After appearing in See No Evil, Rachael Taylor played to a worldwide audience as Maggie Madsen in the blockbuster Transformers. James Kyson Lee won his big break when he landed the role of Ando Masahashi on Heroes, to return for its third season in the fall. Together, they're the stars of the supernatural horror thriller Shutter; after appearing on the stage of WonderCon in San Francisco, they stepped backstage, in turn, to meet the press.
Groucho: The film was shot in Tokyo—can you talk a little bit about what it was like to shoot in that city? You mentioned Lost in Translation kind of moments.
Rachael Taylor: Endless Lost in Translation moments. And I'm a big—it was very inspiring to me: Japan, in general. It shifted me around in terms of my aesthetic taste. And, you know, you consider different things about—they have a different way of looking at things culturally and spiritually, and I let that affect me. But at the same time, you feel very isolated, and very kind of detached from the world. And I often describe it—the only way I can sort of put it into words is that in a way I felt like I wasn't there. Like I felt that I was a ghost myself in Tokyo. I would walk into places—and actually after talking to one of the producers, they put this scene in the movie—I remember walking into a pachinko parlor—the big gambling houses. And they're enormous in Tokyo, and they're loud, and there were mirrors everywhere. I'm walking through it, and no one looked up—and it was just like I was passing through it as a ghost. I couldn't have any impact on it, and it couldn't have any impact on me. It was like I didn't exist. And I think the journey that the character goes on in the film is kind of like that, too. She's trying to work out what's real and what isn't. And in a way, some of her experiences aren't real, and some of them are—It really went home with me. It deeply went home with me. It's surprising to me actually, you know. I always knew it was a smart story, but I really lived her life, man. For three months, I was there on my own in Tokyo. I didn't have any family around me. The only person there was Josh, and he's a darling, but it was a really isolating experience. And she's making some really horrific discoveries. And we were shooting in some grim locations. Grim locations. I mean, Tokyo is beautiful, but we shot in a half-abandoned hospital for two days, and it was just—it was frightening, and it was gloomy, and it was dark. And I went through that with her. But ultimately came out the other side more empowered because of it, as the character does as well.
G: Could you talk a little bit about your character's role in the plot? You mentioned her journey, but who is she at the beginning?
RT: At the beginning of the film, she's a very—extremely feminine, slightly shy newlywed, very absolutely normal girl who adores her husband. He's the light of her life. She's studying to be schoolteacher. She really is this lovely, special in her own way, but very regular kind of girl. And, you know, she takes the big leap of faith—with her husband, I suppose—to move as soon as they're married to another country, to benefit his career. I really respect her for doing that, but she was probably unaware of how tricky it was going to be. She feels extremely lonely in those first few weeks that she's in Tokyo, and then of course something horrific happens. She thinks that she's—she's had this terrible car accident. She thinks she's murdered a girl, and nobody else believes her, but she's convinced that she has—it's almost a murder mystery, in a sense. She's very proactive in the film, which is what I like about that; she's not reactive. There's a certain critical turning point where she goes, "I need to know what's going on, 'cause I don't feel right anymore. And then she goes on her own journey and she starts figuring out. She starts debunking the photographs. And based on her journey—you know, I don't want to give away the whole thing—she becomes very changed: whether it's for the better or the worse, I don't know, but she becomes closer to a very significant truth. You know, I really liked—we filmed the last scene on the last day, which was cool, and it's very satisfying for an actor. But I really felt like I left her in a different place—
G: I don't know what your experience was, but Michael Bay has a reputation for treating actors like cattle, and on this film you had a director who didn't speak English. I'm just wondering how attentive they were as directors, and what you hope for in a director, in terms of what they can give you to do your best work.
RT: I mean, they're lofty sort of aims at this moment, but I would love to work with performance-orientated directors in the future—someone like Mike Nichols and what he does with his actors, and I have so much respect and admiration—if I could do that at some point in my career, that would just be thrilling to me. But having said that, it's a great exercise in having to use your own instincts. When you work with a director like Michael Bay, for example, who—I probably was very nice about him last time—but I'll be less nice this time.
RT: No, who's very—look, talented man, but eccentric and doesn't have the best reputation for dealing with female actors. Even though he's very talented and his direction always has its place and it has its meaning—it always comes from the right place. And also on Shutter, which is the director who didn't speak English, you wouldn't exactly call them performance-orientated directors. But getting back to the point, it draws you back to your own instincts, I think, as a performer. And often you can use a director who doesn't speak English just as a mirror for your own instincts. Even though he couldn't tell me exactly what was wrong, it was really my job to go—in a take, for example, if something wasn't working for him, it was really my job to interpret it and do what I thought was best with it— it just makes you fine-tune your skills, I think, and listen to yourself—
James Kyson Lee: Hey—so the movie is called Shutter, 20th Century Fox, New Regency. Very excited. You know, obviously you heard from Rachel the synopsis of the movie. I play a character named Ritsuo, who is a young managing editor at a place called "Ghost Magazine." And their specialty is spirit photography. Which is a whole genre that is really being explored and tackled in the movie. So after when these guys start experiencing all these sort of supernatural activities through the photos, they come to me. And we dive a little bit into the history and the significance of what's going on. I think the fact that we're filming in Japan just added a whole new element to it. This is a really interesting collaboration of American studios and talents, and a story using sort of Eastern, Asian techniques of horror and thriller, so I had a really good time—
G: It sounds like your character has a little more knowledge that some of the other characters about this world that you're plunged into. Is there an evolution for your character: does he discover things that maybe he hasn't experienced before?
