Louis Ozawa, of The Bourne Legacy, Predators and most recently TV series Hunters, talks to us about being part of the hit show, working with Al Pacino, developing his own creative projects and directing his first short film The Translators.
When the time arrives to sit down with Louis Ozawa, he's late. His reason for being so is one that parents across the globe can entirely sympathise with while having to stay at home with young children, of which Louis has two. Schedules go right out the window. He apologises profusely.
"I don't know if you have any children, but I have a five-year-old and a six-month old. Working from home is very... difficult [laughs]."
It's been additionally difficult in his household, as Ozawa was himself struck down with the coronavirus which laid him up in bed for days. It was a struggle for him not to be able to help his wife Jackie Chung with their two children, but it was further blow to have the play he had been preparing for get shut down before opening night. Now home in LA, he tells of the impact the pandemic has had on his projects.
"Yes, it was tough because I'd been working in New York for three weeks. I was rehearsing for a play that was going to premiere in LA, but the rehearsals were in New York and my wife was already doing double duty with both the children, and we have a dog as well. Then I get home and immediately got sick and was totally useless. I felt really bad about that. By all accounts, I seem to have had a pretty minor case of it, and it never hit my lungs or anything, thankfully."
There are many aspects of his work that I want to discuss, but it's impossible not to talk about what's happening in the world right now, especially when he is a man who has actually faced the illness.
"No, absolutely. In fact, I have a little fatigue about talking only about Hunters. Right now, what seems relevant is talking about the state of our world and how art is changing in that way, and how I'm viewing the kind of work that I want to do, and the kind of work that I want to create for myself as well. Yes, it's all relevant."
Emerging from his recovery position in front of the TV (more specifically, Tiger King, like the rest of us), he was at first understandably reluctant to follow in the footsteps of his creative colleagues jumping to make the most of this new found time. Eventually though, he found somewhere to aim his returning focus.
"As you know by now I have two young children, so it's not all that much time, but I've also been constantly on the road the past two years without much time to reflect. I've had this feature project that's been gestating for years now. I've optioned an anthology of short stories by Barry Gifford called American Falls, but specifically with the intention of developing the short story, American Falls, into a full-length feature film."
"That leads me back to what we were talking about earlier. I just haven't had time to sit down and really expand the world and dream about this world and really feel like I can dive into the head space of this. It has been a blessing in that sense, to not have to focus on anything else because as soon as I get started on something of my own, I'll either book something or have to audition for something and that takes away from it. It's nice to be able to focus on one thing and not feel guilty about it. There's no other work to be done right now, so this is what I've been doing."
He goes on to talk about a hard-hitting historical drama that explores the trials and tribulations of an Asian-American family living in the United States at the height of the civil rights era in the 1960s. There's also references to World War II and the concentration camps where Japanese-Americans were incarcerated. It's certainly a side of American history under-served in cinema, and very timely to explore considering the xenophobic language that has surfaced so freely in American discourse recently.
"Absolutely. It just so happens that right now in the United States we have all this xenophobic propaganda that's been invading the public conscious. Now with the coronavirus and our President calling it the "Chinese virus", we have a lot of renewed or out-in-the-open xenophobia towards Asian-Americans and Asians.
"I do have other projects that I've been developing, but I'm focusing on this one because it does feel like it needs to be told right now. I'm doubling down on working on things from a historical perspective because I feel we're too close to it right now, it's happening, so it's impossible to tell which way our world will go. Some people may be looking towards the future and into more sci-fi worlds, but for me, when you have something seemingly apocalyptic, what I have gravitated towards as a human is protecting and cherishing my family and that's what this project is about."
One story that Ozawa was able to tell before the pandemic hit is that of The Translators, a short film he directed and starred alongside his wife Jackie. He describes the film as a Black Mirror-esque story about new parents having trouble understanding their newborn child and to meet its needs as a result.
"The Translators is based on a short play that my friend and excellent writer, Paul Grellong, had written for a short play festival years ago. We've been best friends for a long time, and he sent me his play. My wife is an actor as well, read it and we both loved it. It was a sci-fi-ish story about new parents unable to deal with the stress of their child crying all the time. Then the father finds a service that could potentially change the way they interface with their child."
Once deciding to self-produce the film with Jerry Ying, it took a long time for everyone to be available to shoot. The project was pushed back several times, originally with another director attached, so Ozawa decided to take the reins and eventually a window for filming was found.
