huge budget movie with entertainment is so challenging, Original script, real complex… But yeah, his role is so huge.
Yeah. That's actually what I was going to ask: While shooting, how were you able to figure out each different world, each of the dream states. How were you able to keep track of that?
Watanabe: So, you know, it's a really interesting point about this movie, that we enter other people's dreams and, I tried to emphasize the aspect of some different character of Saito [in] each level of a dream, [within each] layer of dreams, because how you see me can be different from how I really am. If I'm in your dream, you are seeing some projection, completely different. And then I tried to emphasize… First chapter in my castle, I pick up some hidden feelings of the cycle. It's magical, powerful and then the first dream. And back to the second chapter, in the old hotel, I pick up [being] sharp and more calm and smart and it's a little bit [of a] different process to make up the character of any movie. It's very interesting to discuss with Chris and he allowed [me] to pick up the different perspectives.
He seems like just an incredible filmmaker to work with and you've worked with him on Batman before.
What is it like working with him? What is the advice he gives you and what's your process like working with him?
Watanabe: Completely he has [the] imagination and then he give us the reality of the set. You know, we have to go to six countries and Chris builds up the whole set and it was just, the zero gravity set -- we had four sets. <motions "big" with hands>
Yeah, very big sets.
Watanabe: And then, we could feel always the real reality and, you know, acting is so easy. It's just reacting actually, but it was so tough [being] in the water all day, zero gravity whole day, and, just 360 in the van [while still] calm dreaming, you know, can't imagine.
You've sort of remained a bit outside of Hollywood besides these films with Chris Nolan, but you've done a lot more work in Japan. I'm wondering if that's a decision that you made specifically or is it more the roles you're interested in?
Watanabe: Yeah, I follow my curiosity, just follow my curiosity because, you know, he's a good director, good cast, good story, of course, and we need a timing to make up the filming, to release the film. We need to just follow some part of curiosity. It's [a] signal [like]: "Oh, I needed to go. Oh, I don't go" or something. Yeah, just an easy way to decide the next one.
What are the differences between working in the US versus working in Japan in terms of the film world?
Watanabe: Not so many differences because, you know, each project is different. Each director is different. Clint Eastwood and Chris Nolan are completely different and I need to adjust to the story and character and the director and just my duty as an actor.
Could you speak about the rest of the incredible cast in Inception and working with them?
Watanabe: Yeah, all the young actors, they will, you know, work harder and harder, maybe next generation and then I learn many things from them. Cillian Murphy is really talented and smart and he always think about the character and Tom Hardy and Joseph [Gordon-Levitt], they're so physical, and of course, skill of acting they have and talented; of course, Leo [DiCaprio]. Before the shooting, I had some imagine about more sensitive or too nervous or something, but it's gone. Then, he has many phrases and it's like five kids and smart guy and tough. It's really funny - we have so tough shooting, we had, and then on the verge of going crazy. It's so tough, you know, physically and mentally and he started singing a funny song.
Watanabe: Yeah, and
Do you ever find working on English language films that there's an issue of lost in translation or a language barrier for you while working and doing all of your scenes in English?
Watanabe: You know, it is the first movie [where my] role is contemporary. It's [not anything like] traditional samurai or army or something different. And then, this movie is [using] modern and contemporary English. Yeah, I need to learn and train about contemporary English, but I had a great coach and she always suggest about some good way for use in English or something. It's still difficult and hard because explain about my feeling, deeper feeling to acting, to have a cast and director. But day-by-day, we spend time a lot and they always understood about my feelings; yeah, so it's interesting.
What was the most complex scene that you had to shoot, the most challenging scene?
Watanabe: It's the final moment, you know, just in limbo. It's so difficult because, he spend the time, 50 years more alone and he is waiting for somebody alone and [has] really lonely feelings. And then, he lost many things, but he remembers just one thing - I already [know] somebody and I catch a feeling that's so difficult in there. I discuss so many things with Chris and so many helping to the makeup and to make other members of cast feel and the crew, yeah. It's fascinating to see.
Yeah, it seems like there was a lot of weight to it because it opens and closes the film.
But, I think you pulled it off fantastically.
Watanabe: Thank you.
Thank you to Warner Bros for arranging the interview. Inception is playing in theaters now.