The women of The Wolverine
When James Mangold was handed the directorial reins of The Wolverine, the film that would finally bring the X-Man fan favourite to Japan, where some of the character’s greatest comic-book arcs have taken place, he took pains to give us something we’d never seen before.
Part of that meant looking for brand new faces – and when it came to casting the key female roles of Mariko, the businesswoman who unexpectedly touches Logan’s heart, and Yukio, the scrappy young mutant who appoints herself his bodyguard, Mangold went with Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima.
Neither of them had ever acted before, let alone in a multimillion dollar superhero movie opposite international megastar Hugh Jackman. As they explained, this was not quite as terrifying as it sounds.
“I’d never done this before,” Okamoto recalls, “so I was really worried and didn’t have any confidence at all, but Jim Mangold was just, like, ‘Follow me.’ He didn’t even expect me to have acting lessons or anything – pretty much everything I know about acting so far was taught by him. I just believed in him and also in Hugh, and we just followed the chemistry we had between us. I think it worked out pretty okay,” she says, laughing.
Fukushima’s experience was … well, it was a little different.
“When I went to the first audition, I didn’t know it was for The Wolverine,” says Fukushima, explaining it was a casting meeting for an unknown studio project. Eventually, Mangold appeared and explained what was really going on.
“I was so excited: ‘James Mangold is going to shoot The Wolverine! That’s so great!’” she recalls. “I was so lucky to work with James Mangold as a first-time actor – he helped me develop the character, and he gave me a lot of freedom to build the character [myself].
“In the comic, Yukio is more like a ‘sexy Asian spy’ kind of character,” she continues, “but in the screen adaptation we went a little bit deeper, which is really fun to play with.”
Long-time fans of the X-Men series may notice Logan developing the same sort of grudging affection for the scrappy Yukio that he felt for Rogue in the first X-Men movie ... though this relationship is played for its comical incongruence, as well.
“There’s a scene where I’m saying ‘I’m your bodyguard,’ and I’m supposed to be standing over him,” Fukushima says, “but he was so tall that it was kind of a weird moment. Like, he’s super-tall and I’m looking up at him saying ‘I’m your bodyguard.’”
That’s what happens on the screen, anyway, with Fukushima and Jackman trying to out-serious one another. But as soon as Mangold called cut …
“He started singing the Whitney Houston song,” Fukushima laughs. “It was hilarious.”
The contrast between Jackman – who is pretty much the nicest guy in the world – and his steely character is pretty striking. I’ve seen him turn Logan on in a quiet room, and it’s chilling.
“Yeah, when he’s not Wolverine he’s totally like a nice guy,” Okamoto says. “He’s a super-nice dad, and it’s so opposite. It’s so funny how he can, you know, switch that on.”
Though the future of the X-Men series is cloudy beyond next year’s time-travel epic Days of Future Past, it seems likely we’ll see another Wolverine solo outing before too long. Whether Logan will return to Japan, or if we’ll see Mariko and Yukio return, are questions shared by the actors as well as the fans.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be in that,” says Okamoto, “but yeah, I’m definitely more into action movies. I studied those movies with Jim. I’m looking forward to something new.”
“If you write about it, maybe that’s going to push them,” Fukushima laughs. “So, please: ‘Rila Fukushima has to be in the next Wolverine.’”
The Wolverine is available now on Blu-ray disc and DVD from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.