As one of Japan's top models, Tao Okamoto has already made a name for herself in the fashion world, but she's in a whole new world as Mariko Yashida in The Wolverine. One of the great loves of Logan's life, Mariko is a key part of his Japanese adventures, and she explained a little about her approach to the character and how the film's Mariko differs from her comic-book origins...
Tell us about your character... I play Mariko. She's from the richest family in Japan, so she always had a different life from other children. Which made her very strong psychologically and physically. She's very insecure, so when she meets Logan for the first time, she doesn't like him and doesn't let him into her heart. But there's something they share, which is that they don't have a normal life. So that made her feel like maybe they can understand each other.
Did you get sent a lot of comics for research? I read the comic book with Mariko in it, but when I read the script she was different, so I had to follow more how the script defined her. We made her more interesting than the original character, because I thought she was more of a princess in the comic, like she needed somebody's help. Now in the film she's very strong, she looks after herself and is independent. The director, James Mangold said I could bring something to her to make her more interesting. The comic book was written in the 1980s and the movie is set in the present day, so the style is slightly different. Her style is very conservative, which is not really what I'm used to. I researched images from the comic and tried to copy them.
This is your first major film. How would you compare modelling to acting? Having a speaking role was new to me, because models don't usually have to speak! But there is something similar. The director said I had a relationship with the camera, and that I can imagine myself how I'm looking without seeing the screen. That's something I learned from modelling, and I appreciated it.
Were you nervous adding that extra level for the film? This is my first acting experience ever. I haven't taken lessons or anything. But I tried not to realise that this is such a big deal, but the whole crew was so friendly. I felt like I was in school, I learned so much every day from everybody. I had the most amazing time.
And that includes working with Hugh. It must've been very difficult to fall in love on screen with him!
We didn't have Japanese supervisors, so three of our Japanese cast had take care of things.
I learned so much from him, not just acting but also how to behave towards everybody. One day, he came up to me and said, "Tao, you're really great. You care about others, you talk to the crew and not many actresses care about grips and those kind of crew." I told him I learned that from him. He just does that naturally.
Some of the film is shot in Japan. Did it give you a new appreciation for the place seeing it through James and the crew's eyes? Yeah. We didn't have Japanese supervisors, so three of our Japanese cast had take care of things, like a crazy piece of set design that was not quite right and we had to speak up. But they listened to us very carefully and appreciated us telling them if it's right or not. So we took care of each other. And even the script- there were translated scripts in Japanese, but we did it ourselves so we could bring more reality to the way we spoke.
You should've charged extra for translation services! I wish we could do that! But we just enjoyed doing it. I felt like I was creating something with people. I was part of the creation, so that's what I really loved. When we were visiting Japan it was difficult for the crew who were mostly Australian and the weather was totally opposite. It was the beginning of spring there and the end of summer in Japan and it was so hot. But the crew really appreciated the different culture and people loved Japan. I liked hearing that they wanted to come back and visit.
How was it working with James Mangold? Most of the time as a model I feel like I'm just a doll. They control how I should move. Sometimes I can give them my ideas, but models don't usually get to do that. But even though this was my first movie, James wanted my ideas about how Mariko would think and act. I really appreciated that and I loved telling him my ideas to create something together. It was totally different from a modelling job.
What was your favourite moment on set? There was a scene I worked on for my audition, which was a long speech. I had some confidence about it and James gave me different ideas on every take so I could play with that. When I finished it, he came to me and said, "I almost cried, you've grown up so much in this journey..."
Do you have plans for other acting jobs? I've been auditioning for something and I hope I get it. People say it will be different after the movie comes out, so hopefully it will be easier...
Pick up the July 2012 issue of Empire magazine for much more on The Wolverine - including an exclusive interview with Hugh Jackman.