On the last night of Comic-Con, we got an exclusive interview with Rinko Kikuchi, the star of Guillermo del Toro’s robots vs. monsters movie Pacific Rim. She plays one of the pilots driving the giant robots. You may recognize her from Babel, for which she earned an Oscar nomination. We’ll also see Kikuchi in another American film, 47 Ronin with Keanu Reeves. After a long Comic-Con day that started at 9AM (not counting hair and makeup, poor girl!) Kikuchi was still lovely and focused by 7 in the evening.
CraveOnline: As a Japanese actress, what is your familiarity with the Kaiju genre of films?
Rinko Kikuchi: When I was a little girl I used to watch a lot of monster movies, like Godzilla. All those monster movies. Now I got this role in a huge monster film, it’s like a dream come true. Yeah, it’s really familiar.
Does being an American film with a Mexican director make it different than the monster movies from Japan?
I think it’s not Japanese, not Mexican. This is really his own original unique idea. He created a lot of his own unique ideas. I think it’s a super original monster movie, so I don’t know. I can’t categorize this film.
What was it like working with Guillermo?
It was amazing. When I was on set, I just wanted to see him happy, because he’s the man. He’s the best.
Since he speaks English and Spanish, how would he speak to you?
English. Then also this is my first time without a translator on set.
On Babel did you have a translator?
Yeah, I had a sign language translator.
Tell us about your character in Pacific Rim?
Mako is a young Japanese woman who wanted to be a pilot since the Kaiju attacked. Then the attack traumatized her so she wants to overcome her trauma. She’s fighting the monsters and she’s fighting her own demons.
How intense is her trauma in your performance?
It is really intense because she wants to avenge her loved ones against the Kaijus, the monsters.
What do you love about Mako?
I love her because I always act really sad but she’s really tough and she’s a brave girl. I’m so happy to get this role.
What was it like working with the visual effects in the film?
That is also my first time to work with green screen, but Guillermo always builds really, really real stuff so I never feel like I have to use my imagination. It feels real on the set.
When you were in the giant robot cockpit, did you feel like you were really controlling the robots?
That’s also really hard because we pilot a huge, huge robot. But the movement is really hard for me to move in the robot because it’s heavy. It’s almost like weight lifting with each movement. After the shooting, I felt like I became a real pilot.
How did it feel to be nominated for an Oscar for Babel?
Yeah, it was a precious experience because now I’m working on an international set. It’s a dream come true. Then also I worked with great, great directors, Alejando [Inarritu], Rian Johnson, Carl Rinsch. Then now it’s Guillermo. I’m so lucky.
What were your experiences on Oscar night?
It was fun. I brought my mom and my brothers, my family. It was a great night and my mom said hi to Leonardo DiCaprio. She was so happy to see him because she’s a really big fan of his.
What can you tell us about your role in 47 Ronin?
My role is a witch. She’s Keanu’s enemy. Sounds good, right?
Yes, it does. Was it fun to play a villain?
Yes, because she doesn’t exist. She’s not a real person because she’s a witch so I can make up my own idea. The story is based on Japanese history except it’s about a witch and then Keanu’s character.
Since Keanu Reeves has a lot of martial arts experience from The Matrix, was he an expert on the set?
He is. He did a lot where he practiced a lot.
What did you learn for that movie?
I’ve learned a lot. I have wire action. I was hanging from the walls and that was my first time doing that. It was fun.
Any fighting movies?
No, actually not.
What was it like working with the director, Carl Rinsch?
It was great. He’s a visual director. He knows what he needs visually. But also, I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t wait to see it.
What has surprised you about the physical work, either the robots or the wires?
I’ve never done that kind of preparation for a role before, so I’ve been training for many months, like an army boot camp. Weight lifting, swimming, running on the beach. It was really hard but honestly I feel so healthy. I have to keep doing that.