"I had a little break while shooting Supergirl in Vancouver for a one day to shoot. We put together an awesome team, and I decided I was going to direct it. Paul, who is an excellent writer for shows such as The Boys and has nearly 15 years experience as a producer on shows like Terra Nova and Revolution, has also directed his own short films. I knew he could be my eyes on set while I was acting because I knew I wouldn't have any time to check playback.
"Everything with regard to artistic vision, the visual style, the props, costuming, assembling the make up, everything up until that point, I'd been designing up until the day of shooting. Once we were shooting I relinquished any directorial duties pertaining to giving notes to actors, to Paul and Jerry. Before setups, of course, I would set up the shot and take a look with stand-ins but once we were shooting, it was kind of like we were tag-teaming."
While it wasn't the solo directing experience enjoyed by directors who are just behind the camera, it's a bug (the good kind this time) that he has caught nonetheless. It's also given him a whole new appreciation for the post-production process.
"I do, I absolutely have the bug. I've had the privilege and good fortune of working with directors like Tony Gilroy, Kathryn Bigelow and Michel Gondry, some of the best of the best. I know how they operate on set behind the camera, how they talk to actors. It was the best film school for me in that sense. What I didn't get to see was what happens in the edit room. That was a real learning experience and something that I've really gotten the bug for, especially because our film is a comedy.
"Although I do have some comedy experience as an actor, it's by no means my forte. Working with an editor who specialises in comedies is phenomenal. How you can make something funny by the timing of the cuts. I know now how to shoot more efficiently and how to shoot more coverage of certain things from that experience. We had a wonderful experience with sound as well."
Despite being an experienced actor, being a director and seeing the other side of filmmaking has changed how he approaches his acting work. It's a trait he also noticed in Logan Lerman during the filming of Hunters. While being one of the youngest people on set he notes Lerman as having acted for as long as most of the cast.
"Absolutely, I think this is why a lot of actors go into directing, in particular television actors, because you spend so much time on set and you start to understand. At least, I've started to understand why a director may ask for a particular coverage and timing. That's one of the things I noticed about Logan Lerman while working on Hunters, his instinct as a filmmaker as well as an actor.
"He would say, "This scene is not going to happen the way we want it to happen because we're missing this coverage or we're missing this shot, and the shot should be covered this way." I definitely feel like my instincts as an actor in that sense have started to get better. It's something that's been happening over the years but yes, it's becoming deeper and deeper. I guess I'm getting better and more efficient in my acting."
Hunters boasts another actor with plenty of experience when it comes to filmmaking - Al Pacino. Of course, while one of the world's greatest actors of all time would find shooting a major TV series for the first time a piece of cake, it is still a little different to shooting a feature film. Did he need any help learning the TV ropes?
"I don't think Al needs any help but yes, there were moments where we would joke on set, and this is all in jest, "I think Al thinks we're shooting a feature film [laughs]. That being said, the amazing thing about Al is that he has a sense of rhythm and uncanny instincts when it comes to a scene. He may not be able to articulate what it is that's bothering him or what it is that is working, but you can sense when you're in scene when he's happy about it - and it's usually going to go well if he's happy. If he's not, then we should probably rethink how the scene is going."
"Obviously, I was born in the late '70s, grew up in the 80s. He was the man. I looked up to him and Robert De Niro. They were the two people that inspired me to become an actor. He dove right into the character so fully that it was hard to see Al initially as he was Meyer Offerman from the moment he stepped on set. That was disarming for all of us who quickly realised, "He's down to play. We're jumping right into this. Let's bring our A game."
"There are just so many incredible performances in the show. Watching it as a viewer has been really pleasurable because it's such a big story. I didn't have a single scene with Dylan Baker or Greg Austin and only one scene with Lena Olin. It's been just amazing to watch their scenes as a viewer."
The show being about a team of Nazi-hunters means that it's one where there is no grey area for the villains, or humanising their point of view for sympathetic or compelling effect. Referencing back to earlier talk of re-emerging xenophobia in the US, it seems timely to have a show to remind us, plain and simply, Nazi's are bad.
"That's a really good way of putting it. It shocks me. It always shocks me when people say, "Haven't we seen enough stories about the Holocaust or about Nazis?" You know what, it seems not at this point because for some reason there is some confusion in the world right now as to whether Nazis were good or bad. I don't think there's any confusion."
You can follow Louis on Twitter: @LouisOzawa