Hiro Kanagawa is a well-known and well-regarded character actor with a diverse and extensive resume. Also an accomplished playwright and screenwriter, he won 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama for his play, “Indian Arm” and is currently working on a major commission for Theatre Calgary and Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre: a stage adaptation of the best-selling World War II memoir “Forgiveness” by Mark Sakamoto. Through the remainder of 2019, Hiro can be seen in two of his more significant roles to date: beleaguered patriarch James Ohata in CW Seed’s “Warigami,” an enigmatic billionaire R.B. Villard in Facebook Watch’s “Limetown.” Additionally, Hiro guest stars as an internment camp doctor in Season 2 of AMC’s “The Terror” and as tribal elder Lord Unoa in Apple’s much- anticipated dystopian epic, ” See.”
1. When did you know you wanted to become involved in the entertainment industry?
I think very few actors, writers, directors, etc. actually want to be involved in the “industry.” We all love to act and write and make movies and tell stories and be creative, but if we didn’t have agents and managers and had to deal with the industry side of things ourselves I feel like a lot of us wouldn’t do it. I first became involved in the entertainment industry to see if it was actually a viable way for me as a person of Asian descent to make a living. Nearly thirty years later I do want to be involved with the industry side of things much more because it’s my career now and there are things I want to accomplish.
2. You portray Lord Unoa in “See”. Can you tell us more about the series and your character?
“See” is set in a dystopian future in which most of humanity has been wiped out by an epidemic. The few remaining survivors are all blind. Most of them live in small villages scattered around the wilderness, but there is one group, the Payan Empire, centered around a still-operational hydro-electric dam. The despotic leader of the Payans, Queen Kane (Sylvia Hoeks) has heard rumors of two babies being born with sight. Because she considers sighting an evil that led to the downfall of humankind, she is obsessed with tracking down the babies and destroying them. She is devoting a disastrous amount of Payan resources for her quest. Lord Unoa is one of a number of advisors in her court who try to moderate her and eventually plot against her.
3. What did you learn about the industry that you can share with aspiring actors?
Having been on both sides of the auditioning process, I can tell you that when you walk into the casting room, everybody is praying that you will be the one. And we don’t actually want to see you act, we want to see you completely embody the role, completely inhabit the character. So take a breath and simply be in your reality. I think it’s helpful for aspiring actors to know that.
4. Who did you love working with on a past project and why?
I’ve enjoyed the overwhelming majority of projects I’ve worked on so it’s hard to single one out. I can count on one hand the projects I haven’t enjoyed and in those cases, it’s because there was a particular person carrying negativity and toxicity around with them. Completely useless and unnecessary.
5. Is there anything you can disclose about your upcoming projects?
As a playwright, I am currently writing the stage adaptation of the 2018 Canada Reads winner, “Forgiveness” by Mark Sakamoto. It’s a huge, epic story, and will be produced in the near future by Vancouver’s Arts Club Theatre and Theatre Calgary. Acting-wise there’s not a lot I can reveal due to the increased secrecy in the film and tv industry. We all have to sign non-disclosure agreements and often aren’t even allowed to reveal the titles of the projects we are on. Unfortunate but perfectly understandable.
6. What would your dream role be?
Something completely unexpected. Something that pushes me beyond what I think I am capable of.
7. If you could choose, what three actors would you really want to work with?
Honestly, there are so many. Can’t choose. Also, it depends on the situation, right? For instance, I’d never heard of Martha Higareda before I met her on Altered Carbon but I had an awesome time with her.
8. What is your best memory from any set?
One that stands out because it was fairly recent: a four-hour rehearsal of a dinner scene with Gary Oldman, Greg Kinnear and Indira Varma for the upcoming Nicholas Jarecki film, “Dreamland.”
9. What are some of your favorite movies or series?
Without thinking about it here’s what comes up: Chernobyl. The Wire. Breaking Bad. 6 Ft. Under. Y Tu Mama Tambien. Ugetsu. The Ballad of Narayama. The Godfather II. Dog Day Afternoon.
10. What kind of roles do you prefer when you are looking at a potential character to portray?
I want flawed characters, characters that are compromised and conflicted.
11. What is one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
You got a lot to learn, asshole!
12. Who are some people that inspire you?
My wife, my children, my mother.
The New England Patriots.
In the film, for the past decade or so it’s the Mexican directors Cuaron and Inarritu who have consistently inspired me.
13. What do you have in mind for the future?
Personally, I’m always trying to get to the next level, always trying to grow. I want the same for my children and family, as well as others I come into contact with.
14. What are some causes that are dear to your heart and you hope to bring more awareness to in the future?
My wife, Tasha Faye Evans, is an Indigenous artist and activist. She has raised over $100,000 the past few years for her Port Moody Welcome Post Project, a cultural initiative to have five Coast Salish Welcome Posts erected around the Port Moody inlet, one for each nation who traditionally lived on and cared for this land. One post is done two more are being carved as we speak. I share my wife’s desire to see a strong and vibrant Indigenous cultural presence on this land which we are fortunate to share with its original inhabitants.
Thank you so much to Hiro for the wonderful interview. You can find more about him and his work on:
Photo credit: Farah Nosh