Becoming A Foreign Actor In Japan

Hanako to An 3Ever wondered what it would be like to be a foreign actor in Japan? You occasionally will see some foreign talent in J-dramas and movies. How did they get that chance to act in Japan? What does it take?

Recently, I had the honor of interviewing aspiring Japan actress Sarah MacDonald, who recently landed the role of Phillips-Sensei on the NHK morning drama 花子とアン (Hanako to An). I know her personally as my camp counselor back in 2008 when I went to Mori no Ike, a Japanese language camp. What was her journey like to becoming an actress in Japan? (Interview in Japanese to follow)


1. Why did you want to become an actor in Japan?

For a while during my college career, I wanted to be an actor in the US. But I’ve always been so drawn to Japan. I knew that I couldn’t give that up, even if it meant that I couldn’t act. At my first job over here (a daycare/preschool), we had a lot of celebrity clients. One day I just did some soul searching, thought “why not?” and took that leap of faith.

praying

2. If you could of asked yourself a question after getting this role on an NHK morning drama back when you were an aspiring actress just arriving in Japan, what question would you have asked?

I guess I would’ve asked how to prepare myself. For someone with no experience in TV, it was like I had entered a completely different world.

3. I heard about your opportunity to voice act as well. What kind of character(s) do you voice?

Basically I take whatever auditions come my way, and this one voice acting job came up (unfortunately I’m not allowed to reveal specifics). I had great fun voicing various warrior women through history (in English). I’m working on getting a proper demo done now, so hopefully I’ll have the chance to try other characters and some narration.

4. When you came to Japan, what kind of visa did you have? What visa do you have now?

Oh what a long adventure that was! I actually started on a tourist visa. I had submitted an application for a work/internship visa before coming over, but it was denied about a week before I got on my flight. I spent my first few months over here just going to interviews. I was lucky that my parents were there to support me. When I got my first job, I changed to a Specialist in Humanities visa. Then, when I landed my NHK gig, my agency helped me apply for my current Entertainer visa.

cast

5. Have you seen any of the cast of “Hanako to An” in other dramas or movies? What is it like to meet them in person?

I knew quite a few members of the cast actually. It was really surreal sitting next to some as we were getting make-up done. You get star-struck at first, but then you share a cup of coffee or see them bundling up in the cold, and suddenly they are ordinary – albeit extraordinarily talented – people. Everyone was so humble and treated me with the utmost kindness and respect.

6. When did “Hanako to An” premiere? From what episode do you make your debut?

It just premiered on 3/31 of this year. I made my first appearance on the second episode.

nice_to_meet_you

7. What kind of Japanese ability is needed in order to become an actor in Japan?

Honestly, no Japanese ability is necessary. Unless you look like a Japanese national, you will be cast to play foreign characters 99% of the time. And the TV groups will provide an interpreter if necessary. In my case, I actually have to pretend that I don’t understand what the Japanese characters are saying in the drama.

go_to_bed

8.  When do you think your Japanese reached the level in which you could become an actor in Japan?

As I mentioned before, language ability is a non-issue. But I was able to read the Japanese script as a whole, not just my own few English lines, and that was very helpful for me. I think it’s only in recent months that I reached that level of fluency.

9. What was your method of studying Japanese to be good enough to get a role in a Japanese drama?

Immersion language learning has been vital to me. I started at a language immersion camp in the US, the Concordia Language Villages. I highly recommend the experience to students interested in foreign language/foreign culture study. After 2 years as a student, I became a dance/song teacher at the villages, so I was really motivated to study for the sake of my students. I then took classes at college, followed by a year abroad at Waseda University in Tokyo. That time abroad was probably the most beneficial in terms of language ability, and also for building the foundation of my life here.


Sarah at first thought she had to give up acting for living in Japan. Do any of your pursuits conflict with your desire to live in Japan? Do you have dreams of acting in Japan? What insights have you gained from interviews with other foreign actors in Japan?

Now let’s read my interview with Sarah in Japanese! (She answered in Japanese herself! These are not translated answers.)

1.日本で女優になりたいと思ったきっかけは何ですか?

大学時代にアメリカで俳優になりたいと思ったけど、生まれてから日本に惹かれて、俳優の夢を諦めてでも、日本に住みたかった。日本での初めての仕事(保育園)で、有名人のお客様が多くいました。ある日、自己反省をしていたら、「どんなに甘い夢でもやってみないと後悔する」と思って勇気を出した。

2.もし、日本に来たばかりで女優になりたいと思っていた頃の自分が、今のオーディションに受かってからの自分に質問を訪ねることが出来たら、どんな質問をしますか?