JKL: I think he's more of a messenger. It's a turning point in the film where what they're experiencing is not just something that's created in their mind, that is actually a whole subculture that is a huge phenomenon in Japan. The idea of spirit photography has been around since the 1800s, and the film really sort of presents that. So playing this guy, I actually started doing some research when we were wrapping up Season One [of Heroes]. I went online, and there were all these articles and pictures, all the way from Europe to all over Asia and whatnot, and even Africa that, when photography was introduced, people were really, really intrigued by the idea of spirit photography. And it's really interesting because a lot of the Asian cultures, when photography was first introduced from Western civilization, it was a mixed response of fascination and fear. They thought that, at first, like "Are these people I know trapped in a little box?" And then they thought, "Oh my God, that little machine is catching our soul." So they literally thought that if your picture was taken, part of your soul was captured inside the camera, and then ultimately came out in the photos. So I think they play around with that element in the movie. I called ahead to Japan, and the production company ahead of time and said, "Can you find a working sort of 'Ghost Magazine' in Tokyo, so when I get there—I'm not going to have much turnaround time—I want to physically see if I could go to a place and feel out a layout of the place to see what the working environment is like. And then maybe meet a managing editor there, and can I talk to him a little bit?" And then they found one for me. And it was one of those things where, like, it's not listed on the Yellow Pages. You sort of have to ask around, 'cause it sort of has, like, a whole underground identity behind it. So they had to sort of talk to people they know. So we even had to go around a couple of different buildings, and then we finally found it. So I go there, and the place literally looks like what we're filming on the thing. Now this is before I even got to the set. And I asked for one of their young editors, and we sat down and we talked. And he's telling me these stories that I sort of shared in the panel about how he went to see a medium and got a spiritual reading, and the medium was this old lady, Japanese lady, and she said, "I think there was someone who might've been murdered in your apartment. Can we go there and do a spiritual reading?" So he started telling me all these stories, and I felt like the script was literally coming alive in front of my eyes. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. And then I went right into filming this scene with Rachael the next day, so it really helped me put myself in the frame of mind—
G: If we were to read the show bible on Ando, what would we learn that we haven't seen on the series?
JKL: It's interesting because I think the first two seasons we obviously learned a lot about Hiro's background and his family. But Ando's background is one that they haven't explored, you know? So how interesting would it be to find out where he comes from? Is there a relationship between him and Hiro's sister that we don't know about? And them, I don't know, they might play around with an idea of maybe bringing a girlfriend for Ando. You know, is that going to be from Japan, is that going to be from another storyline?
G: Have you done some of this work for yourself? Just to—
G: You know what I mean? I mean, as an actor.
JKL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I have! It's funny, one thing that I learned about playing this character: he's a character that's from Japan and is from a foreign country, but I think he has this, really, fondness and even a slight obsession with Western culture and especially Americans. So I think that was the whole thing about how he loves blondes: they were playing around with that. (Chuckles.) I remember telling, for myself, I wrote in my journal, like, he's a big Elvis fan. The guy would probably go karaokeing in Tokyo and start singing Journey and all that stuff, so—. He's a character that sort of goes back between two worlds, whether it's America and Japan or it's a world of mortals and supernatural—We've got to have some mortals. Otherwise I think the show will get carried away, and everyone and their grandma starts flying around. You'd sort of lose the reality and the groundedness. Luckily, the writers have used my character to sort of present the views of the audience member, if you will. He's sort of like a mortal that's placed into the supernatural world. So how will we respond and what do we think if we are sort of in the world of Heroes for a second. I really like the fact that they've used that. I think in the beginning I was like, "Wow, all these people got different powers," you know. Would I get one? But now I'm in a place where I feel really comfortable with who Ando is. I really like the relationship that they've created with Ando and Hiro, obviously. To me it almost feels like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, you know what I mean? Hiro's got this sword, and he's got this weird relationship with his father, and he's sort of burdened. And Ando is sort of like the mortal sidekick, who likes to go off and loves the idea of adventure. And saying, "Well, let's do this, let's do that." And together they get into a lot of trouble, which is like the fun of it—I think we may start in June, so I just finished a movie called Necrosis, with myself, George Stults from Seventh Heaven, and Tiffany! It's sort of like—I guess I'll call it The Shining meets Cabin Fever. It's kind of like six friends getting snowed in. And then—I think we're in talks right now—I may [be] in the works to do a movie called Destiny, which will film in England, with Ray Winstone from Beowulf. So I think that might be a pretty big production. I think we just have to work out logistics and scheduling, whatnot. And then I'm going to film a small indie film in L.A. called And Then There's the Afterlife. So I'm just going to utilize this time to do movies. Also I've been doing a lot of traveling. I was in New Orleans last week for the NBA All-Star Weekend, which was fun—I think Season Three will premiere in September. I think NBC, right after the Olympics, in August, they'll do a big push for it again. And, you know, the "Volume Three" is called "Villains," so that does sort of open up a whole new world, a set of characters that they're going to bring in to battle with us. I think there's a lot of storylines that they're excited about that they're going to play with.