She was nominated for the best performance by an actress in a supporting role for Babel (2006). And now Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi is back in Guillermo del Toro's upcoming sci-fi thriller Pacific Rim as the young Mako Mori.
The 32-year-old star, who plays a trainee paired up with a former pilot (Charlie Hunnam) to drive a seemingly obsolete special weapon and prevent an apocalypse, speaks about the experience and the challenges of her role in the film.
What was it like working with Guillermo on this film?
It was great. He is such a loving person. And when my performance was good, he'd get so happy. He's say, 'Rinko, awesome, great!' That made me work harder. I knew I had to do this. So, he's special.
When we were shooting in the Conn-pod, it was hard because our suit is very, very heavy and then we were attached the mechanical arms and legs. It was so heavy too. So, it's the most physically demanding shoot of my career. But I would just clear my mind to focus on my performance, because if I lose my concentration, I can't survive in the Conn-pod. I felt like, 'Wow, this is a real fight.'
How long did it take you to get in and out of the pod suit?
Almost forty-five minutes.
Can you talk about your character's history and why she reacts so strongly once her mind is linked with Charlie's character's?
Oh, because her parents were killed by Kaiju (the monstrous alien creatures) in an attack, and that attack traumatised her. So, she was fighting a monster and her own demons. She wanted to get revenge. It's really hard for her to fight because she has to share her memories with someone.
The Kaiju genre is a very old genre, and distinctly Japanese. What did it mean to you to represent your culture in a film based on this iconic Japanese genre?
Yeah, I grew up with a lot of monster movies, robot movies, since I was a kid. I love anime movies, like Evangelion and Ghost in the Shell. Being a part of this film, it's kind of dream come true.
What was it like training and doing your sparring scene with Charlie Hunnam? Did you ever get hurt, or try to hurt Charlie?
Of course, I did sometimes, but, look, Charlie is a big guy. He can handle it. [Laughs] But, actually, I have a special skill for it. I grew up with a lot of samurai movies too, so that's why I wanted to be like the samurais. [Laughs]
Before shooting, I trained almost two months, like boot camp, lifting, running on the beach, martial arts, eating the healthy food--I've never done this before. [Laughs] I hated it, but I had to do it.
What do you usually eat?
Chocolate. Pasta. Some Japanese food, I love that. But I couldn't eat at all at the time. And also, my trainer was really, really hard on me. I love him, but he was really hard on me. All of that is new to me and it was hard, but I love Guillermo [del Toro], I love his movie. And I knew how I lucky I was to get this role, so I just did it. I just had to get over it.
Do you eat anything healthy, ever?
Fruit sometimes, but I love chocolate and pancakes, French fries, hot dogs, pizza.
In the movie, Idris Elba's character, Pentecost, is like a surrogate father to your character, Mako. What was it like creating this onscreen father-daughter relationship with Idris?
Yeah, he is so versatile and some scenes were really intense and emotional. And, also, I think he kept a distance between me and him because sometimes he's on Pentecost's side, and sometimes on my father's side. So, I think he really took care of me in this role.
As an actress with an Oscar nomination, are you getting offered a lot of roles?
I've received scripts, and got some challenging roles. I've been working with Spanish, French, some more American, and Japanese directors. And then I realized I have to study English, and that's why I moved to New York two years ago.
Do you care what critics say about what you wear to events?
I have to care about my acting in movies, but I don't care about the fashion. It's just for fun, because I'm a girl and just want to be fun with it.
What is your dream role? Is there one character you would love to play?
Actually, I just did it for Pacific Rim. I really wanted to be a superhero.
Do you have a favorite movie of all time?
I love film, any kind of genre.