「どう準備すれば良い?」かな?具体的にも精神的にも。テレビ業界の未経験者の私にとって、まるで別世界に入ったような経験でしたから。

3.声優のお仕事の話もあると聞きましたが、どんなキャラの声優ですか?

基本的には、どんなオーディションでも受けてみます。たまたま、声優の仕事が出来て(残念ながら詳細は公開出来ません)、歴史の女武将や女王を演じることになりました(英語で)。ちょうど今、ちゃんとしたナレーター・声優デモを録音するところで、そんな仕事が増えると嬉しいですね。

4.日本に来る時、どんな査証を持っていきましたか?今は、どんな査証を持っていますか?

なんと長くて辛い旅でした! 実は観光ビザで来ました。アメリカに居るうちに、就労ビザの申し込みは出したけど、出発一週間前にそれが却下されてしまい、仕方なくそのまま日本に来ました。最初の数ヶ月は就活にかけて、毎日のようにインタビューに行ってました。この間、両親がこんな夢見るバカな私を支えてくれたことを心の底から感謝しています。仕事が決まった時、人文知識ビザになりました。そして、NHKの仕事が決まったら、事務所とNHKの皆さんのお陰で、無事で興行ビザに変更しました。

5.「花子とアン」のキャストからの俳優や女優たちの中で、ドラマや映画で見たことがある人はいますか?実際に会ってみた感想はどうでしたか?

超有名人ばっかりで、そんな方々の隣でメイクした時はすごくシュールでしたね。最初は、緊張してどう接したら良いのか分からなかったけど、一緒にコーヒー休憩をとったり、寒い中でカイロを揉んでいる姿を見たりすると、「手の届かない存在」から「一般人」に見えて来ます。皆さんは凄く謙虚で、優しく絡んでくれました。

6.「花子とアン」はいつから放送されますか?セーラさんのデビューはどのエピソードからですか?

今年の3月31日に放送が始まって、私の役は第二回目に登場しました。

7.俳優・女優になるためには、日本語を勉強する上でどのような努力をする必要がありますか?

正直言って、日本語能力はまったく必要ありません。少しでも「外国人っぽい」見た目なら、日本語能力を問わず、日本語が通じない外国人キャラを演じることになりますし、テレビ局が通訳者を手配してくれます。私の場合、ドラマで日本人の言っていることを分からない振りをするのが仕事の一つ。

8.自分の日本語が日本で女優になれるレベルになった時はいつだと思いますか?

先言ったように、 日本語能力は有っても無くても仕事はできます。それでも、私は日本語の台本を読めたから、自分の台詞だけではなく、ドラマを全体的に理解出来て、そのお陰でより有意義な経験だったし、周りの外国人タレントとちょっと差をつけられたと思います。台本を読めるレベルになったのは本当に最近のことですね。

9.日本のドラマで演じることができるようになるためにはどのような方法で日本語を勉強しましたか?

アメリカにある「Concordia Language Villages」というイマージョン・プログラム(没入法)で勉強し始めました。外国語と異文化に興味ある学生にオススメです!私は夏に行われる短期集中プログラムを二年間繰り返して、生徒を卒業したら次の夏はダンスと歌の先生として戻りました。その時の私の日本語はまだ初級レベルでしたので、私を信じてくれていた生徒達のために毎日必死に勉強し続けました。その後は大学に入って、普通のクラスに通って、三年生になったら早稲田大学に留学しました。やっぱり、その頃は上達が一番早い時期でしたね。日本での人間関係を築き始めましたし、掛替えの無い経験でした。



Related posts:

The following two tabs change content below.

Rachel M.

Writer and Educator. Learning Japanese using immersion, currently soaking up as many novels and manga as possible in hopes of one day writing her own novel in Japanese. Also because she loves Japanese books.

Comments

Becoming A Foreign Actor In Japan — 5 Comments

  1. Ah wow. I watched a few episodes of 花子とアン recently as well. That was quite an interesting read.

  2. What a great read.
    I have my spousal VISA now and is teaching. I’m trying to find an agency or place I can audition.
    I live near Fukuoka with my own car but it’s hard ey.

    Have fun!
    Wynand

  3. A worth interview, thank you for posting this interview. I always wanted to be an actor in Japan. I want to be a Tokusatsu Actor.:)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *