John Wick: Meet Hiroyuki Sanada (Koji Shimazu)

by Andrew Nguyen

With the upcoming release of the fourth John Wick film, Dorkaholics’ very own Andrew Nguyen had an opportunity to speak with veteran actor Hiroyuki Sanada about his experiences as an experienced Asian actor who has played roles that furthered Asian representation in entertainment as well as working alongside fellow martial arts talent.

Andrew Nguyen: I am an Asian American male so growing up there were not a lot of prominent Asian roles in media or television, and I feel like your career has helped pave the way for the API community to gain more recognition and offer a lot of opportunities for rising Asian stars. I just wanted to know from the start of your career until now, how do you feel about seeing that progression.

Hiroyuki Sanada: When I first came to the US, there were still only small parts in the movie industry for an Asian actor, especially for me growing up in Japan and then trying to come to the world market. It was so hard and then I felt the big wall between east and west but that’s why I tried to keep continuing international projects. And then in our generation, I wanted to break that kind of wall and make the bridge for the next generation. That was one of my missions I felt. That’s why I just kept doing it and then little by little, doors opened more and more. I feel like the options are getting bigger now so everything, step by step, we cannot change at once, so we must keep continuing, that’s the most important thing.

Andrew Nguyen: That’s great, I think you shattered the wall and not only just broke it down. The next question I want to ask is… you have such a rich history of your career working alongside extensive martial arts actors such as Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, and now you’re reuniting with Keanu Reeves in this movie and working alongside Donnie Yen as well too. So, how is the martial arts choreography? Does it get easier or is it more challenging when you’re facing a new co-star?

Hiroyuki Sanada: I was a child actor; when I was five years old I started acting. So, I started acting first then I watched a lot of action movies and oh my gosh. If the actor is doing everything by himself or by herself, that’s the best service I thought. That’s why I started training, like dancing, singing, and martial arts, or stunts. Then I just continued to do it by myself, but a lot of action stars came from stunt work, so a different approach I believe. But on set I learned martial arts is just one of the skills of an actor, but it was useful and then made it easy to collaborate with actors like Donnie and Jackie, to put the idea together. For me, action is not show time, it’s actually a peak of the drama, an emotion. So, the most important thing for me is matching between drama, emotion and choreographing everything. My skill was creating those kinds of scenes together and it was so easy to collaborate with them and so much fun.

Catch John Wick: Chapter 4 in theaters March 24, 2023.

Edited for clarity.

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