Making her film debut with The Wolverine, model-turned-thespian Tao Okamoto is stepping right into the heart of comic-book lore as logan’s long-time love interest Mariko Yashida – torn between the influence of her domineering father Shingen (Hiroyuki Sanada), and the surly gaijin with the blades in his fists.
Okamoto spoke exclusively to SciFiNow about fight training, changing the comics, and reprising the role…
What can you tell us about Mariko?
She’s from the richest family in Japan, so I think she always had an usual childhood and she couldn’t have normal relationships with other children, other kids. So I think she’s very strong, but insecure with herself, maybe something I could share. I felt rejected by other kids at school and that’s why I liked Mariko, that’s something I brought into her.
Why is she drawn to Logan?
They have this empathy between them, as neither of them have a normal life. Logan is immortal and she is not a regular girl, so that made her feel like maybe they could understand each other.
Mariko’s very submissive in the comic, is your Mariko different?
She’s very strong, even to her father. The relationship between her and her father is going to be the biggest secret the movie, so I can’t tell you much. She trains and does martial arts and stuff, so she’s strong psychologically but physically too.
Did you have to do a lot of training, yourself?
Yeah. I trained in karate and throwing knife, and that was really challenging for me but I really enjoyed it. The first day we were shooting was Sydney, and I went there a month before we actually started shooting and trained myself in karate forms and throwing knives and stuff.
I just didn’t want to make mistakes because there were some specialists on set. My father was played by Hiroyuki Sanada and he’s a specialist in many martial arts, he gave me some tips.
We’re you worried about depicting Japan as full of Ninja and Yakuza?
I’d be worried Japanese people would notice if it was a lie or not, and I didn’t want to make mistakes, but I loved the mixture of reality and fantasy. We don’t have Samurai or Ninja anymore, but it’s a movie!
Had you read the comics?
I looked at some comic-books, but I haven’t finished the whole story of the one where I meet Logan. I think the script helped me more.
What was it like sharing scenes with Hiro and Hugh?
They’re so generous. I’m sure that after doing as many movies as they’ve done they can easily forget about how difficult it is to someone just coming to acting. They both remember the time, they still get nervous, and they can understand me well and give me tips like “I shouldn’t do this, I shouldn’t do that” and it was really helpful.
What’s it like seeing Hugh flip from being this nice guy to being this angry maniac?
He’s totally Wolverine on set, it’s very scary. I didn’t have to fight with him, but some stunt team guys said they were actually frightened. Like he was going to kill them! When he’s off set, he’s totally the nicest man in the world – he’s a dad, and when he’s with his kids he’s the nicest dad in the world!
Did it feel like a superhero film to you?
To be honest, I was more into the human drama than this sci-fi movie, but this was my first movie – so everything was brand new to me. I think working in a sci-fi action movie is more interesting and more fun than human dramas, because it’s just amazing. Every new set I walked onto, I was like “Oh my God, I feel like I’m in the movie!”
Mariko’s quite an important character in comics, would you like to play her again?
I would do something with her again, but I wanted to try something different to her too.
The Wolverine is released in UK cinemas on 25 July 2013. You can buy X-Men: The Ultimate Collection on Blu-ray for £32.68 at Amazon.co.uk.